Does Agile Have a Downside?

great divide waterfall
Originally uploaded by striatic

Going beyond is as bad as falling short.

– Chinese Proverb

Nothing is good in moderation. You cannot know good in anything until you have torn the heart out of it by excess.

– Oscar Wilde

The road of excess leads to the palace of wisdom

– William Blake

A Little Self-Disclosure

Let me be frank.

I’m a person who in the past had a tendency toward extremes. My recovery from that extremism has led me to another form of extremism: an almost allergic reaction to extremes. I am extremely committed to moderation.

The overwhelming amount of positive buzz I’ve read and listened to over the past week about Agile has given me a little bit of the heebie jeebies.

Don’t get me wrong. I love the pluses Agile seems to provide:

  • Customer focus
  • Empowerment of teams to self-organize and drive their own work
  • Rapid development that gives the customer what they want
    (This is a favorite of mine as I have lived through deliveries that were “not exactly” what the customer wanted, triggering another 9-month release)

However it’s all too positive for me.

Waiting for the other Shoe

Just as I know that Waterfall has its issues, I’m sure Agile must have a few. But when I google Agile on the web, the percentage of negative versus positive is miniscule.
I’ve heard none of the down sides, except a few issues from two or three people who’ve raised the following good questions in their posts:

The presenters above seem to respond to these concerns by keeping aspects of Waterfall and including them in front of Agile iterations to provide what seems to be missing. While I was researching Agile last week, a few more questions came to mind:

  1. How do you design Quality into the product (reliability, maintainability, usability)? Quality isn’t just about defects.
  2. How does the user get trained without documentation? What seems intuitive to the team and the Customer rep on the team may not be to other users.
  3. Is it possible for Agile and Waterfall practices to co-exist and be used as needed? Or would a company’s organization or culture make that impossible for either Waterfall or Agile? Does anyone know of projects where this has been done successfully?

Does anyone know whether teams have come up with approaches to deal with these questions? If you know of teams who have addressed these concerns, please leave a comment or tweet. My id is jgodfrey.


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