Marco Dorantes' WebLog

"Computer science is no more about computers than astronomy is about telescopes" -Edsger W. Dijkstra

Agile and lean fads are the new excuses for brittle software

Agile and lean fads are the new excuses for brittle software

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Now that many are looking for ways to cut costs and maximize the benefits out of their shrunk budget, there is no shortage of offers about how to do just that. Among those offers are the agile and lean software development methods, which are quickly becoming the norm rather than the exception in the IT industry’s parlance nowadays. Soon, in most IT shops, anyone talking against agile and lean concepts will become the next weird, anti-social, anarchist, non-team-player guy that dare to endorse a different view than the mainstream view. Just as it happened when some guy started to talk about the shortcomings of structured analysis, design and programming compared with object-oriented techniques, as with many other ideas in the history of our infant industry. Each time, an exaggerated message of the future gains was given in order to hook buyers on the new ideas. Why this time would be different?

Don’t get me wrong, the most gratifying and positive professional experiences —individually and in teams— on software development have come from the agile and lean mindsets. It is just that the patterns of behavior that I have seen from we humans in large groups make me wonder, why on Earth this time the substance is actually going to be broadly adopted and not just the buzzwords? Is the general public going to really enhance their average software experience because of better software or the whole point for the software providers is costs reduction only? I’m afraid the latter is closer to the truth than the former. The main concern I have is that —as far as my understanding on agile and lean mindsets can go— the former is the way to reach the latter. This has been the whole point since the first generation of Method Wars in the history of professional software development. Point that, historically, could not have been fully explained and broadly understood yet.

There is adaptive software development (also known as agile) thinking and there is lean software development thinking, just as there are their corresponding fads (adopting only the buzzwords and not the change in mentality). The thinking part is more likely to achieve some level of the sought-after benefits, and the fads will just give a bad name to the good ideas in agile and lean.

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