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Is Agile Just a Fad?

28 Mar 2018 by Liam Brien

The term “fad” originated in the mid-19th century and is loosely defined as an intense and widely shared enthusiasm for something, especially one that is short-lived and without basis in the object's qualities. In this article, we'll explore and hopefully answer one big question: Is Agile just another fad, or is it here to stay?

To help answer this, we’ll present some of the top benefits and challenges of implementing agile and, most importantly, we will shed light on why your organization’s adoption of Agile is likely NOT a fad.

Just about everyone has heard of the term Agile, right? Whether you're a hard-core believer in the benefits of the Agile framework, a skeptic or agnostic, you've most likely heard of it or know someone who's using it. In software development, it’s hard to go anywhere without seeing signs of Agile adoption: teams holding stand-up meetings, teams working in Sprints, or clients, designers, developers and testers all working closely together.

Additionally, there are books, conferences, courses and coaches all devoted to Agile — it’s everywhere you turn. Some people even find it hard to imagine developing software any other way. Yet, over the last 50 years, many other approaches to delivering products and managing initiatives have made a big splash when initially introduced but have declined in popularity since then (e.g., CPM, PERT, RUP and PROMPTII, to name just a few) — just fads.

Why has the Agile approach withstood the test of time?

Let’s be honest, most people — and especially “Agileists” — really care about one thing: quickly delivering quality software by identifying the most optimal path from ideation to working software. In its purest form, Agile creates a situation where the team can move quickly and easily.

This framework helps guide teams in the right direction without prescribing every step. It empowers teams and makes work fun. Cristina, a director of Agile transformation at a large restaurant hospitality firm, says, “Agile teams feel more empowered about making decisions and proud about what they are able to deliver.”

The teams delivering the solutions have a significant impact on how to deliver, and this may be the strongest driving force behind the Agile approach. Agile makes the ideas of autonomy, mastery and purpose part of the delivery team’s shared paradigm. For this reason, teams are often able to maintain consistent momentum and a sense of accomplishment.

VersionOne, a leading project management software provider, has conducted an annual survey for the past 12 years titled annual “State of Agile Survey.” The survey has polled thousands of professionals in different industries to “take the pulse” of the current state of Agile adoption, implementation and success.

According to the survey, Agile is maintaining a stronghold as one of the most effective ways to accelerate the delivery of business value. Let's explore the top benefits behind Agile’s popularity, according to a summary of the survey results from 2006 to 2016:

  • Helps manage changing priorities
  • Increases productivity
  • Elevates team morale
  • Improves quality
  • Accelerates time to market
Chart of The 8 Benefits of Implementing Agile with Increased delivery predictability rising to 80% in 2013 and staying there till 2016
Source: VersionOne Annual state of Agile survey, 2006-2016

An optimal delivery process

Delivering software solutions will never be easy, but Agile has offered ways to make the delivery process optimal for businesses and employees alike. Greg Zimmer, an application development practice manager, describes some of the top benefits organizations capture by implementing Agile:

“For most organizations, the biggest benefits from adopting Agile are 1) creating higher-value products, 2) creating a more empowering work environment, 3) reducing risk/exposure. It is important to note that these benefits are not immediate and require the organization to persistently make significant changes to their mindset and approaches.”

"But nothing’s that good," you may be thinking, and you're right. There are some challenges to implementing Agile. VersionOne’s survey cites several reasons why Agile is not, and will likely never be, all “rainbows and butterflies.” The top cited challenges to implementing (and scaling) Agile are:

  • Inability to change the organization’s culture to be accepting of Agile
  • Lack of personnel with the right level of experience that can champion the adoption of Agile and teach others
  • General resistance to change (i.e., it’s hard to do things in a new way)
  • Lack of management support
  • Lack of customer collaboration
Chart of showing Ability to change organizational culture ranking the highest from 2006 - 2016
Source: VersionOne Annual state of Agile survey, 2006-2016

In summary

The challenges of Agile are real, and some aren't easy to overcome. Changing an organization’s culture is a long and tough journey. Likewise, staffing new employees, with Agile experience, can get costly. Let’s be honest, this becomes a hard sell during most companies’ annual financial planning meeting but a “must-do” in order to improve the chances of having a successful year of delivery.

So yes, valid concerns, but solvable ones. Many organizations have been successful at taking meaningful steps toward implementing Agile. With the right strategy, Agile partner and a committed investment, just about anyone can begin taking advantage of what Agile has to offer. Organizations have begun to realize Agile is here to stay and, if implemented correctly, can lead to deploying innovative products more quickly while having fun along the way. So, is Agile a fad? Not at all.

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About Liam Brien
Project Manager

Liam has experience delivering complex solutions in industries such as financial services, manufacturing and loyalty marketing. When he’s not delivering IT solutions with Agile and Lean/DevOps methodologies, he speaks at conferences and writes about topics he finds interesting (strategy, product development, demand creation, dynamics of delivering complex software solutions and more).

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