Agile is Here to Stay... Now What?

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to a largely binary view - either you are Agile or you are not, with few shades of grey in between. While this purist approach can be effective in "winning hearts," it can also be alienating, particularly when complex organizational realities must be dealt with as a prelude to any real and sustainable change. Thus, the Agile movement is poised at a critical crossroads and we are forced to ask the question: to what degree are we willing to compromise our view in order to innovate and create value across the industry? To quote Forrester Research:

"Based on our interactions with enterprise IT organizations, Forrester estimates that most large enterprises have some projects using Agile but that very few large enterprises use Agile for most of their projects." [v]

Thus, adjusting our attitudes toward wide-scale Agile adoption starts by accepting that few organizations today begin their transformation with a purely waterfall process and that almost none will become fully Agile. The goal should not be to make Agile an all-or-nothing proposition. Rather, the focus should be to methodically and pragmatically look at an organization's realities and then answer the following questions:

  1. How far can we go and how far should we go in adopting Agile?
  2. How long will it take and are we committed to seeing it through?

In his book Crossing the Chasm , Geoff Moore presents his widely accepted model for explaining how innovations are cultivated and, when successful, take hold in the market. [vi] Moore's model (see Figure 1) is divided into segments that account for the innovators who forge the raw ideas, the early adopters who latch onto these exciting new concepts, and "the rest of us." The most significant feature of Moore's model is an inflection point in the graph, the "chasm", which separates the "early" and "mainstream" markets; bridging this gap is determined by the ability to deal with the scale and accompanying uncertainties of the mainstream market. Exploding into the mainstream requires momentum - something the Agile movement has in abundance - and pragmatism - something the Agile community needs to cultivate.

 

 

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Figure 1: Geoffrey Moore's Adoption Model

 

 

To successfully navigate the chasm, we must embrace the complexities of the mainstream market and accept that factors such as distributed teams and regulatory compliance are not inherently evil but realities within leading businesses - realities that are not going to simply disappear. Deploying Agile broadly across an enterprise requires striking a balance with some tough and unwanted compromises along the way.

 

However, we might find these compromises less objectionable if we were to leverage the complementary concepts of Agile and Lean. For those unfamiliar with Lean, it comprises a set of potentially competing principles whose overarching goal is cost reduction via the elimination of waste. Agile methods, with their focus on customer value, first-time quality, and visual control arguably implement many Lean principles. However, in many instances, we've seen Agile purists seek to optimize value solely at the level of individual teams to the detriment of the larger organization. By applying Agile/Lean thinking at only the team level, larger organizational issues such as those we described earlier fail to receive adequate attention, creating discord that ultimately threatens the longevity of Agile within the enterprise. The Lean crowd takes a broader view, underscoring the need to optimize the enterprise as a whole. In other words, Lean proponents may implement things that slow down a few teams, but optimize the throughput of the overall organization. Agile purists seem to rail against this kind of thinking, but it is the "missing ingredient"

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