Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Is Agile Mainstream yet?

There continues to be a lot of debate on whether Agile is mainstream. According to a Forrester report published in early 2010, while widespread “Agile” use of the iterative software development processes is found, " teams are not adopting scrum, extreme programming, or another specific Agile approach, but are embracing agile as an ethos or philosophy and cherry-picking the best bits from many different process models to develop a formula unique to their own situation."  

However, the largest category in the survey – and the one that is the most telling is that 30.6% of the respondents said they do not use a formal process methodology.  Add to this my own experience implementing Agile, reading the latest Agile literature (e.g., articles, research, books, etc.), and discussing Agile (and Agile implementations) with people across numerous companies in North America, Europe, and Asia, and what this indicates to me is that:
  • There is definitely broad awareness of Agile
  • There are many companies who are on the Agile bandwagon because it is seems like the right thing to do
  • There are many Agile “book-read” folks who have not really experienced an Agile implementation
  • There are some teams who are “cherry-picking” parts of Agile process for their own Agile implementation
  • There are fewer teams who are applying end-to-end Agile methods and practices across their lifecycle
  • The companies that have made the cultural shift to the Agile mindset are still a minority
The question becomes, does this really represent a pervasive enough understanding of Agile and a thorough enough adoption of Agile across the industry for it to be mainstream? 

IMHO, the answer is not yet.  The reasons are that I am not sure if companies have fully "realized" what Agile is and how to implement it.  An indicator is whether enough people or teams who have implemented Agile can recognize common steps to a successful Agile implementation.  Another indicator is whether those that have implemented Agile have actually made the cultural shift (aka, Agile mindset or self-empowered teams, servant-leader mentality, etc. ) in order to gain the benefits of Agile and to make it mainstream?

So what do you think? 


  1. I recently blogged on this self-same subject, although coming to somewhat differing conclusions: http://flowchainsensei.amplify.com/2010/11/01/the-state-of-agile/

    - Bob (@FlowchainSensei)

  2. The larger the company, the greater the inertia. I would imagine if we looked at separating companies into 2 categories based merely on the age of the company, we would see a substantial difference. The Lean startup movement is powerful (though still some concerns there) - but there are old companies (financial, healthcare, etc) - that are hugely profitable though not even optimal. Their road to change will be long, at least until they start realizing that these lean startups can start eating up some of their margins.

  3. The more I read and discuss about it, I find the question "Is Agile mainstream?" practically irrelevant.

    For example: Is Waterfall mainstream? Find four companies claiming to use a waterfall process. None of them will be doing the same process. And two or more of them will not be following what they say they are following.

    Is RUP mainstream? What about Spiral? CMMI?

    Very few companies actually follow what they say they are doing. Maybe they started out "by the book" with something but individuals and managers will alter it to match their own knowledge, needs, experience or ego. I once had a project manager argue with me that the highly rigid, big-design-up-front process he liked was Scrum. That is what his former employer called it so that is what it was.

    Chaos is mainstream and all process tend toward it, in most companies. Agile is victim to the same tendency where people do what they want under a label that means little to them. Not because most people are evil or egoists but because most people are just doing a job, following directions and then going home.

    "Is Agile mainstream?" is a good question for marketing agile. And, in such a context, I think it is mainstream. Fewer and fewer people stand puzzled by the word anymore. One may have to teach what Agile really means but at least the conversation continues.

    Is Agile culture mainstream? No, definitely not. Because most companies fail to change culture from what is to anything else. They just change the labels and go through the motions. The companies that focus on culture as part of a process change have a chance to see real benefit.

  4. Yes, I agree that the size and age of a company makes a difference as well as the companies ability (or inability) to truely change culture to be more agile minded. And it is somewhat irrelevant if Agile is generally mainstream. But I will suggest that this is true because it depends on the specific company and its ability to adapt or not. Great comments!

  5. From my personal experience job-hunting, I'd say more than half of the companies in the SF Bay Area - small to large - developing SW are employing "some agile approaches" (most often components of XP and/or Scrum) - on both the engineering side as well as the Project Management side - and also are looking for agile expertise in their job candidates. On the other hand, practically none of them are employing "end-to-end" or "complete" agile approaches - - -

    1. Thanks for this info. This is somewhat consistent with what I am hearing too.