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State of Flow: Crossing the Agile Chasm::journal

Crossing the Agile Chasm

Channing Walton - Sunday August 21, 2005

Have Agile methods Crossed the Chasm into the mainstream? My recent experience certainly leads me to believe it has.

In Crossing the Chasm ( amazon.co.uk amazon.com ) Geoffrey A. Moore suggests that there are two, separate phases in the development of any high-tech market: an early phase that builds from a few, highly visible, visionary customers; and a mainstream phase, where the buying decisions fall to pragmatists. The transition between these two phases is difficult and often fatal to start-ups, and it is often not the early adopters who profit from the new technology.

Since the late 1990’s I have been developing software using so-called Agile Methods of software development, mainly XP. Sometimes, the team was able to practice the method without any compromises at all, sometimes we would have to introduce practises gently.

Until a year ago I often found myself explaining why this new-fangled approach to software development was better than the tried and tested Waterfall method. However, after learning more of the history people are often much more open to the idea. The biggest surprise usually comes when they understand what Winston Royce was actually saying in his paper that described the Waterfall process:

the implementation described above is risky and invites failure … The testing phase which occurs at the end of the development cycle is the first event for which timing, storage, input/output transfers, etc., are experienced as distinguished from analyzed … The required design changes are likely to be so disruptive that the software requirements upon which the design is based and which provides the rationale for everything are violated. Either the requirements must be modified, or a substantial change in the design is required. In effect the development process has returned to the origin and one can expect up to a l00-percent overrun in schedule and/or costs.

Sigh … how misunderstood could someone be.

Lately, however, my experience has been different. Instead of being asked why, I’m being asked how. Instead of facing skepticsm, I face enthusiasm and interest. I am currently working for an investment bank in London that has been developing with XP for 18 months and like the results. Friends in the industry are telling me the same thing.

So, have Agile methods crossed the chasm? I believe so and expect to see a surge of interest from the pragmatists as Agile becomes mainstream. This is going to be perceived as the start of something new, but really its a return to the tried and tested iterative and incremental methods that Winston Royce was really talking about.