Has Agile Software Development Gone Mainstream?

Today's software development industry views object-oriented programming as 'just another tool.' Is agile development headed the same way?

By Matthew Heusser
Mon, August 12, 2013

CIO — April's Software Test Professionals Conference ended with a panel discussion about the future of the industry. Rex Black said agile methods were "picking up steam." His colleague on the panel, Cem Kaner, a professor of software engineering at Florida Institute of Technology, replied that agile software development is, on the other hand, already mainstream, and those not already doing agile are in danger of being left behind.

Who's right—and what does that mean?

Object Oriented Development Went Mainstream, and That's OK

In 1998, Alistair Cockburn authored Surviving Object-Oriented Projects; a year later, Robert Binder penned Testing Object Oriented Systems. Both books suggested that object-oriented programming was new and offered something wonderful—while being a challenge with massive pitfalls. The object oriented conference, OOPSLA, was changing the world.

Today, save for embedded and legacy systems, every single company I interview is using object-oriented programming languages (commonly Java, Ruby or C#). That said, the only place you'll find a book with "object oriented" on the cover is in a freshman computer science class. OOPSLA went through years of decline, too, before reorganizing itself in 2012 to essentially become a track in a wider event called Splashcon.

It's not that object-oriented programming failed. Instead, the opposite happened: OOP, like everything else, went mainstream.

The same thing may be happening to agile. It might surprise you to learn that the largest Agile Conference was back in 2008, with total attendance of 1,500 people.

Size, Barriers to Change Affect How Companies Develop Agile

Analyzing an industry is complex. The people who fill out surveys, for example, are most likely to be early adopters, open to change and "plugged in" to the community. That's why they get survey announcement emails in the first place. If the person works in an industry with its own websites, magazines and news sources—think aerospace, medicine or government—he or she may not realize that survey exists at all.

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Even after accounting for that, it's hard to discount reports such as VersionOne's 2012 Agile Development Survey, which has a 84 percent "Yes" response to the question "Does your organization practice agile development?" Among those, 54 percent claim to be using scrum.

To get beyond surveys, I looked for a company with a finger on the pulse of software development, one that both builds software and works to integrate it with other companies.

Software AG CMO Ivo Totev
With 2,000 consultants working with external clients, Software AG CMO Ivo Totev is in a unique position to see how software is build cross-industry.

Software AG has more than 1,000 employees on its internal technical staff, along with several thousand more working on consulting and integration assignments. I met with CMO Ivo Totev to get a feel for what his clients were doing and how Software AG interacts with them.

Totev explains that one large barrier to agile adoption is the barrier to change. Large legacy projects, database projects and systems that protect services are all hard to change; they all require more coordination and communication and have slow test cycles. This extra overhead makes the agile idea of quick test, release and feedback cycles all the more challenging.

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