Mon, 11 Sep 2006
A couple of years at the Agile conference in Calgary, a big topic of discussion was whether Agile was poised to cross the chasm from visionary early adopter types to the early mainstream. This year at Agile2006 it sure seemed to me we had.
If I recall the high-tech adoption curve correctly, a big difference between the Visionary early adopters and the Pragmatist early mainstream is who they talk to. The Visionaries talk to the Technology Enthusiasts to find ways to have big wins. The Pragmatists talk to other Pragmatists, especially ones in the same industry, to find ways to have safe wins.
My main client these days is a good example of a Pragmatist. Before adopting Scrum, they methodically went to visit other companies that had been using Scrum successfully. That's the first time I've seen that.
Agile in the mainstream is definitely a good thing, but every silver lining comes with a cloud. I worry that the clear sunshine of innovation will be obscured by the mists of scale. (Sorry about that...)
If you believe Moore, the mainstream market naturally shakes out into a single dominant "gorilla" and several "chimps" that scrabble for the leavings. He uses Oracle as an example of the gorilla, companies like Sybase as examples of chimps. Or you could think of the relational model in general vs. other ways of organizing and accessing persistent data.
On the one hand, that's good for innovation: the chimps have to find some angle to distinguish themselves from the safer gorilla choice. On the other hand, the innovation is constrained: it can't be too wildly different from the gorilla or else you're no longer in the mainstream market. (The distinction here might be between object databases—never made it in the mainstream—and adding object-ish features to relational databases or just figuring out how to make object-relational mapping work.)
But more important, to me, is a redirection of talent. The gorilla of Agile is Scrum + a selection of XP practices (perhaps most often the more technical ones like continuous integration or TDD). Consultants and consultancies can make more money, grow their practice faster, and have more influence by helping new teams start with Scrum+XP and by taking steps to make Scrum+XP more palatable to large segments of the mainstream market (the later mainstream, what Moore calls Conservatives). People doing that don't have time to do other things.
We saw that at Agile 2006, where the proportion of novices perhaps reached some sort of tipping point that made it more like a conventional conference. That's not a criticism: the Agile Alliance is there to help Agile projects start and Agile teams perform—says so right on the website—and making sure the beginner is served is absolutely necessary to those goals.
So that's all good. But I'm not comfortable unless I've got the feeling that there's something just beyond the horizon poised to surprise me. I'm not usually the one to find it: I'm more of a synthesizer, amplifier, or explainer than an innovator. So I selfishly need people out there searching, not teaching Scrum+XP.
I'm getting a sense that some significant chunk of people are ready for Agile to take a surprising jump forward. See, for example, what Ron Jeffries has recently written. Some part of my next year will be spent in support of that. I have at least one whacky idea, a bit related to the MFA in software.
I'll be poised to spring into action soonish. Just let me get this book done, please let me get it done, without any of the changes in response to reviewer comments introducing a nasty bug.