Editor's Note: Andy Hunt (above) is keynoting at The Path to Agility conference on May 22 - 23, 2013 at the Arena Grand Theater in Columbus. 

Andy Hunt: Agility is Uncomfortable
By Terreece Clarke, April 30th, 2013

As one of the 17 authors of the Agile Manifesto, Andy Hunt has a rare view on the Agile movement. He was present at the now legendary Utah gathering in 2001 and like any creator, he sees both progress and room for improvement in his creation. When those Agilists got together for that first meeting, "40 percent of programming shops didn't use version control. They didn't believe in it," Hunt said.

The progress that encourages him is that many Agile practices that were groundbreaking in 2001 are, in his words,"talked about on Twitter as common sense things people should do. Unit testing, behavior development…It's much more accepted and there is a lot of good adoption of Agile practices."

…Don't Get Comfortable

Whenever Hunt gives a talk, he always asks, "[Raise your hand] Are you comfortable with your Agile practices?" He said hands will raise around the room, to which he replies, "Too bad, that means you're doing it wrong."

Just as Hunt sees much progress in the adoption of Agile practices, he said there is much more room for gaining an understanding of the overall message behind the method.

"Agile is supposed to be 'make it up as you go along,' not just doing the practices," he said. "You never 'do Agile,' but you can be Agile…[doing the practices] is just practicing good [software development] hygiene. It's like washing your hands instead of dying from the Black Death, like before."

Hunt said when he and many of his colleagues looked at the future of Agile, they thought there would be an explosion of Agile methods to explore cool ways of developing software.

"It didn't happen. Extreme Programming added a couple of practices…Planning Poker…you can count on one hand [the additions since Agile creation]. "They [software developers] learn one or two practices and stop thinking. They look for a set of practices they can do and just stop thinking."

"Some [founders] are disappointed it didn't happen the way we thought. Some are mildly wistful and others are downright annoyed that people still just don't quite get it," he continued. "I suspect our default thinking process is waterfall. One of the hard things is getting beyond that, but panic and fear lead us to waterfall and we have to fight that tendency."

Thinking + Communication Development

Hunt said programmers do two things all day - learn and communicate. Those are the keys to fighting the software fight-or-flight-to-waterfall instincts. Developers need to learn about the users, their teammates and the needs of the business - and it all changes constantly.

"That's what Agile was trying to get to the heart of," Hunt said. "People just want to think that if they did the processes correctly and documented it, everything will work out okay. We need to admit that no one knows all the answers. We don't know how it's going to work, what the users, the marketplace [or] the corporation responses will be. We don't know how it's going to work until we get in there."

Hunt insisted making that admission is part of the work Agilists have to do on a regular basis - create transparency and enhance communication.

Hunt admitted communication is not a strength of many IT pros. He said software developers like the field because it relies on pure logic, so many people focus on communicating with the machine. However, that focus on the work and not the team, is where a lot of projects get into trouble.

"Agile practices force you to talk to each other," Hunt said. "The stand up meeting is one example. It is very easy, especially for coaches, to get lost in the trees."

Agility Beyond Software

Taking the Agile/communication relationship further, Hunt is much like fellow Path to Agilty speaker and author Ellen Gottesdiener. They both use the Agile method in creating and publishing their books. The Pragmatic Bookshelf, was founded by Hunt and Dave Thomas to focus on improving the lives of developers through training books, audio books and video. Ever vigilant about transparency, Hunt admitted the method is no 'silver bullet,' even in his company.

"It's a double-edged sword. We can be Agile under contract... we can do that with authors, but the whole thing breaks down when you are dealing with logistics and constraints like books on a truck."

Hunt still has hope the method will evolve as more Agilists personalize it like he has for his publishing company. He also laid bare the type of company culture in which the method can thrive:

"Agile development uses feedback to make constant adjustments in a highly collaborative environment. The whole crux of it is constant and real-time feedback and then changing in response to that feedback. Where most companies fall down is, they gather all the feedback and don't use it…Everything points to a person that doesn't fit with the team, but people don't act on it. They say, "Oh I can't do that [remove the person from the team]. If you aren't in an environment where you have the authority to make changes, then don't do Agile."