Agile Survey Results: Widespread Adoption, Emphasis on Productivity and Quality

This summer in 2006, the Agile Project Leadership Network (APLN) co-sponsored the 2nd Annual 'State of Agile Development' Survey. Almost 1,700 respondents from 71 countries shared their companies' experiences using of Agile methods and the challenges that they face with future adoption. Teams have begun to quantify the value that their projects have achieved and are steadily expanding the types of Agile practices and tools that they use. IT metrics are well-understood. Business metrics must also play a role, but few were included in the scope of this survey.

As was the case in the 2006 State of Agile Development Survey, the intention of the survey was to determine how Agile processes are being implemented - not to determine the size or penetration of the Agile market. The survey was distributed specifically to "Agile aware" or "Agile practicing" developers including VersionOne's customer base and newsletter list, members of the APLN, readers of the Agile Journal, and a variety of relevant technology sites and user groups. Over 70% of this year's 1,700 respondents have already begun Agile initiatives; they do not represent "average" software developers.

Most respondents {sidebar id=1} are actively leading (31%) or participating in (14%) an Agile development team. One-third work in companies with software development organizations of 250 or more people, as compared to a quarter of last year's respondents. When asked about specific methodologies that they use, it's not surprising that over 70% are using Scrum, XP, or a Scrum/XP hybrid. No other single approach (including custom hybrids) had even a 10% response.

Adopting Agile Processes
The 2007 survey asked respondents to rank ten different reasons for adopting Agile methods: improving project visibility, enhancing the ability to manage changing priorities, increasing productivity, accelerating time-to-market, enhancing software quality, reducing project risk, reducing cost, managing distributed teams, reducing process complexity, and improving alignment between IT and business objectives. Over three-quarters of the respondents cited managing change and increasing productivity, time-to-market, and quality as their top factors (see Figure 1). These top four drivers match the results from the 2006 survey. Looking at it from the perspective of the classic ‘better, faster, cheaper' imperative, cutting costs took a back seat to speed and quality when considering adoption of Agile methods.


Source: VersionOne Survey

Figure 1: Top Agile Adoption Drivers

One interesting area to note: over 55% of the respondents said that their Agile teams are currently distributed. However, only 33% rated managing distributed teams as important or very important. In fact, close to 50% didn't consider this factor to be important at all. This discrepancy is not reflective of the broader Agile industry. We know that distributed IT projects have become the norm and management is particularly challenging. Agile practices aren't necessarily seen as a solution to distributed development, but some of the most sophisticated uses of Agile practices can be found on distributed and particularly offshore distributed projects. Leading Agile vendors and consultants have increased their focus on supporting distributed teams, appreciating these challenges.

Agile developers, even when successful, frequently face barriers to further adoption in their companies (see Figure 2). It's somewhat ironic that the key driver to adopting Agile practices is to be able to respond to business change, yet the key barrier among practitioners is resistance to change . Over one-third of those responding cited the dearth of skilled personnel as another major barrier, up from 21% in 2006. Management support and business alignment also remain difficult challenges.


Source: VersionOne Survey

Figure 2: Barriers to further Agile adoption

Agile project success stories have been discussed in the Agile Journal and elsewhere in the industry. Yet there remain some significant concerns for those adopting or considering to adopt Agile development practices (see Figure 3). Planning and documentation are still important! Management demands predictability and some degree of control. Whether driven by governance initiatives, compliance regulations, or project and portfolio management organizations, Agile teams cannot work in a vacuum.

Source: VersionOne Survey
Figure 3: Agile adoption concerns

Measuring Success
No proselytizing is necessary here: Agile developers and managers fully recognize the need to measure their projects' success and are attempting to do so (see Figure 4). First, the survey asked respondents to qualitatively estimate the level of improvement in value (i.e., significantly improved, improved, no benefit, worse, much worse) for specific metrics. The most significant improvements were seen in the ‘softer' categories: improved project visibility and improved team morale. People and collaboration as the heart of Agile teams' values. Almost half of the respondents also cited improvements in productivity, software quality, and/or time-to-market. These improvements line up directly with the key drivers to Agile adoption noted in Figure 1. Agile projects were also seen as significantly reducing risk, however it is unclear how the respondents measured that reduction.

The survey did not ask respondents to try to measure their ability to respond to changing business needs, so the tie to that primary Agile driver cannot be determined. It is this emphasis on measuring business value that will be the key to bringing Agile project success to management's attention. Teams must begin tying their results to specific business-oriented metrics, and not just focus on traditional IT measures.


Source: VersionOne Survey

Figure 4: Qualitative level of improvement seen on Agile projects

The survey also asked respondents to estimate specific quantitative levels of improvement (i.e., none, 10%, 25%, or gt;25%) in four areas. From this perspective, approximately three-quarters of those responding estimated at least 10% improvement in productivity, quality, cost, and/or time-to-market (see Figure 5). And among these, over half of the respondents noted improvements of at least 25% improvement in selected areas. Even though these are only IT metrics, they represent sizable benefits achieved on teams using Agile practices. (These results are also fairly close to the levels of improvement found in the 2006 survey.) The key point is that Agile teams -- and development teams in general -- have increased their emphasis in quantifying and communicating the value achieved on their projects.


Source: VersionOne Survey

Figure 5: Quantifying improvements on Agile projects

Tools, Tools, and More Tools
The 2007 survey also explored the different types of tools used on Agile projects (see Figure 6). No big surprises here. Bug trackers, spreadsheets, and unit testing tools are predominant; wikis and continuous integration tools are also widely used. Unit testing tools have been in use in large organizations for ages. Agile teams commonly use lightweight open source tools on their early Agile forays, although many corporate shops are pushing their teams to use legacy development tools in this new context. It would also be interesting to correlate the types of tools used against the various Agile methods. There is no way to determine whether tools in this survey are open source or commercial products, and the survey did not ask responders to distinguish between legacy tools being (re-)used for Agile projects versus new tool purchases.

Note that many of the respondents for this survey were VersionOne customers or contacts with an interest in project or team management. Therefore, the high use of an Agile or traditional project management tool is likely skewed to this population.


Source: VersionOne Survey

Figure 6: Tools in use on Agile projects

As new vendors enter this market, sizing and market opportunity are frequent factors in potential financing. Respondents in this survey were asked about planned tool use - potentially to help estimate market growth in the tools arena - and areas for which they don't see a need. This would be extremely valuable information, as at this point, valid Agile market data is insufficient at best and usually completely misleading.

Looking Ahead
The Agile community is growing by leaps and bounds. The drivers and benefits are clear and most hurdles can be overcome. The Agile Journal's analysis of the 2006 survey results predicted that the concerns for future adoption would "focus on offshore Agile projects, large team (and sub-team) management, and fit with corporate governance programs." Unfortunately, these area were not stressed in the 2007 survey questions and so it's not possible to track these trends. The Agile Journal community, however, has certainly emphasized these issues and shared many best practices for teams to adopt. Stay tuned for more on enterprise adoption.

The topic of metrics for Agile projects must be explored in greater detail. Teams must determine which metrics are most important to communicate their projects' success. This will vary by organization, depending on legacy practices and governance requirements.

Overall, these results are exciting. As the industry matures and successes are quantified, Agile adopters will have little trouble selling the benefits to their organizations. We have clearly crossed the Agile chasm.

About the author
Liz Barnett is the Editor in Chief of the Agile Journal and Principal Analyst at EZ Insight Inc. Previously Liz spent 10 years as a Vice President and Research Analyst at Forrester Research, joining Forrester as a result of its acquisition of Giga Information Group. Liz held management positions at Accenture, PepsiCo, and Atelier Research. She also was the Research Director for the advanced software development and advanced network computing research services at New Science Associates, prior to its acquisition by Gartner Group. Liz holds a patent for developing a distributed application development/CASE tool. Liz earned her B.S. in operations research and industrial engineering at Cornell University.

About the author

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