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Agile and the Long Crisis of Software

Logic Magazine  – Miriam Posner, assistant professor of Information Studies and Digital Humanities at UCLA: “I first encountered Agile when I got a job in a library. I’d been hired to help get a new digital scholarship center off the ground and sometimes worked with the library’s software development team to build tools to support our projects. There were about six members of this team, and I noticed right away that they did things differently from the non-technical staff. At meetings, they didn’t talk about product features, but “user stories”—tiny narratives that described features—to which they assigned “story points” that measured the effort involved in completing the associated tasks. They met every morning for “standup,” a meeting literally conducted standing up, the better to enforce brevity. A whiteboard had pride of place in their workspace, and I watched the developers move Post-it notes across the board to signify their state of completion. They worked in “sprints,” two-week stretches devoted to particular tasks….I began to explore the history of Agile. What I discovered was a long-running wrestling match between what managers want software development to be and what it really is, as practiced by the workers who write the code. Time and again, organizations have sought to contain software’s most troublesome tendencies—its habit of sprawling beyond timelines and measurable goals—by introducing new management styles. And for a time, it looked as though companies had found in Agile the solution to keeping developers happily on task while also working at a feverish pace. Recently, though, some signs are emerging that Agile’s power may be fading. A new moment of reckoning is in the making, one that may end up knocking Agile off its perch…”

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