My “free market” sanity test

Every time someone tells me about the hottest new thing in IT, or whatever for that matter, I simply apply what I call my “free market test” to deciding whether there’s anything to it.

I like to pick on Agile, as you well know, so let’s use it for a comparison. We will compare it to outsourcing/offshoring. Now, back in 2001 when the Manifesto was signed, IT outsourcing wasn’t a new idea. I can’t pin down a date easily, but it looks like the ’90s saw a significant shift in IT outsourcing coincident with the rise of the internet. (If fairness, I could’ve easily picked on components of Agile as well. Most of the ideas in Agile are not new. Consider the small team approach. It can be traced back at least as far as Brooks’ seminal work “The Mythical Man Month” in his surgical teams approach.)

Here’s the thing. 10-15 years on, outsourcing is huge business. I haven’t dealt with a company who isn’t doing it. Agile is mixed. If the hype is to be believed, it should be the savior of all IT. So why is outsourcing ubiquitous and Agile is not? I think the free market test answers that. If something works, it will get widely adopted. No sane company is going to allow their competitors an advantage that they can easily copy. And any company can easily copy IT outsourcing or Agile.

The free market test is a simple way to think about whatever “new to your company” idea that may be going around. If everyone is doing it, chances are it is working. If it didn’t work, companies would abandon it, or those that continued to pursue the path would go out of business. The free market, like Darwin’s evolution, is survival of the fittest. Behaviors that don’t markedly improve fitness die off. Behaviors that do, thrive.

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