Agile Evolves

by Cyndee Miller

Agile is the punk rock of project management. After years of living on the fringe, it’s officially gone mainstream — much to the joy of some and the utter dismay of others.

Like punk, it was built around a call to disrupt the status quo.

When a group of software programmers wrote the agile manifesto 16 years ago, the big goal was to embrace change: “to be aware of changes to the product under development, the needs and wishes of the users, the competition, the market and the technology,” Andy Hunt, a co-author of the agile manifesto, told PM Network last year.

The shadow of a punk rocker

While that purpose still holds true, the agile club is no longer limited to software developers, startup leaders and waterfall haters. An HPE survey showed agile’s ascendancy from anti-establishment to mainstream really took off in the past five years, with a significant adoption inflection point occurring around 2010. And check out the current numbers: Ninety-four percent of the survey respondents in the latest VersionOne State of Agile survey said their organizations practiced agile. PMI recently partnered with Agile Alliance on an Agile Practice Guide.

Some of this comes down to the business world’s obsession with digital transformation, which 42 percent of execs say they’ve begun, according to a 2017 Gartner survey. As Jason Bloomberg, president of Intellyx, wrote: Companies are increasingly going agile “to successfully navigate the disruptive waters that threaten to drown them.”

Take South Africa’s Standard Bank. Facing competition from a rapidly expanding fintech sector, this 155-year-old bastion of financial service embarked on a multiyear digital transformation — with a shift to agile software dev at the center, according to McKinsey.

Not everyone, however, was onboard. I know, shocker, right? To change hearts and minds, the company’s CTO and his team held town hall meetings to explain their logic and set targets for the transition, gave teams autonomy to make decisions on how to go about their day-to-day functions, and co-located team members for better collaboration.

So far, so good. In early agile engagements, Standard Bank reported productivity increases of up to 50 percent and unit-cost reductions of up to 70 percent per function point.

But for some, agile’s entrance into the mainstream has given rise to a new challenge: the dilution of the very term. Mr. Hunt told PM Network the word has become “sloganized” and is “meaningless at best, jingoist at worst.”

In that same article, Jordi Teixido, PMP, COO at Strands, Barcelona, Spain, said: “Agile is wonderful when you’re really iterating and collaborating, but it’s also a refuge for mediocre practitioners who are unable to document or express their requirements or forecast what they want to build. If you don’t follow the rules of the game in waterfall, everyone knows it. But in agile, that’s harder to tell from the outside — and because of that, some people use agile on projects that would be far better under waterfall.”

What do you think? Is your organization using more agile? And do companies have a grasp on what the term really means?

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