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Can Agile Work If Only a Few Believe?

Mark Mzyk | February 4, 2008

Question: Can agile software development succeed if only a few developers believe in it and try to practice it, but the rest of the company doesn’t?

Answer: Unknown.

At least, that’s my experience so far. I’m curious if any one has an answer of their own they would like to share.

I believe that agile is the best way to develop software, at least, that it is the best way that has been developed so far. Currently, I’m part of a small engineering group that believes in the practice and tries to actively develop using it. However, higher level management comes from more of a waterfall background and has been handing down edicts following what they know. Mid level management is between a rock and a hard place. They want to follow the edicts of upper level management but don’t know how to reconcile this with the agile process. What is happening is they pay lip service to agile and then march to a waterfall beat.

I admit, this is a difficult predicament. Everyone is still working their way through it while trying to come to an understanding. I find myself wishing that the agile methodology permeated the entire company and not just the engineering section. But still, that leaves open the question: can agile work if only a few people in a larger group practice it? Can you have an agile state that works within a larger, non-agile finite state machine?

Any advice or stories are welcome. I’d appreciate some perspective to put this in, so that I can then figure out the best way to move forward.