A gymnast in a difficult pose with an agile project board background
PHOTO: Adobe

Last month marked the 20th anniversary of the Agile Manifesto. The manifesto emerged from meeting representatives from extreme programming, SCRUM, DSDM, adaptive software development, Crystal, feature-driven development, pragmatic programming and others sympathetic to the need for an alternative to documentation driven, heavyweight software development processes.

Agile Manifesto

According to the signatories of the manifesto, the priority was to offer software users early and continuous delivery of valuable software. To do that the group developed four principles:

  • Individuals and interactions over processes and tools
  • Working software over comprehensive documentation
  • Customer collaboration over contract negotiation
  • Responding to change over following a plan

Agile has now become a buzzword. It is applied to business, to marketing and organization. In business management, the Agile Business Consortium explains that agile business agility is the ability of an organization to:

  1. Adapt quickly to market changes — internally and externally
  2. Respond rapidly and flexibly to customer demands
  3. Adapt and lead change in a productive and cost-effective way without compromising quality
  4. Continuously be at a competitive advantage

Agile as a Buzzword

However, even a quick look at the way that businesses operate today demonstrates that there is still a long way to go before the promise of agile is realized. Agile, in many instances, is still just a buzzword.

According to Matt Schvimmer, SVP of DevOps and ITBM at Santa Clara, Calif.-based ServiceNow, there has been progress, but that there is a still a long way to go yet. He says that the organizations that have implemented agile practices and planning have benefited greatly and are seeing better efficiency resulting in significant boosts in productivity.

Many of the organizations that ServiceNow works with have adopted these practices and there has been an increased interest in scaling agile methods by implementing broader agile management such as the Scaled Agile Framework. Even as the world transitioned to a remote work model, agile is helping organizations continue to benefit from the same team collaboration models as before the pandemic.

“In fact, just this week I spoke with a Fortune 500 customer that has made the transition to agile and is now releasing into production every two weeks, with 100+ enhancements delivered with each sprint,” he said. “This type of incremental, ongoing value is now becoming an expected operating approach for even the most traditional of companies.”

However, he said, organizations overlook a key contributor to success when implementing an agile framework. Oftentimes, businesses will fail to tailor their agile initiatives to their specific organization. Like any other practice or methodology, agile methodology should be customized so the unique needs and challenges of the company are being addressed in the most efficient manner.

Related Article: Why Organizations are Choosing an Agile Approach

Agile Progress In Different Directions

To answer the question 'have we achieved anything, Janis von Bleichert of founder of Germany-based Experte , an IT and software website to help companies with digital transformation, also believes that a lot has been achieved “but it isn't what the co-signers of the manifesto had in mind.'

If you look at any movement, be it political, religious, social, or whatever, there is always this sort of pure 'ideal' that it starts out with, he said. Fairly quickly, this 'ideal' undergoes quite a bit of bending and shaping since a movement needs to have some base of popularity to be a movement, and not just someone's (or a small group's) manner of thinking “In my eyes, this has happened to the agile movement, since, in order to be accepted or utilized by businesses or organizations outside of software development, it's had to make quite a few compromises,” he said. “I think you could make a very nice comparison between what's happening with agile now and what happened to cybernetics back in the 1970s and 80s.”

In business, leaders are driven to maximize efficiency and profit while lowering costs. With that in mind, those aspects of agile project management that are conducive to maximizing efficiency and profit while lowering costs have been embraced, whereas those that do not, have been discarded.  The type of APM (Agile Project Management) that has come into vogue is a hybrid which has a few parts borrowed from the manifesto, but others from elsewhere. “I would absolutely agree with you that a lack of comprehension or appreciation of all the principles codified in the agile manifesto is to blame for this,” he added.

The Agile Pretenders

If agile is the ability to create and respond to change, it is also a way of dealing with, and ultimately succeeding in, an uncertain and turbulent environment. It is very easy to say, “We are agile because we are sort of following this process” and miss a tremendous opportunity, said Deepu Prakash, SVP of process and technology innovation at India-based Fingent.

“Most places aren't agile. They're just pretending,” he said. “Have large companies gone through big cultural transformations? Maybe. I can only find examples of small companies well under 1000 people. Most companies are stuck with a culture that was defined in their first year.”

Today, large enterprises are looking for people with some scaled agile experience. Management usually likes the term agile when compounded with terms ‘reducing risks and ‘adaptability’. However, they also tend to associate it with chaos and the inability to give estimates or long-term vision.

Many organizations confuse adopting agile software development practices on delivery teams with agile transformation. Agile software development falls more on the technical side. Agile transformation involves shifting the culture and structure of the organization to be more customer-focused, quickly deliver value to customers, and validate that value was delivered.

What nine out of 10 organizations get wrong is that they push agile adoption as agile transformation without really understanding what it is. He points out that many force teams to use Kanban, Scrum, user stories, JIRA and many other things. They will turn business analysts into product owners and project managers become scrum masters. All led by someone who has witnessed it work, probably at a place that is one of the 9 organizations that do not get it. This approach does not even work with agile software development, much less agile transformations.

“Agile is a way of thinking. Until management stops chasing the hype, you can apply agile principles in every project without following a framework blindly. Just because your organization isn’t following agile doesn’t mean you should be afraid of implementing good concepts in your work;” he said.