Break Free from Agile Pt. 1: A New Philosophy for Developer Autonomy and Accountability

Michael Machado


Why Traditional Scrum Processes are Outdated and Ineffective#

Are you tired of the limitations of traditional Scrum processes?

In today's fast-paced business environment, long standing agile workflows need to be rethought to create a modern software development playbook. Our upcoming series of blog posts explores the limitations of agile methodologies and the need for companies to move beyond them.

We'll discuss the challenges faced by software development teams, and propose innovative solutions to help your company stay ahead of the curve. Join us as we explore this critical topic and provide insights on how to progress the agile mindset.

Agility is more attitude than process, more environment than methodology. - Jim Highsmith, Author and creator of Adaptive Software Development, Signatory of “Agile Manifesto

In the last two decades, software development has undergone rapid evolution. Continuous integration and continuous deployment operations have improved code build and deploy processes. Application architectures have become faster and more secure through containerization. However, we still base our planning, execution, and performance evaluation on outdated methods.

We should not view the path forward as a linear progression. Instead, we need an exponential change in project management processes to adapt rapidly to the modern developer toolset. Quarterly Objectives and Key Results (OKRs), multi-month customer feedback cycles, and biweekly patch releases are outdated. Product teams now communicate live with customers, capture product metrics in real-time, and analyze user journeys on a per-session basis. In return, users expect near-instantaneous responses and resolutions based on their feedback.

In this new paradigm, why are development teams so far removed from the customer? Why do product development tools lack any notion of customer centricity?

How We Got Here#

The problem lies not with Agile itself, but with the commercialization of it by software providers that cater to one key persona.

Agile has become synonymous with micro-management, and has lost its promise of enabling developer focus, iteration, and flexibility.

We have found that the role of the project manager is counterproductive in complex, creative work. The project manager’s thinking, as represented by the project plan, constrains the creativity and intelligence of everyone else on the project to that of the plan, rather than engaging everyone’s intelligence to best solve the problems. - Ken Schwaber, “Agile Manifesto” signatory

The commercialized version of Scrum has lost sight of the product and end-user benefits that it provided. Software development has reached a tipping point where traditional Scrum processes, which rely on fixed constructs such as roles, sizing estimates, one-size-fits-all sprint durations, and recurring meetings, are no longer effective.

What began as a radical and transformative idea to empower developers has turned into an industry of scrum masters and consultants. The 'experts' tried to develop fixed formulas for writing, testing, and delivering software rather than empowering development teams. In turn, development processes have regressed into managing projects and providing estimates, rather than product thinking and customer problem solving.

Estimating the amount of work and resources needed is useful, but not the most important factor to consider. Estimating the atoms of a plan is only accurate after a plan shifts to execution and potential variables become more understood or resolved. This leads to most developers choosing to either pad estimates when dealing with any level of complexity or deal with only certainties that promote less risk-taking.

As a result, most developers view these processes as more constraining than constructive. Stand-ups and status checks quickly become formalities, and retrospectives have the potential to rely on toxic inputs when evaluating performance.

Finally, defining "masters" and "owners" cultivates a culture that prioritizes only specific titles. Choosing the de facto Scrum solution won't get you fired, but it will stymie innovation and open up opportunities for competitive disruption.

Where Do We Go#

In conclusion, the software development industry has developed rapidly, but our project management processes have not kept pace. The commercialization of Agile processes has led to a focus on process and localized metrics, rather than innovation and customer-centricity. At DevRev, we created our software to promote a philosophy that enables developer autonomy and accountability, while aligning front and back office teams to common success criteria.

Through these blog posts, we hope to provide a roadmap for organizations seeking to modernize their software development processes and embrace a more modern and customer-focused approach.

Michael Machado