Has Your Agile Ship Sailed?

December 8, 2010

Sorry agile purists.  In the real world, most development groups that are using agile techniques (a surprisingly small percentage vs. the industry hype) are not using a “pure” agile approach.  They are using a blend of agile and waterfall techniques to the tune of more than 10 to 1, according to a recent article on Application Development Trends.  The article discusses a European survey of this topic published by a tool vendor.  (Caveat Emptor – Remember if you choose to download and read the actual “study”, it is really a vendor marketing piece based on the survey results – not the actual survey).  I guess the assertion that “waterfall is dead” is as premature as that of the mainframe also being dead.

 Is anyone surprised?  Contrary to what we are constantly barraged with by the agile marketers shouting “Agile, agile!” there is no need to swallow the agile elephant whole.  If you are in an organization that is not using agile techniques, don’t be tempted to lunge headlong into adopting everything agile, just because think you are missing the boat.  Not so.  This article / survey show what other studies have recently shown – that organizations doing agile are not (yet) in the majority.  Another indicator is that the primary tools being used to manage agile projects are still Microsoft Excel and Project.  And many groups are just using ad-hoc tools or working manually.

 So you still have time.  Learn from the majority of the organizations surveyed and adopt agile practices a few at a time.  Target the areas where you have the most problems and try out some lightweight practices.  Find out what works for you, give it time to diffuse into your organization, and then move on to adding additional practices. 

 What you will find is that it is not usually about the tools or about the agile practices themselves.  Most of the challenges in agile adoption are about people and organizations.  This survey cites resource management, cultural issues, change management, perceived loss of control, and executive buy-in as major stumbling blocks.  A “tools first” approach will not solve these.  Nor will a process-only approach.  While you are adopting more lightweight techniques, also look at your people issues and assess whether those can be resolved.  Otherwise they will be the rocks upon which your agile ship will run aground.


  1. Thanks for sharing this!

  2. Agree with all of your statements, but with one caveat. The tendency to ease into it, can’t be a la carte. There are core features that must be implemented for it to have a chance. As you implied, these are primarily people oriented. Marginalizing management’s project participation in Development processes is vital, as is enforcing the 3 roles with their attending responsibilities. At its core, Agile is about empowering people to collectively make good decisions. When a manager, or any 1 person, has a leadership position that can quash the rest of the group, the dynamic is compromised, as is the project.

    • Agreed that the necessary changes can’t simply be a la carte, CarryAnne. There must be an adoption plan that lays in the fundamentals, addresses the organization’s pain, plus introduces changes that address organizational issues like those you mention. Such a plan can then be implemented incrementally. I’m wondering if you have encountered any effective approaches to “marginalize management’s project participation”. May be very hard to do given all organizations of significant size have managers. And most have the authority to “quash” various things. I assume your comment about management participation refers to those managers that have a negative impact on the team. (There are some good managers out there.) Maybe instead of marginalizing their participation, the goal should be to get managers to move their focus more away from the development tasks and more toward the leadership skills that are so vital to an organization’s sustained health and yet are often so hard to find. Let’s have the managers aspire to more than managing. Lead! Motivate! Inspire!

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