Joel doesn't think much of agile development methodologies, and approvingly quotes Steve Yegge (who works at Google) - who also dislikes agile (a lot). Yegge goes on to describe what they do at Google as "good agile":
- there are managers, sort of, but most of them code at least half-time, making them more like tech leads.
- developers can switch teams and/or projects any time they want, no questions asked; just say the word and the movers will show up the next day to put you in your new office with your new team.
- Google has a philosophy of not ever telling developers what to work on, and they take it pretty seriously.
- developers are strongly encouraged to spend 20% of their time (and I mean their M-F, 8-5 time, not weekends or personal time) working on whatever they want, as long as it's not their main project.
- there aren't very many meetings. I'd say an average developer attends perhaps 3 meetings a week, including their 1:1 with their lead.
- it's quiet. Engineers are quietly focused on their work, as individuals or sometimes in little groups or 2 to 5.
- there aren't Gantt charts or date-task-owner spreadsheets or any other visible project-management artifacts in evidence, not that I've ever seen.
- even during the relatively rare crunch periods, people still go get lunch and dinner, which are (famously) always free and tasty, and they don't work insane hours unless they want to.
Unasked by Joel, and left unexplained by Steve: everything at Google stays in beta, pretty much forever. Hmm. Why do you suppose that is? Well, you get a bunch of "really smart" people together, don't put any product/project management together, and let them move around at will... what do you get? You get a bunch of projects that end up being 80% done (i,e., all of the technically "interesting" pieces are done, but that boring "polish" stuff isn't).
Agile is no silver bullet, but deciding not to have a plan isn't one either. Yegge can get back to me when anything beyond search moves out of beta over there, and when a "delete" button being added to gmail isn't touted as the greatest thing ever. Oh, and speaking of a boring task that someone at Google might consider paying attention to - the splog empire that Blogspot has become. Oh, wait - that's not "interesting", so of course none of the smart guys over there will touch it.