In February of 2001, seventeen people gathered at Utah’s Snowbird lodge to discuss software. They were a diverse group, some with competing interests, some of whom admitted that it seemed unlikely that they would “ever agree on anything substantive.” While many of the concepts that emerged as the Agile Manifesto were not new concepts to those who attended the gathering, the distillation of the ideas into something substantive that was valued by them all was monumental and has become a beacon of shared values that have started to transform our industry.
The concept of Agile has been disruptive to the industry — and that’s a good thing. Many of you have probably noticed that not everyone welcomes Agile. My experience has been that interest often begins at the developer level (or even developer management level). And then acceptance of the idea is mixed from there. Of course, acceptance among the development team can also be mixed depending on the chosen methodology and how well it blends with the members of the team. It seems that Agile is most effective when the company management finds value in it and drives Agile adoption and embraces the culture change that brings to the company.
I think one thing that sometimes stands as a roadblock to company-wide Agile adoption is that there are people at all levels in a company that are largely driven by a fixed mindset. The concept I am referring to comes from Carol Dweck’s book Mindset: The New Psychology of Success which contrasts a fixed mindset vs. a growth mindset. Those with a predominantly fixed mindset fear change because they fear their ability to adapt to and handle new challenges. I really like this diagram I stumbled across that explains some of the concepts of these mindsets (but doesn’t replace reading the book). I do think that this plays a significant role in Agile adoption (or the lack of it).
But when it comes to Agile adoption, I love where we are today compared to just 5 years ago. I recently overheard someone say that pretty much everyone is doing agile now, and while I feel that is a gross overstatement, I love that it is even possible for someone to come to that conclusion — 5 years ago a lot of people hadn’t really even heard of it. I was hoping to find an independent source showing agile adoption percentage, but when I went looking I mostly found surveys performed by software companies and they reported the percentage of companies “using agile” ranging between 50% and 84% and I wasn’t satisfied that the companies went to great length to ensure random sampling. I do presume, however, that the results at least show a ballpark of where agile is today, and it doesn’t feel inconsistent with what I’ve experienced. More often than not, when I see job postings now, they reference Agile in one way or another.
Of course “using Agile” is a very loose term. Some people may consider themselves agile if they have a daily stand-up meeting. While a daily stand-up meeting, or more to the point, valuing individuals and interactions over processes and tools is important in all agile implementations, it alone is typically not enough to make a significant difference — even if it’s an important step in the right direction. So while measuring Agile adoption may be challenging, I did hear something recently that I found encouraging.
I was lucky enough to be at the Salt Lake Agile Roundtable meeting this month when Alistair Cockburn (the founder of this meetup), Ward Cunningham, and Jeff Patton all decided to join us. Alistair and Ward were both part of that original group that formed the Agile Manifesto in 2001. It was great to listen to some of their stories about that meeting and to hear their thoughts on Agile today. One of the things that really stood out to me with respect to where Agile is today, was when Ward Cunningham responded to a question about what has happened with the Agile movement since 2001. He said, and I’m paraphrasing, that “it is great to see other industries wanting to imitate the success in the software industry.” I think that is a great indicator of how disruptive Agile has been to processes (specifically waterfall) that previously had caused our industry to be shunned and frowned upon by business and other industries. The Software industry is beginning to shed its long-held image as anti-social, difficult, and rigid; and that image is being replaced with one that is worthy of being emulated for it’s ability to handle complex business requirements and respond to the ever-changing landscape of business needs. This is largely due to the values distilled by that group of individuals and published as the Agile Manifesto.
What have you seen in your experiences with Agile? Do you see Agile bringing transformitive change to the industry or do you feel that is overstated? Feel free to share your experiences and thoughts in the comments below.