In a continuous effort to improve our ways to do things and to give an accurate picture of the current state of Agility in businesses, Pyxis Technologies conducted a survey with our network.
We are pleased to present the results.
Number of years being Agile
Although Agile approaches have been existing for over 10 years now, they remain quite new in organizations. In fact, 67.7% of respondents have been using an Agile approach for no more than 4 years.
I’m not surprised, because we first heard about Agility in 2008 in Quebec. Agile approaches earn their spurs, so more and more organizations followed suit over the last four years.
It seems quite realistic. The clients’ reaction that I have noticed is something like marketing with early adopters. Over the last six years, Agility gained in popularity. For instance, if we draw a parallel with the participation in the Agile Tour event, we ought to see a correlation. The event now has 1000 participants, which means that the number has doubled over the last four years.
Number of individuals impacted by Agility
MB: It could be interesting to draw a parallel between the size of the organization and the number of people impacted. Over the last years, large-scale organizations shifted to Agility, and this transition impacted numerous individuals in the organizations.
Even though the adoption of Agility presents a lot of challenges to large organizations, the implementation of Agile approaches is more common therein. Actually, 68.3% of respondents are working in organizations with over 100 employees.
MB: Nowadays, most large organizations are using Agile approaches. What we do not know is the extent to which they are Agile. Some resources must probably be using Lean for the operations, while other ones are probably using Scrum for the execution of projects.
GS: Most of our clients are large organizations. If I draw a parallel between both, the result does not surprise me. I believe that there are small organizations with an Agile culture without necessarily using a specific technique.
We asked our network why they decided to shift to Agility. Here are the reasons in order of importance:
MB: In a context where tools are rapidly changing, where consumers are used to getting new versions every year, and where competition is fierce, it is paramount for organizations to follow this trend. Allowing for frequent delivery of increments, Agile methods perfectly meet the need to reduce the time-to-market.
We have to show patience regarding the increase of flexibility with Agility. It is important to work on the processes in isolation and by separating considerations in order to have a systemic view on the impact of local modifications. Agility allows to find out how to make a product or process flexible.
GS: The increase of the development team’s productivity is perfectly aligned with the intentions of our clients. We are regularly performing diagnostic interventions, which help define the client’s intentions in an integral framework; and the vast majority of our clients are seeking a performance axis. Agility is not to make people happier, but more efficient on the market.
The most common methods and practices
The survey reveals that Scrum is the most popular Agile approach. Among the respondents, 93.1% are using Scrum. However, this method is being used with other practices:
MB: One of the reasons why Scrum is popular, it is because it can be applied to management. It allows for planning and delivery. Therefore, stakeholders can appreciate Scrum, unlike DevOps or Extreme Programming, for instance, which can only be applied to development and are intended for technical staff.
The Agile Lean approach can optimize operations. So, we can imagine that in the future this method will become more popular than Scrum, since operations represent a larger proportion of an organization’s activities than projects.
GS: What we often see nowadays is people starting with Scrum, and then they switch to Kanban with a hybrid called Agile Lean. Lean notions are implemented; notions that are less visible in Scrum.
Most common artefacts and ceremonies
MB: The basic practices that facilitate Agile project management stand out. The product backlog is still widely used, but the way it is being used could be different. For example, an organization with a low Agile maturity level could use it to respect the project scope, while a more mature one could use it to deliver a flow of added value.
Regarding the task board, it is not surprising that its use is as common as that of the product backlog, since it allows to measure the backlog’s progress.
Another benefit provided by Agility is the feedback loop. It is interesting to see that the sprint reviews and retrospectives stand out. I find it particularly reassuring that people take the time to inspect the increment and ensure the continuous improvement of the team’s dynamics and practices.
GS: It is great news that sprint retrospectives are rated so high. It is indicating that there is an Agile culture (i.e., being Agile rather than using Agility). It is normal to find the daily scrum at the top of the list. And it is good news to find more fundamental things such as retrospective and estimation sessions.
Difficulties encountered when implementing Agility
Adopting an Agile approach poses challenges and difficulties. Here are those encountered by the respondents:
MB: Agility fosters teams’ self-organization. Teams have to regularly deliver and, to do so, they must not suffer delays due to decisions from management. In a highly hierarchical structure, Agility may conflict with the culture.
GS: Sometimes support from top management restrains our activities with our clients. There is a desire for change without the willingness to change. When management staff supports the Agile initiatives, we note that the adoption is way quicker. Furthermore, the adoption level is much deeper.
Benefits gained from Agile approaches
People who are adopting an Agile approach obtain many benefits such as:
MB: I would like to put a damper on the greater visibility of a project’s progress. Waterfall approaches also give visibility to the progress of a project. It all depends on its uncertainty. For instance, if we are convinced that the starter solution is the right one, progress tracking by activity seems a good unit of measure. On the other hand, if we wish to measure progress based on the benefits gained from the solution, it is impossible with waterfall approaches.
The benefit gained from a greater involvement of stakeholders is an interesting balance. At the very beginning of computer science, developers tended to be close to clients in order to understand their needs well, but over time, we draw inspiration from the construction industry to efficiently deliver predictable results. Today, because, among other things, we want to reduce the time-to-market, we work closely with the stakeholders. This creates a level of collaboration that no longer existed and helps deliver products with higher value for the client.
GS: It is interesting to see that transparency (or visibility) is over the other items. Since it is one of Scrum’s pillars and almost 93% say they are using Scrum, it is nice to notice that a large proportion of respondents reap real benefits from it.
It is interesting to see that happiness at work is in the top 5. It is something that I observe when the client has been practising Agility for a while. That is, once the performance part has been relatively integrated, people see the other benefits that could be obtained with Agility. They also see that happy employees result in performance improvement.
What I also find interesting is that a greater cost control only represents 17% of the benefits gained. We sometimes have clients who think that Agility will greatly reduce costs, when in fact the benefits obtained are quite different; for example, better quality and increased productivity.
Items contributing to the success of Agile transitions
When we guide organizations during their Agile transition, we also work with top management. This way we know that they give their adhesion to Agility and that they promote the implementation of Agility. Respondents also reported that they have more success with Agile approaches when management adheres to it.
GS: My attention is focused on the rate granted to the use of tools. We often introduce a tool to patch up the Agile culture, which does not prevent the tool from being important. In fact, we could ask ourselves if it is the tool that makes us Agile.
For over ten years, Agility has been helping the practice evolve. Developers are granted more autonomy. Managers are provided with better visibility on the project progress. Stakeholders have better control over their product. Moreover, clients get solutions that are adapted to their changing needs. Respondents are almost unanimously satisfied of Agile approaches.
MB: If we would have conducted this survey before 2008, the satisfaction rate would certainly not have been this high. Today, teams that have integrated Agile practices well can really reap their benefits and be satisfied with the results. Besides, we observe in our training courses how there is less resistance towards Agility then there were 5 years ago. People know Agile methods, understand their use, and wish to learn how to master them instead of challenging their usefulness.
GS: This reminds me of an anecdote. One day, at a client’s office, the manager of a team not involved in the Agile transformation project told me this:
“I don’t understand! People who are not using Agile approaches have a negative opinion of them, but when I talk to teams that have been using them for 2–3 years,
they tell me how great these approaches are and say that they would never go back to what they used to do.”
Therefore, I am not surprised to see that over 90% of respondents are satisfied with Agility. Among all the teams that I’ve been coaching, none would go back to their old ways of doing after reaching a certain point. However, people who never used Agile methods think of them negatively. It is probably due to their culture, fear, or lack of knowledge regarding Agility. We still need to have many conversations with senior management, explaining them the benefits of Agility, and coaching them in their transformation projects. In the past, we only coached teams; today, we are coaching the entire organization.