Is the Technology Hype-Cycle of any use?

Every year, around the month of July, Gartner publishes Hype-Cycles on different technologies. There are more than 150 of them for different technologies and domains. The one that I have been following closely over the years is the Hype-Cycle on Emerging Technologies.

For those of you who are not very familiar with what a Hype-Cycle is, here is a brief explanation:

The assumption behind it is that every new technology creates an initial hype when everybody is talking about it. As a result an inflated expectation gets created around that technology. Since new technologies takes time to mature and deliver value, it very rarely lives up to the initial hyped expectation. Therefore, after a peak of inflated expectation disillusionment follows till it reaches a trough. After this, some technologies dies a natural death and are forgotten. However, the are some which starts delivering value and people starts adopting them. When sufficient number of people adopt it, the technology is said to have reached the mainstream. The hype-cycle is represented as a graph and each technology of interest is plotted on the graph. Gartner also predicts the timeframe of each technology to reach mainstream.

The is expected to act as a guide for organizations to take decision on technology investment.

My experience with hype-cycle has nicely followed the hype-cycle. Initially, when I came across this concept, it looked like a brilliant idea. You can look back on the adoption pattern of most accepted technologies and you feel that it has gone through the hype-cycle. Therefore, I used to eagerly await the yearly release of the hype-cycle and it used to form a key component in my technology recommendation to my organization.

However, after following it for 3 to 4 years, I have reached the trough of disillusionment!

Let me give you some evidence to present my case. My apologies for presenting all the evidence from only the hype-cycle on emerging technologies as that is the one I have been studying in detail.

Brief Statistics

There are 120 distinct technology names mentioned between 2003 to 2008. I have taken care to combine similar terms. The statistical distribution of how many times these are mentioned are as follows:

  • Only once – 74
  • Twice – 23
  • Thrice – 12
  • Four times – 5
  • Five times – 3
  • Six times – 3

It looks like they pickup technologies casually and drop it. In other words, out of the 27 technologies mentioned in 2008, more than half those terms are likely to be dropped from the 2009 hype-cycle.

Let me also point out some more inconsistencies!

There are only 3 technologies mentioned in 2003 which has survived in 2008!

  • RFID
    • 2003: Passive Radio Frequency Identification – at the peak (2-5 years to reach main stream)
    • 2004: RFID (Item) – on the rise & RFID (Case/Pallet) – sliding Into the trough
    • 2005: RFID (Passive)- sliding into the trough — what happened to the distinction between Item & Case/Pallet?
    • 2006: RFID (Item) & RFID (Case/Pallet) – sliding into the trough
    • 2007: RFID (Item) & RFID (Case/Pallet) – sliding into the trough
    • 2008: RFID (Case/Pallet) – sliding into the trough — what happened to Item? & how long will it slide?
  • Location aware applications
    • 2003: Location-Aware Services – climbing the slope (2-5 years to reach main stream)
    • 2004: Location “Aware” Services – climbing the slope
    • 2005: Location-Aware Applications – climbing the slope
    • 2006: Location-Aware Applications – climbing the slope & Location-Aware Technology – sliding Into the trough — why did Location-Aware Technology suddenly make an appearance?
    • 2007: Location-Aware Applications & Location-Aware Technology – climbing the slope
    • 2008: Location-Aware Applications – climbing the slope — how log will it climb the slope? & why did Location-Aware Technology disappear?
  • Electronic paper
    • 2003: Electronic Ink/Digital Paper – on the rise (5-10 years to reach main stream)
    • 2004: Electronic Ink/Digital Paper – at the peak
    • 2005: Electronic Ink/Digital Paper – at the peak
    • 2006: Digital Paper/E-Paper – at the peak — what happened to Electronic Ink?
    • 2007: Electronic Paper – sliding into the trough — what happened to Digital Paper?
    • 2008: Electronic Paper – sliding into the trough

The curious story of SOA

  • 2003: No mention!
  • 2004: Sliding into the trough
  • 2005: Sliding into the trough
  • 2006: Ditched in favor of the term Event-Driven Architecture and shown as on the rise
  • 2007: Makes a comeback and again sliding into the trough
  • 2008: Finally climbing the slope

There are several questions that comes to mind.

  1. Why did SOA not find a place in 2003?
  2. Why did it start its life in the hype-cycle by sliding through the trough?
  3. When did it climb the slope & when did it reach the peak?
  4. In 2006 there was a detailed explanation on why SOA term has been dropped and the term Event-Driven Architecture is used. Then, why does it not figure in 2007 & 2008?
  5. Is it because the term SOA is not coined by Gartner?

Other Interesting titbits

  • Web 2.0 finds a mention only in 2006 — The term was coined in 2003. What happened to it 2004 & 2005?
  • Terms like AJAX(2006-sliding through the trough), Folksonomy(2006-at the peak) & Podcasting(2005-on the rise) is mentioned only once — Are these technologies not in use any more?
  • Semantic Web makes periodic appearance: (2003-on the rise), (2004-at the peak) & (2007-sliding trough the trough) — what happened to it in 2005 & 2006? where is it in 2008?
  • Corporate blogging has been sliding through the trough on 2005, 2006 & 2008 — when did it climb the slope? what happened to in it 2007?
  • Smart phones was sliding through the trough on 2003 & 2004, goes missing on 2005 but is seen climbing the slope on 2006 only to disappear again — Did it reach the mainstream adoption or has it dropped of the curve?

I can go on and on.

You can form your own opinion but I have stopped relying on it!

Though the actual report is a paid report, you can still have a look at the hype-cycle graph by searching for images in google with the term “gartner hype cycle emerging technologies”. You will get most of the hype cycles. You can include the year also to locate a specific year. However, 2004 hype-cycle seem to be missing but you can have a look at the table of content.

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Off-shoring and Moving from Waterfall to Agile

For quiet some time I have been a proponent of agile methodologies. It has been a fascinating experience trying to persuade people to move from waterfall to agile. Right now the industry is in an overdrive towards adoption of agile methodologies and the doubters are taking a back seat. We seem to be moving towards the peak of inflated expectation and and a bout of disillusionment may be just across the corner. So I will try to stay away from the hype and take a more pragmatic and look at what are the roadblocks for moving from waterfall to agile. It is difficult to distinguish if they are real or perceived. In either case they need to be addressed.

One of the most important points that has to be taken into account is the impact of off-shoring, especially to off-shoring to India. Any large scale agile adoption plan which does not take India into account is obviously doomed for failure. Indian software companies have made heavy investment in SEI-CMM certification and have created internal processes which are primarily based on waterfall methodology. With increasing adoption of agile methodologies across all enterprises, off-shore vendors can not stay away from this issue. Even SEI has released a white paper outlining how both agile and CMM can coexist.

However, at the heart of the problem lies the ETVX model. One of the primary implication of this model is the assumption that software design can not start until requirement is frozen and coding can not start until design is complete. People trained in waterfall methodology have been drilled to think on these lines. Therefore, the necessity to freeze requirement before design and development can start is taken as sacrosanct. Those of us who live in the real world know that requirement can never be frozen. It is especially true now that software has become an integral part of every product or service offering. Keeping aside the requirement change caused by miscommunication and improper understanding, requirement will change because of the sheer market dynamics. That is the basic assumption on which agile methodologies have been designed – that requirements will change.

To resolve this contradiction, not only is it necessary to revamp the documented processes, but also requires a change in mind-set of people. Irrespective of agile experts say, this transition is not going to be easy. Most Indian IT companies perceive this as a risky transition. If the project management is handled completely by the customer and the project is done in a time and material basis then implementing agile practice is perceived as less risky option. The real challenge for an offshore vendor is to manage the projects governed by fixed price and follow agile methodology. Today it is perceived as high risk strategy and it is generally avoided. Many questions and doubts are raise which will require an answer. Here is a set which I have compiled for which I do not have very clear answer or explanation. The questions and doubts are grouped from the perspective of different stakeholders.

From the perspective of the business head of the of the organization handling the off-shoring

  • How do you determine project completion? Requirements can be ever changing!
  • How do you handle scope creep? It is like handing over a blank cheque!
  • How do you manage the impact of attrition? With no mechanism of formal documentation the knowledge will just be lost!
  • When there is a dispute, how do you establish who is right? We should not remove the term called traceability from dictionary!

From the perspective of the project manager

  • How do you handle the problem of geographically distributed team? Stand-up meeting … time zone … face to face!
  • How to induct new member into the team midway through the project? This may be more problematic than team member leaving!
  • How do you do the release testing? There may be a large audience … even one bug may be costly!

From the perspective of the architect / designer

  • How and when do you design? Expert say that agile does not advocate that “you do not need design”, but it is not clear how design will happen!
  • What will be the role of an architect? Maybe there are not needed!
  • How does specialist role dovetailed into the project? It may have to happen informally!

From the perspective of the process owner

  • How to audit an agile project? Documented evidence and primarily oral communication do not go hand in hand!
  • How is backlog list different from task breakdown? To the non-initiated, they look suspiciously similar!
  • How is traceability needs addressed? Maybe you cannot audit and agile project!

Do you have answers to any of these questions? Have I overlooked anything relevant? Feel free to express your opinion and add a comment.

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