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In software programing there are several approaches to building products.  The two most popular are the agile and waterfall methodologies.  Both methods are good.  Both methods have there place whereby they fit better than the others.  However, there is a disturbing trend happening whereby the agile method is being applied to every project, every task, every meeting, in fact – to everything.  This is wrong on so many levels.


In our fast paced world, the need for rapid development is obvious and the agile method accelerates the deployment of new code.  This is a good thing.  Often, some solutions only have a shelf life of less than three years, so the sooner you can get it to market the better.  Its operation lifespan is all that matters.  Since agile is an iterative process, the solution can be improved during its lifespan.  If we are building an iPhone app, then agile is ideal.  No complaints.

However, agile is not the only approach, and it clearly does not fit all projects.  For example, would you design a nuclear reactor or build an new commercial airliner with the agile method?  I think not.  These solutions need to work the first time and every time.  We need these solutions to be rock solid and robust.  We must trust that they will work reliably, faithfully, and truthfully.  A buggy design is highly undesired in a reactor or an airplane.  In this case the waterfall method is greatly preferred and a much safer fit for the desired outcome.

Most people would agree with these suggestions.


However, we are seeing the emergence of the ‘agile culture’ as the concept of agile permeates into every aspect of business.  This is troublesome.  For example, younger colleagues are waiting to the very last minute to confirm attendance at meetings.  They are scheduling their work day using agile approaches.  So, they fail to commit to participate in a meeting until an hour or two before, just in case something better comes along.  They want to be agile.  They live an agile life.  It is an extemporaneous life.  But, it is difficult to depend upon someone if they live for the spur of the moment.  It is a dysfunctional life that lack planning, consistency, and predictability.

So, who is this generation who are exuberantly embracing the ‘agile culture’ above all else?  They are a blended cohort situated between the Millennials (Generation Y) and Generation X.  They are often somewhere between 20 to 35 years old.  Most have solid education with baccalaureate and graduate degrees.  They are smart and urban.  They are the ‘uber generation’, so they do not own cars and live in apartments or condos.  They are mobile.  They seek experiences over owning assets.  They tend to be everything that the baby-boomer generation is not.

In another case, a customer is preparing to roll out a major reinvention of their IT and OT systems worldwide.  They selected the agile method to be applied to this massive project.  But, this is clearly a band-aid approach and important systems need time to be conceived, planned, design, engineered, and deployed.  You cannot solved all of the years worth of inherent problems of these systems within the boundaries of a single day time frame using an intense hour by hour schedule to remedy it all.  Why?  Because we are missing quality decisions.  We are missing essential data, information, knowledge and wisdom – they are all absent.  Undoubtedly, numerous mistakes will be made and the business operations will suffer from these mistakes.  Perhaps fatally.  This is especially true when a cookie-cutter approach is not possible due to the uniqueness of each location that demands a custom fit remedy.

Do not misunderstand, I love and use the agile method in my own work.  I also use the waterfall method.  But, it is a case of selecting the right tool for the task at hand.

However, once a trend permeates into the core fabric of culture and life just as the agile methodology has done, it begins to disrupt the natural flows of work and life.  It forces work and life to fit the methodology instead of the methodology fitting the needs of work and life.  This is exactly the case with the agile method today.  The millennial generation is comfortable in this chaotic state.  It seems normal to them.  But, everything in life is now rushed, unfinished, erratic, and broken.

Here are the five tenants of the way agile is applied in software development.  I have modified them slightly to reflect how they are now being applied to life in the ‘agile culture’.

People Over Process: People align themselves in overlapping communities focused on closet friends (squads), work environment (tribes), skillsets (chapters), and interests (guilds), so they can freely experiment with different themes and interests.  The agile culture encourages an organic approach to life and thrives to self-organize.

Dynamics Over Documents: Relying heavily on pre-scripted documentation does not work in a dynamic digital culture.  Agile people need to be configured for speed, working in short iterations – while, of course, frequently referring back to the original objectives and principles.

Collaboration Over Cascading: The culture is less about owning and more about sharing. This collaborative mindset provides bountiful benefits to individuals; it leads to better communication, trust, knowledge distribution, and adaptive and shared leadership.

Adaptive Over Prescriptive: Does your lifestyle invite disruption, or is the focus overwhelmingly more on stability and dependability? Instead of asking “Why can’t it be done?” people in an agile culture are empowered to seek answers to the question “How can it be done?”

Leadership Over Management: The agile culture is only possible if participants live a lifestyle that is to “serve and enable.” This means that people focus on what problem needs to be solved, but let the group figure out how to solve it.

You cannot and should not apply the agile method to manage your personal and professional relationships.  It causes damage and is counterproductive.

The way that we interact with people demands respect, trust, and commitments.  Everyone wants predictability, yes, even the millennial generation.  While the agile culture aligns to some of the approaches to this cohort, the lack of predictability still causes angst.

Sometimes doing things that may not be rated and ranked as the most important thing to do at the moment, is smarter than if you function agilely.  With interpersonal relationships you will quickly realize that it upsets people and is harmful to these relationships if you do not respect them or break their trust.

It is time to rethink the ‘agile culture’.  Let us keep the agile method, but apply it when and where it fits best.


About the Author:

Michael Martin has more than 35 years of experience in systems design for broadband networks, optical fibre, wireless and digital communications technologies.

He is a Senior Executive with IBM Canada’s GTS Network Services Group. Over the past 13 years with IBM, he has worked in the GBS Global Center of Competency for Energy and Utilities and the GTS Global Center of Excellence for Energy and Utilities. He was previously a founding partner and President of MICAN Communications and before that was President of Comlink Systems Limited and Ensat Broadcast Services, Inc., both divisions of Cygnal Technologies Corporation (CYN: TSX).

Martin currently serves on the Board of Directors for TeraGo Inc (TGO: TSX) and previously served on the Board of Directors for Avante Logixx Inc. (XX: TSX.V). 

He serves as a Member, SCC ISO-IEC JTC 1/SC-41 – Internet of Things and related technologies, ISO – International Organization for Standardization, and as a member of the NIST SP 500-325 Fog Computing Conceptual Model, National Institute of Standards and Technology.

He served on the Board of Governors of the University of Ontario Institute of Technology (UOIT) and on the Board of Advisers of five different Colleges in Ontario.  For 16 years he served on the Board of the Society of Motion Picture and Television Engineers (SMPTE), Toronto Section. 

He holds three master’s degrees, in business (MBA), communication (MA), and education (MEd). As well, he has diplomas and certifications in business, computer programming, internetworking, project management, media, photography, and communication technology.