Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Agile Manifestations

Agility is Not Enough: Beyond the Manifesto, written by Forbes columnist Steve Denning, challenges those “still living within the confines of the Agile Manifesto” to consider Agile in the context of today’s business world. Customer delight is the new bottom line for business, according to Denning, and Agile methods must evolve if they are to embrace this new reality.

What’s fascinating about this article is not the so much content, but the conversation that ensues. In the comments section, reader Kevin Ross puts up both a spirited defense of the manifesto and a thoughtful, reasoned challenge to Denning assertions. Denning, to his credit, takes Ross’ respectful criticism and responds in a second post, Agile Part 2: Can the Manifesto be Defended as well as a third, where The Conversation Continues.

Despite arguments regarding the need to update a decade-old declaration of policy and principles, Agile methods are constantly being tailored to meet new demands. For example, in A Practical Way to do Agile in an Enterprise ALM Environment, (CM Journal, Volume 9 - No. 7 - July, 2011), PTC’s Harsh Sabikhi describes approaches his clients have taken to tailor Agile methods in the face of regulatory compliance and quality assurance mandates.

As software becomes a more critical component in product development, Agile methods are naturally gaining traction in this space. While the trend has been evident for years, we have reached an inflection point where rapid innovation and product differentiation relies increasingly on the software, rather than the electrical or mechanical, aspects of a product. In the product development environment, software alone is not considered the final deliverable, rather it is an integral aspect of the final deliverable. Is “working software” a sufficient iteration objective or must we incorporate physical and electro-mechanical system aspects in order to provide value? If so, how do we reconcile the different paces of change in the software and hardware aspects of the system?

This is not to say that the physical and electro-mechanical aspects of a product don’t provide opportunities for innovation and differentiation. They can and they certainly do. However, these aspects of the system are relatively well understood and suited for predictive design and manufacturing processes. The software aspect, as we have observed, is extremely malleable, relatively poorly understood, and better suited for empirical and adaptive development processes.

Product development, especially in the context of variant management and product lines, presents an entirely new set of challenges and opportunities as Agile methods manifest themselves in traditionally predictive environments. The Agile Manifesto may be a guiding light, but it is not meant to be a prescriptive solution. Tailored solutions will emerge as organizations on the forefront of product development apply Agile principles and best practices to a proven and pragmatic product development framework.

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