What’s the value of Agile out of the box?

I often meet peers who ask what Agile practices Pathfinder utilizes. From the outside we pretty much use all of XP’s practices. However, if you take a deeper look we do some things a little differently (especially how to use and calculate velocity). For Agile purists, one might question if we are really doing Agile. They would claim changing practices is slippery slope. For example, a team will start altering Agile practices to create a “home grown” version only to find they are using only some practices and not seeing the benefits they hoped for. I feel questioning if we are really doing Agile based on exactly what practices one uses shows how familiar and mature one is with Agile principals. A better question would be to ask why we changed them. Agile is not meant to be a methodology, but a set of principals. In my opinion, using things like Velocity to estimate whether a team will finish a project within a certain time frame is a hack at best. This always was hard to explain to customers. While I was reading Leading Lean Software Development I discovered something that helps. The Poppendieck’s point out that the engineering practices of Agile (TDD, collective code ownership, etc…) are solid and not likely to change. But, the project management practices implement a system on top of another system - a hack.

Once you have sufficient experience managing projects with Agile practices you should feel comfortable adapting those practices to your own teams and projects. As long as you are still following Agile principals this is okay. In general, this is what’s going on in smaller companies. Having coached a number of large organizations transitioning to Agile I can say this isn’t how they look at things. The problems start when you adapt the practices, but try to deliver all projects in an identical manner. This makes sense for waterfall-like delivery methods. But, when an organization comes up with its own version of “Agile” it can only work for the subset of projects it is tested on. Rolling this out to the entire organization as “the way” to deliver projects from them on is a failure pattern. The principals are lost and so is the adaptability of the organization. The time spent to move over to agile is immediately wasted.

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