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Crossing the Chasm

Scott W. Ambler is a Canada-based software process improvement (SPI) consultant, mentor, and trainer with AmbySoft Inc. He has authored several books and is a regular speaker at software conferences worldwide.

Six years ago, if I'd told you that today's developers would be clamoring to improve their testing skills, to work closely with business stakeholders, to write high-quality code and to focus on providing business value whenever possible, you would have said that I was crazy. Well, that's exactly what we're seeing within the agile community. But many developers who wish to become agile are unfortunately still being held back by the organization within which they work. The good news? They won't be held back much longer. Agility is becoming mainstream.

Moving Mainstream

One strong indicator of this change is how agile is doing on Geoffrey Moore's Technology Adoption Curve (Figure 1). Organizations on the left side of the curve are more interested in the potential of the idea and are willing to take a risk, whereas organizations on the right are very conservative and will wait for "solid proof" that the idea works in practice. The implication is that as a new technology or technique is adopted, its marketing approach must evolve to meet the expectations of the marketplace. Moore observed that the greatest change in the marketing approach occurs at the chasm—the organizations to the right of the chasm have significantly different expectations than those on the left. Many ideas fail in the marketplace because their supporters are unable to cross the chasm.

[Click image to view at full size]

Figure 1
Moore's technology adoption curve. Technologies and techniques are adopted at different times by different types of organizations.

As a concept, agile software development has clearly crossed the chasm—most Fortune 500 organizations that fall into the Early or Late Majority are at least talking about agile concepts and most are trying out various techniques. The Scrum methodology and techniques, such as refactoring and test-driven design (TDD), have definitely crossed the chasm. On the other hand, Extreme Programming (the XP name really doesn't help) has not crossed over yet, and database refactoring is so new that only the Innovators have caught on to it.

Why is Moore's adoption curve so important? Because we need a new sales pitch. To date, many within the agile community have sold techniques such as XP, Scrum, agile model-driven development (AMDD) and pair programming on their potential merits. That approach worked for the organizations on the left side, but it isn't working for those on the right side. Our target audience has changed, and so must our message.

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