Response to the 10th State of Agile Report

The 10th Annual State of Agile Report has recently been released by VersionOne, a company that develops agile lifecycle management software. According to VersionOne, this is the largest, longest-running, most widely cited agile survey in the world. The report is based on survey responses from 3,880 participants.

Of these, only 2% of respondents are from Oceania, so some of the findings may not accurately reflect our environment but the survey results do confirm what we at Elabor8 are currently seeing and experiencing in the local market – agile is no longer just for startups and small tech companies.

Large enterprises are understanding and realising the benefits of agile too. The good news is that of the 95% of respondents that said their organisation practices agile, only 1% said their agile adoption was unsuccessful. Despite these great results, the survey indicates that it’s not all smooth sailing and that most implementations leave plenty of room for improvement.  

Below is a brief overview of some key survey results, with some comments as to how this relates to what Elabor8 is observing in the Australian market.


Why go agile?

The main reasons cited for adopting agile are:

  • Accelerate product delivery
  • Better manage changing priorities
  • Increase productivity
  • Enhance software quality

The perceived benefits of agile varied slightly from this with the top 4 being:

  • Better manage changing priorities
  • Increased team productivity
  • Improved project visibility
  • Increased team morale/motivation

Accelerated product delivery was the top reason (62%) for adopting agile, and 80% of respondents said that this “got better” after implementing agile, though this was only 6th in the list of actual benefits. This indicates that agile is not a single silver bullet to fix all of your product delivery issues, but it certainly makes a significant impact.

The survey results confirm that implementing Agile goes a long way towards making sure that you are delivering the right thing by allowing better management of priorities and improved visibility.

Agile adoption seemed to meet expectations (or hopes) with regards to better management of priorities and increased productivity, with 87% and 85% of respondents stated this improved under agile. Although increased team morale was only a reason for adopting agile for 29% of respondents, it was a realised benefit by 81% of respondents.

Our experience with agile transformations corroborates this – change is difficult and brings many challenges but there is a marked improvement in employee satisfaction.


Agile frameworks, methodologies and techniques

Scrum and Scrum/XP continue to be the preferred methodologies by nearly 70% of respondents. The survey indicates an increase in the last year of the use of kanban (31% to 39%) and subsequent flow-based techniques (WIP, measuring cycle time).  

It appears that ceremonies or events are being performed reasonably consistently with more than 69% of respondents employing short sprints/iterations, Iteration planning, retrospectives and daily standups. However some of the key practices and principles may not have been so universally adopted.

Team structure

Only 59% of respondents are doing team based estimations, only 49% have a dedicated product owner, and just 45% have cross-functional teams (integrated dev & test). This indicates (and aligns with what we have observed) that “what” to do when working in Agile is well understood and relatively easy to implement, but the “why” behind the methodology is harder to embed.

Open plan agile spaces

Interestingly, only 38% of respondents have an “open work area”. This is something we do not see reflected in the local market.

Most offices are open plan, and despite challenges with the spaces, we see most organisations going to great lengths to make the environment as agile-friendly as possible by co-locating teams, setting up temporary or movable walls, breaking some of the old rules with regards to use of windows and general mess, and allowing for the noise that’s generated by a group of people who are doing agile well.

We still have some way to go on a technology level, with only 50% employing continuous integration and just 28% with automated acceptance testing. Indeed, these are challenges we are tackling with our clients but they are vital for true agile delivery, especially at scale.


Measuring success in Agile

Interestingly, the top measure for success for an agile initiative is “on-time delivery” (58%)… what this means in an agile environment, I’m not exactly sure! This points to one of the biggest barriers for success – cultural change, again indicating a lack of buy-in to the “why” at all levels of the organisation.

Product quality, customer/user satisfaction and business value are the next most used success measures by 46-48% of respondents. Considering how core it is to agile and indeed how important it is to any organisation, there appears to be a lack of value placed in realising business value via agile.


Agile at scale

The use of the Scaled Agile Framework (SAFe) saw an increase from 19% in the previous survey to 27%, making it the most widely adopted formalised framework for scaling – we’d agree this is reflected in the Australian market.

Barriers to agile adoption

Despite only 1% of respondents saying their agile adoption was unsuccessful, there are still failed agile projects. Company culture, lack of appropriate support and ineffective change management are viewed as some of the leading causes for failed projects.

These are also the areas that are perceived as the biggest barriers for further agile adoption and successful scaling of agile practices. Again, this points to a lack of adoption to the agile “mindset” that underpins successful implementation, in this case at the company management level.

We are noticing that enterprises are increasingly looking to SAFe and other scaling frameworks to provide guidance to address the issues of organisational cultural change and the support needed to successfully scale agile.

The other leading cause of failed projects, and a barrier to further success, is a lack of skilled and experienced personnel. With the relatively recent explosion of companies going agile in Australia, we recognise this is also an issue locally.  


What’s ahead for agile?

The survey primarily uses the language of “projects” and does not ask about the adoption of a product-centric planning and development.

This transition is a major change for most organisations, especially large enterprises, but it is a change that brings with it a lot of advantages and it is something we’re starting to see emerge in companies that have a deeper understanding of the principles behind agile product development.

Cross functional teams

We are also seeing an increasing awareness and move towards creating true cross-functional teams, by embedding user experience and architecture within the teams and the agile processes and by doing away with component or asset teams.

This creates the need for “centres of excellence” or “guilds” to ensure that people are aligned in functional areas as well as to their team’s product vision. This combined with the implementation of long-lived, product-based teams means that the day-to-day role of line-management is greatly changed.

With the increase of enterprises using agile at scale, existing non-software development processes and ways of working are more readily being surfaced as barriers to true organisational agility.

Organisational agility

As agile has evolved from being seen as just something that the digital team or the IT department do, and now touches all areas of the organisation, will future versions of the survey ask questions about the transformation of some of the big issues that our customers are now tackling?

Such as; budgeting and funding, value realisation, marketing, product development, human resource processes, and resource (people) management.

In short, will the survey start to address how agile is influencing and changing the whole way we are working?


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