Does Agile mean Speed (fast)?

We are huge fans and followers of the 18F group that is helping to revolutionize the way government IT projects are designed, developed, deployed, and operated.

In fact, one of the big reasons we moved from beautiful Santa Monica, California to Washington, DC in 2008 and re-branded ourselves from inQbation to Agileana was for the same reasons; to help make government websites work better, get deployed faster, and make better use of tax payer dollars.

So, we are delighted that the 18F folks talk about agile delivery and starting lean.  It is no coincidence that our brand, Agileana, is a reflection of our desire to follow Lean Startup and Agile Delivery principles.

Does agile web development mean fast and speedy?

But, we did raise an eyebrow when we read 18F’s blog post about the speed of agile delivery services.

While we agree that taking three years to deliver a technology solution is unacceptable because the world will have changed dramatically in three years and the original requirements will likely be outdated or obsolete by the time it is deployed.  However, we do take issue with a correlation of agile + speed.

The reason we take issue is because we have subcontracted to purported “agile” shops in the past and have discovered that the way they become “agile” and deliver with the “speed of agile” is by burning the candle at both ends of the stick, working grueling 18-20 hour days, working through weekends, working through Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, Easter and Memorial Day weekend, midnight touch points, 2 am touch points, 8 am sprint planning, 6 pm sprint reviews and demos followed by another midnight touch point.

I remember people sleeping beneath their desk more than once.

We were forced to do all that in the name of “agile”.  That’s not agile.  It’s not sustainable, it leads to burnout, and it introduces unnecessary stress, pressure, mistakes, and technical debt.

The big difference with agile is that functionality gets delivered in iterations rather than developers disappearing forever and coming out years later with an obsolete solution.  And as scope or requirements evolve, the future direction of the deliverables reflect these changing requirements.

So, it is important to not confuse agile with speed or fast.  Projects don’t get done any faster with agile than they do with alternative methodologies. Just because we call it a sprint doesn’t mean that we run as fast as we can 20 hours per day, 7 days per week, for a month.  Sprinters simply can’t sprint for the entire duration of a marathon.

Even cheetahs, the fastest animals on land, can’t sprint for more than a few minutes at a time.


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