Sunday, April 19, 2015

Have you Crossed the Agile Chasm?

In 1991, Geoffrey Moore refined the classic technology adoption model with an additional element he called the “chasm.”[1] He advanced a proposition specific to disruptive innovation that there is a significant shift in mentality to be crossed between the early adopter and the early majority groups. Disruptive innovation is the development of new values that forces a significant change of behavior to the culture adopting it. In this case, Agile is that disruptive force that insists on applying a set of values and principles within a specific culture of “being Agile” to be successful and for the organization to realize the full business benefits of Agile.

At first glance, it would appear that many companies have adopted Agile. I believe, however, that this perception is specious, in view of the further observation that the majority of companies that are “doing” Agile have not actually adopted the new values and principles and not made the cultural shift to actually “being” Agile. Such companies look at Agile as a set of skills, tools, and procedural changes and not the integrated behavioral and cultural change it truly is. In other words, they think they have crossed the chasm, but they have not made the significant change of behavior required to make the leap.
My experience in the field leads me to posit a refinement on Moore's chasm concept as applied to Agile. First, there is the real Agile chasm between those on the left side who have made the organic behavioral changes consistent with the values of being Agileand those on the right side who are just doing” Agile mechanically. Second, there is a fake chasm, which many organizations pride themselves on having crossed by virtue of adopting some mechanical features of Agile, whereas they have not been willing or able to make the behavioral changes and adopt the values required to cross the real chasm. Although many companies say that they are doing Agile in some form, a large proportion of these are actually doing Fragile ("fake Agile") or some other hybrid variant that cannot deliver the business benefits of Agile.

I cannot overstate this point: many companies and their teams are mechanically doing some form of Agile without having actually crossed the Agile chasm, not discarding the behavioral baggage that is keeping them from behaviorally and culturally being Agile. Until a team attains the state of being Agile, the business benefits that Agile can provide will be elusive. I contend that the industry has barely entered the early majority of true Agile cultural transformation, and many companies continue to struggle to leap the Agile chasm.  What have you noticed across the Agile landscape?  Have companies crossed the Agile chasm?

Note: If you are looking for more insight in crossing the Agile chasm, consider reading the book Being Agile. This book lays the foundation for those who want to cross the Agile cultural chasm, understand the behaviors that need to change, and gauge progress along the way. It provides an Agile transformation roadmap to the destination of achieving better business results.

[1] Geoffrey A. Moore, Crossing the Chasm (New York: Harper Business Essentials, 1991).