The term “post-Agile” was simultaneously and independently coined in 2006 by Jonathan Kohl (Canada) and Jason Gorman (UK):
- Kohl’s blog: Post-Agilism: Process Skepticism
- Gorman’s article: Post-Agilism – Beyond the Shock of the New
Both Gorman and Kohl were influenced by their exposure to postmodernism and saw a lot of parallels between modernism and postmodernism in architecture, art, literature and philosophy and the Agile movement and something new that was developing in the mid 2000s.
Kohl (interviewed for post-agilism.com, Spring 2013):
I had just finished speaking at a conference in fall 2005, and I was travelling in a shuttle bus with a couple other speakers at the conference. One of them was talking about postmodernism and programming languages. He felt that the Agile movement was also a postmodern movement. That didn’t resonate with me.
While there are a lot of adaptive concepts in Agile methods, and they use incremental and iterative approaches, the actual rules of Agile processes can be quite rigid. Agile practitioners and process creators would much prefer that people follow the processes they have created. There is nothing wrong with that, and a lot of Agile practitioners, thought leaders and coaches have perfectly good reasons for wanting to defend the efficacy of their favorite processes, but that doesn’t sound like postmodernism to me. That sounds more like modernism. You are supposed to follow the rules within a framework, and if you mix things together or mash up Agile processes, you are likely to face a lot of resistance. Agilists often relate to concepts like Shu Ha Ri, where you must follow the process until you master it, then start to deviate and experiment.
In the meantime, I was seeing this new movement of people who didn’t fit the Agile standard practices. These were early adopters, and by 2005, many had 4-5 years of experience on Agile projects. They had seen successes, they had seen failures, and they were resistant to so-called “Agile-hype” or “Agile dogma”. I first met a skilled consultant in 2003 who was working for an Agile consultancy who was like this. He would break the rules of Scrum all the time on his projects, but he kept a low profile. I wrote him off as having a bad attitude at the time, but I kept meeting more and more people just like him. They were looking at something beyond Agile, and were operating in the margins. No one was really paying attention to them, but I found what they were doing to be fascinating. They used some Agile tools when they thought they would work, but they weren’t afraid to include other tools to get the job done, even if an Agile coach berated them for using so-called “waterfall” tools, or pointed out that they “weren’t Agile.” These people didn’t care about how Agile they were, they cared about delivering great software that was reliable and delighted their customers. They did what they felt was the right thing for their clients, and that mix of processes, tools and practices could change from project to project.
When I got home from that conference a few days later, it really hit me: Agile is a lot like modernism, and this new thing I am seeing is like postmodernism, therefore, it is “post-Agilism”. That was an “aha!” moment. These weird mashups I was seeing had precendence. For example, in architecture, a building might meet structural, safety and fire codes, but the design could be a mixture of many things. It didn’t need to conform, and an entire movement broke out against a successful movement before them. One wasn’t better than the other, they were just different, and they had different ways of solving the same problem. I wrote my blog post, and I was contacted by Jason Gorman shortly after, since he had written an article co-coining the term, and had come to the same conclusions.
Gorman (from article link above):
… In the twilight of the 19th century, Monet, Renoir, Sisley, Pissarro, Cézanne and Bazille joined together in Paris to form the loose alliance we now call impressionism. And, beyond them, composers like Ravel and Debussy, and writers such as Baudelaire and Verlaine, took up the impressionist cause and incorporated impressionist values into their work. More and more people jumped on to the impressionist bandwagon, of course. And not all of them were, strictly speaking, impressionists. In its origins, impressionism was the culmination of a long process of evolution in styles and techniques, born of very talented, and – more importantly – highly trained and disciplined artists. As the popularity of impressionism increased, the movement became a gravy train. And those that jumped on to the gravy train further down the line often lacked the training and the discipline that had brought impressionism into being in the first place. By 1910, the term “impressionist” had almost completely lost its meaning.
Software development has had its own little modernist revolution, in the form of the Agile movement.
… Like impressionism, Agile Software Development was born out of talent, training and discipline. And just like impressionism, after a while it has become a gravy train. The term “Agile” is becoming more mainstream. More and more job advertisements ask for “Agile experience”, and even consumer computing magazines have started to refer to “Agile Software Development” as if your average laptop user should know what that means. We see the term transplanted in front of a wide variety of products and services – and it appears in millions upon millions of mission statements and glossy sales brochures. And there is no doubting that those who are jumping on the Agile bandwagon today often lack the training and discipline of the Agile founders. Agile is losing its meaning.
Impressionism didn’t end, it just evolved: passed down through generations of new intellectual and artistic styles, it is alive and well today. We just don’t call ourselves “impressionists” any more.
And we can already see this process going on in Agile Software Development. Successful “Agile DNA” is being incorporated into new generations of development methodology, along with DNA from nearly six decades of software development.
Those of us who consider ourselves Post-Agilists have taken what worked and cross-bred it with the best bits of dozens of other approaches and disciplines, creating new variants that have the potential to be even more exciting, daring and shocking.
Kohl and Gorman shared ideas about the parallels between modernism/postmodernism and agilism/postagilism with their own circles of friends and colleagues.
In 2007, people started paying attention to post-agilism, and asking what it was. Both Gorman and Kohl were approached by research firms, practitioners and pundits to get more information.
Updates in 2007:
- Kohl’s blog: Post-Agilism Frequently Asked Questions
- Gorman’s blog: Post-Agilism Explained (Pretentiously)
The topic began to heat up with more blog posts, conference presentations, and even some proposals around creating a post-agile conference. Some seemed to get the theme and run with it, others co-opted it and decided it was the cool thing to do, so they would prefix “post” in front of their agile implementation (after previously prefixing whatever it was they were doing with “agile”.)
When the economic crisis hit in the fall of 2008, much of this talk stopped. As people became fearful in uncertain economic times, it was enough for many to have a job, keep their heads down, and ride it out. Agile was popular and safe, and talk about alternatives largely went unnoticed as people had other things to worry about.
There is very little mention of post-agile in this time period. Early thought leaders were largely silent on the topic.
Post-agilism starts to get mentioned again on blogs, in conferences, and a lot of questioning of Agile has become public, in unprecedented numbers. New technology such as mobile devices and practices like DevOps and continuous delivery are stretching the boundaries of current processes due to different conditions.