The State of Agile Development

February 17, 2012

I’m always interested in State of Agile Development Survey by VersionOne, particularly in the contrasts between the reasons for adopting agile and the actual benefits obtained. According to the survey, the top 3 reasons for adopting agile were:
  • Accelerate time to market
  • Manage changing priorities
  • Increase productivity
The top 3 benefits obtained from implementing agile were:
  • Ability to manage changing priorities
  • Improved project visibility
  • Increased productivity
Close, but the #1 benefit of accelerated time to market didn’t make it into the top 3. Improving project visibility is a good thing, but the ability to accelerate time to market was actually #5 on the list of benefits achieved, falling short of the hoped-for #1 reason to adopt agile. Why?

Let’s look at the barriers and concerns about agile to see if there are any correlations between why an expected benefit like accelerated time to market wasn’t realized. The top 3 barriers to agile adoption were:
  • Inability to change their organization’s culture
  • Availability of the personnel with the right skills
  • General resistance to change
The top 3 greatest concerns about agile were:
  • Lack of up-front planning
  • Loss of management control
  • Management opposition
Surprise, surprise! (Okay, not really.) These barriers and concerns reflect what we all understand: that change is hard. And agile development is change. As I interpret the survey, the actual benefits obtained are consistent with what you would expect during an agile adoption. These are the quicker, easier wins. Improved team morale was the fourth benefit obtained from implementing agile, another benefit that should result from an agile adoption.

A benefit like accelerated time to market requires change to expand beyond the development team, which means that organizations must overcome some of those barriers and concerns that are listed. If you are using agile development as a vehicle for software development improvement only without really changing how the business specifies software features, you most likely won’t gain much ground on the speed-to-market front.

Why? Well, you could be attempting to cram too many features at once into your product. In fact, your existing way of doing business may be causing you to specify features that you don’t really need. So yes, adopting agile development might translate into allowing you to build all of those features a little bit faster, but if you want speed to market, you need to figure out what not to build. You need to figure out how to go to market with a minimal viable product.

Yes, you can get some immediate, easy wins with agile. Other, more meaningful and lasting benefits can come – but they will come at a higher price. True change involves changes in mindsets and behaviors at all levels of the organization.