Agile has been the dominant development methodology in our industry for some time now. While some teams are just getting to grips with Agile, others extended it to the point that it’s no longer recognisable as Agile. In fact, many of the most progressive design and development teams are Agile only in name. What they are actually practicing is something new, different, and innately more interesting. Something I’ve been calling Post-Agile thinking. But what exactly is Post-Agile, and how did it come about?
The age of Waterfall
Agile emerged from the world of corporate IT. In this world it was common for teams of business analysts to spend months gathering requirements. These requirements would be thrown into the Prince2 project management system, from which a detailed specification — and Gantt chart — would eventually emerge. The development team would come up with a budget to deliver the required spec, and once they had been negotiated down by the client, work would start.
Systems analysis and technical architects would spend months modelling the data structure of the system. The more enlightened companies would hire Information Architects — and later UX Designers — to understand user needs and create hundreds of wireframes describing the user interface.
Humans are inherently bad at estimating future states and have the tendency to assume the best outcome — this is called estimation bias. As projects grow in size, they also grow in surface area and visibility, gathering more and more input from the organisation. As time marches on, the market changes, team members come and go, and new requirements get uncovered. Scope creep inevitably sets in.
To manage scope creep, digital teams required every change in scope to come in the form of a formal change request. Each change would be separately estimated, and budgets would dramatically increase. This is the reason you still hear of government IT projects going over budget by hundreds of millions of dollars. The Waterfall process, as it became known, makes this almost inevitable.
Untimely the traditional IT approach put too much responsibility in the hands of planners and middle managers, who were often removed from the day-to-day needs of the project.