The Agile Tipping Point

Nirav P Assar uses Malcom Gladwell's best selling book , The Tipping Point to discuss what's necessary to fully, and successfully implement agile, in order to take advantage of all that it can bring to a software development team.

Agile consultants often take on the responsibility of helping an organization adopt agile methodologies. This is a challenging task to say the least. Introducing new ideas into an organization requires social intelligence, advanced communication skills, and persuasiveness, not to mention a sound grasp on agile principles and practices. In many large organizations, the agile consultant must also contest the deeply embedded mentality of traditional waterfall. The software industry changes constantly, but people's habits and minds aren't always amenable to change. 

Influencing in an organization is certainly not easy. But is being knowledgeable about agile, having lots of experience, and being persuasive the keys to success? Are there other more effective ways to make an idea spread?

Malcolm Gladwell's The Tipping Point

Malcolm Gladwell's book, The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference , examines the issue of how ideas spread quickly and become a social phenomenon. Gladwell analyzes interesting issues, and his writings are based on documented research and science. While his conclusions are often surprising, they are based on sound reasoning. His books are simply fascinating. The Tipping Point focuses on the notion that "ideas and products and messages and behaviors spread like viruses do." The concepts in his book can be readily applied to implementing Agile ideas within organizations. The principles illustrated in the book can help the Agile consultant effectively spread his message.

The Tipping Point describes three "agents of change":

    • The Law of the Few
    • The Stickiness Factor
    • The Power of Context

This article will apply these agents to the software environment with the aim of making Agile a successful methodology in organizations.

Law of the Few
The Law of the Few is the rule that large differences are made by only a few select people. Any type of social change or epidemic is dependent upon the involvement of a few extraordinary individuals that have the gifts of coercion, influence, knowledge and connectedness. Gladwell's theory is a derivative of the Pareto principle which states for many events, roughly eighty percent of the effects come from twenty percent of the causes. The Law of the Few enumerates three different types of individuals: connectors, mavens and salesman. How does this apply to agile? In order to make the ideas of agile effective in an organization, we have to enlist the help of these three types of individuals.

The Connector

Connectors are people who connect us with the world around us. They have "an extraordinary knack for making friends and acquaintances," while staying connected with these people. In a software group, the Agile consultant must find the Connector and get that person on board. This individual could be one of several different positions in an organization. Initially, you may think it’s the director of IT, because after all he is in charge and makes all the decisions. Or you may think it's the IT manager because she is involved in day to day decisions.

While these individuals have authority, it's not the position that counts the most for a connector. It's the social traits. The connector is the individual who is friends with various members of the team and interacts with them in the workplace and in social settings. The connector is the person who has true respect and rapport with team members, the business, management, and the testers.

The connector will disseminate the agile message on your behalf and the message will catch fire. It will become part of the everyday lingo. Find the connector and the agile mindset will seep into the organization.

The Maven
Mavens are information specialists. They have deep knowledge of

About the author

AgileConnection is a TechWell community.

Through conferences, training, consulting, and online resources, TechWell helps you develop and deliver great software every day.