The Decline and Fall of Agile SCM—and the Rise of Lean SCM

There are definite signs of Agile methods (with a capital A) may be losing mind share or, at the very least, suffering from a certain amount of perhaps over-hype or over familiarity. Or maybe it is just the rise in cases of AFS (Agile Fatigue Syndrome). For some, agile is giving away to the rise of lean software development. Where will it end?

Conceived in 2001 by members of the Agile Manifesto, Agile had a tempestuous upbringing. She became well known development circles as the new bright young thing. Admirers were always at her feet. She was cited as the inspiration for major successes and also for bringing some fun back in to development. Gradually the apparent novelty factor began to wear off, though, and became colored by a certain corporate greyness, and began to fade into the background.

Alistair Cockburn presented a similar theme in his presentation at the Agile 2009 conference, “I Come to Bury Agile, Not to Praise It”:  (

Agile has spread to large, globally distributed commercial projects and affected the IEEE, the PMI, the SEI and the Department of Defense.  In last year’s review column, we touched on the Agile Backlash.

There are many signs that Agile has “crossed the chasm” and become mainstream. Many organizations, and perhaps a majority, now claim they are “doing Agile” in some shape or form. How successfully it’s being done will, of course, depend on many factors. There remain, perhaps, misunderstandings of the discipline required for successful Agile development.

There is a relatively common sequence of steps for the adoption of new ideas:  First comes, “That’ll never work!”  As some examples of success come in, this changes to, “It’ll never work here!”  This implies the belief that each set of challenges differ too much for a set way of doing things to.  Finally, “We’ve always done it that way!”

Regarding Agile SCM, we feel that the same sequence has been followed with practices such as iterative development, continuous integration (and all that means for the improvement and repeatability of the build process), test-driven development, and patterns of working.

Some CM people objected to the term Agile SCM, thinking of it is as simply “SCM for Agile development teams” and that calling it "Agile CM" suggests it is somehow different from CM or a "separate branch" of CM. Mario's Moreira's blog-entry The Chicken (CM) or the Egg (Agile)is a clear example of this. It treats the meaning of "Agile CM" as that of "CM for Agile projects", and maintains the status quo of CM thinking.  This suggests that one really doesn't have to do or think about CM in any genuinely different way nor in any legitimately different style in order to accommodate agile projects. From this perspective, it's another buzzword development method and we only need to make some tweaks and tunings here and there. And it's still the same CM as before.

We have always maintained that Agile CM is CM implemented "Agile style" in the agile mind-set, according to the agile values and principles. Our contention was that the phrase “Agile SCM” did not imply throwing away sound CM principles, but rather focusing on satisfying those principles and requirements in a slightly different way by emphasizing collaboration, flow, and working results.   There has been raging disagreement and very little acceptance of this in the SCM community. With the aforementioned "agile backlash" and every ALM vendor and product marketer touting "Agile wares", everything is now "agile".  The term has been so commoditized and watered down that it has lost much of its original meaning and impact.

There has, however, been agreement that SCM has needed to respond to Agile methods and principles, by using Kanban or continuous improvement principles to reduce cycle times, smooth friction in the development process, ensure appropriate automation while still being able to satisfy traceability requirements, etc. We feel that there is a different reason to, perhaps, let the term Agile SCM just be subsumed into SCM, so we will assume that all SCM is agile.

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