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State of Agile Report: 5 key takeaways for dev teams

Linda Rosencrance Freelance writer/editor

A newly released cross-industry survey of nearly 1,500 development professionals concluded that organizations are realizing in a big way the benefits they set out to achieve by adopting agile and that the use of agile practices has expanded rapidly over the last year.

The top five reasons given for adopting agile were to accelerate delivery (75%), manage priorities (64%), increase productivity (55%), achieve better IT/business alignment(49%), and increase software quality (46%), according to the annual State of Agile Report, sponsored by CollabNet/VersionOne.

The top benefits achieved included several of the goals above: the ability to manage changing priorities, to project visibility, to achieve better business/IT alignment, to increase delivery speed, and to improve team productivity.

So what does it all mean to your team? Here are five key takeaways from the report.

Many agile adopters are getting results

Lee Cunningham, senior director of enterprise agile strategy at CollabNet, said, "When organizations were asked what they were trying to achieve when adopting agile, it pretty much aligns with what they are actually achieving."

The fact that benefits matched expectations is a good thing for organizations that haven’t gone down that pathway, since it helps them get an idea of what they might expect, he added.

Kurt Bittner, vice president of enterprise solutions at, agreed that benefits are matching expectations—but only in organizations that do agile well.

The challenge enterprises face lies in scaling the dedication and commitment to excellence that most organizations experience when they bring together small groups of people who are committed to change, and empowering them to do great things, he said.

This is easy to do in small pockets, isolated from the traditional culture of the organization, said Bittner. But enterprises often struggle when they try to scale, and in the pursuit of scale they gradually abandon the things that make agile work in the first place: having highly skilled, committed people who self-organize into cross-functional teams, seek a goal they believe in, and are supported by leaders who clear away obstacles in front of the team.

“Mediocre agile produces mediocre results. Most organizations don't need a different way to produce mediocre results. They need better results that only a commitment to agility pursued with excellence can produce.”
Kurt Bittner

Customer satisfaction is the top measure of success

One of the most notable changes from last year’s survey is the importance of customer/user satisfaction in measuring success. While business value still ranks high, customer/user satisfaction ranks as the top measure of success for agile initiatives (57% in 2017, up from 44% in 2016) and agile projects (46% in 2017, up from 28% in 2016).

One surprise was that customer satisfaction jumped to the top of the list as a measure of success at both the project/deliverables cycle level and at the transformation level, Cunningham said.

“It kind of mirrors the thinking of people who are in the digital transformation mindset—customer satisfaction is the driver there,” he said.

“People are realizing that if they’re not satisfying the customer, they’re not going to be maximizing business value because their customers will just go somewhere else.”

Agile adoption has tripled within organizations

Agile adoption has been expanding rapidly: 25% of respondents said that all or almost all of their teams now follow agile practices, up from just 8% in 2016. The reason: Organizations are realizing that they have to get their products out more quickly. 

“What we’ve learned is that the world is changing too rapidly for long planning and release cycles to work,” Bittner said. “They never actually did work very well, but as long as the competition was equally slow, it didn’t matter much.”

Agile competitors that can deliver very high-quality solutions quickly can penetrate the competitive shield of incumbency and market position, Bittner said. Consequently, most organizations will either find a way to get better fast, or they will cease to exist.

DevOps initiatives continue to rise

DevOps is another reason for broader agile adoption. With the recognized necessity of accelerating the speed of delivering high-quality software and the emphasis on customer satisfaction, the vast majority of survey respondents reported that a DevOps initiative is under way (48%) or planned (23%) for the next 12 months. Those numbers held steady from the previous year.

Agile consultant and trainer Yvette Francino said she has definitely seen an increase in organizations getting DevOps practices in place. 

“Different reports are showing that with the emphasis on automation, DevOps provides the quick delivery to market. That’s becoming more and more recognized, and organizations want to take advantage of that.”
Yvette Francino

Organizational culture is what matters

Organizational culture stands out as another critical factor in the success of adopting and scaling agile, Cunningham said. Survey respondents reported that their three most significant challenges to agile adoption and scaling were an organizational culture at odds with agile values (53%), general organizational resistance to change (46%), and inadequate management support and sponsorship (42%).

Source: 12th Annual State of Agile Report, CollabNet/VersionOne. Note: Respondents were allowed to make multiple selections.

Organizational culture is a perennial concern, because when enterprises do agile transformations, they’re fundamentally changing the way they look at business, as well as how they develop and deliver software, said Cunningham.

“We thought it was important to call that out because even this far into agile—20 years or so in—we’re still seeing the same issues. People are still resistant to change for whatever reason.”
Lee Cunningham

Organizational culture, particularly management buy-in, is indeed important, said Francino. “The culture is often exemplified from leadership, so you need to have that buy-in, as well as have them walking the talk and understanding and practicing the agile mindset,” she said.

Don't get wrapped up in the mechanics of agile

Overall, the State of Agile survey highlights the dichotomy between what businesses are trying to achieve and what they are doing with agile, said Barry Smith, senior agile solutions consultant at AIM Consulting.

“If you look at the benefits of adopting agile, it’s largely about better functionality in their IT organizations for their software development,” he said.

What businesses want to be measuring are customer satisfaction, business value, and the ability to deliver solutions in a timely manner to their customers. But all of the metrics around projects or the benefits the IT managers focus on the mechanics of the delivery, Smith said.

That’s not completely wrongheaded—businesses need to get the mechanics right to achieve those higher-level goals— but there's a significant disconnect between those two, he added. 

He said his customers are saying that agile is getting better IT/business alignment, "and in some respects that’s the case, because of faster delivery and perhaps more engagement with the stakeholders."

“But if IT managers aren’t focusing on their ultimate goals, which are customer satisfaction, better delivery of the solutions, and business value, it’s easy to become wrapped up in the mechanics of the practices.”
Barry Smith

See more takeaways from the 2018 State of Agile Report. Share your experiences with agile practices. What are they key benefits for your team?

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