Agility is the New Standard

January 3, 2012

Agile development has been increasing in popularity in recent years, and depending upon who you listen to, the following scenarios are possible in the near future:
  • The foothold Agile has obtained in many organizations will spread beyond software and IT, gaining acceptance in other areas of the business.
  • There will be an increase in failed implementations, with a subsequent backlash against Agile.
  • The term Agile will cease to be used to identify any set of practices; it will simply be THE way that we operate.
I think all of the scenarios are possible; the first two are really about the expansion and growth of enterprise agility and in 2012 I believe that we will see a heightened interest and activity with the rest of the business incorporating Agile practices, mostly out of necessity.

I say this because, quite bluntly, corporate survival rates are declining. Consider the following statistics from The Shift Index study by Deloitte's Center for the Edge—which examined 20,000 US firms from 1965 to date—shows a dramatic decline in the life expectancy of a firm in the Fortune 500:
  • Only 74 of the original 500 companies in the S&P Index are still on the list 40 years later.
  • The average life span of an S&P 500 company has steadily decreased from more than 50 years to fewer than 15, and trending towards 5 years.
Competitive pressures make business agility more important than Agile development, and in fact achieving true business agility will require adaptation of approaches designed for software development towards other areas such as business innovation—obviously a critical component in driving top-line growth that increases the likelihood of corporate survival. Agility is the new standard.

In terms of failed implementations, well, they will come as Agile expands. Using the wrong tool for the job is one way to drive failure. For example, I personally feel that Kanban works better for support organizations whereas something like a Scrum/XP hybrid is better suited for new product development. That’s not to say that one tool can’t work, it’s just that some tools are better suited for certain purposes than others. Force-fitting one tool for every job will invite failure.

Ignoring the people dimension is also one great way to drive failure. Pay attention to the ADKAR® model, or follow Jurgen Appelo’s advice on changing the world (building on the ADKAR® model and other research):

Ultimately (how many years out, I cannot say), “Agile” as a term should disappear because it will be the standard. Right now it’s a convenient term to use while we’re undergoing a sea of change that involves the stripping away of the inessentials, of driving innovation and creativity with greater speed, of learning and adapting quickly—using new approaches to our work because we can’t drive faster execution using existing approaches (at least not in a way that is sustainable).


PM Hut said...

Hi Dave,

I think you're looking at the future of Agile from only one angle, which is that of an Agilist.

I don't believe that Agile will become the way to do things. I wish I still have the link to the article but there are statistics that prove that Agile's failure rate are not better than those of Waterfall when applied to software projects. I'm not sure if you agree or if you know if any such stats...

January 3, 2012 at 11:40 AM
Dave Moran said...

@PM Hut,

Happy New Year! Yes, I’ll confess to being an Agilist, and time will tell if I’m right or not. I do believe that there are ways we can improve and I believe Agile has something to bring to the table. (Read Steve Denning’s book Radical Management for more.)

I haven’t seen actual statistics on Agile projects versus Waterfall being even in terms of failure rates, but I have no doubt that as Agile adoptions increase, failure rates can and will rise. (I’m not alone in this thinking.)This proves one universal truth: managing knowledge workers and software projects is a demanding endeavor! Agile software projects can be screwed up just like any other project. Maybe in different ways, but still screwed up.

January 3, 2012 at 5:13 PM
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