For years, I have been hearing that agile and Scrum have crossed the chasm
—that agile has made the leap from being a new and unproven idea to more of an industry standard. I just don't think that's true when viewed broadly—and here's why.
Let me first say that based on my own experience and that of my colleagues I have no doubt that many IT and development groups in mainstream organizations are doing Scrum or other forms of agile development. If you attend a Scrum Gathering or an Agile 201X conference you can see the diversity of companies that are embracing agile development and in particular, Scrum.
The Scrum Alliance's 2015 State of Scrum Report
, which surveyed 4,452 people, states that "Scrum practices are currently in place among 82% of respondents, and another 11% are piloting Scrum" (p. 2). Of the 93% of respondents that are using Scrum in some form (p. 12), 77% are using Scrum in software development and IT (p. 2). So, when combined with a breadth of other evidence we can conclude that, yes, inside development and IT groups, agile principles and practices are well on their way to becoming the de facto way of working.
Agile Is Not Standard Across the Enterprise
But what about the rest of the enterprise? What about enterprise agile? Outside of development and IT, agile principles and practices have not been widely adopted—and therein lies the problem.
To be clear, when I say “enterprise agile” I am not referring to doing agile at scale (with multiple teams) within development or IT. Rather, I am referring to embracing agile principles across the enterprise value chain—those groups within a company that collaborate to deliver on the value proposition of the company. And, by agile principles, I am referring to more than just the ones described in the Agile Manifesto, which by intention have a software-development focus to them. Instead, I am casting a wider net with the term “agile principles,” so that it also includes many principles that have historically been viewed as lean and some that have more recently been referred to as Lean Startup. To be specific, I am referring to the set of principles in Chapter 3 (“Agile Principles”) of my book Essential Scrum
. They are summarized in the following image.
It is my opinion that to truly succeed in getting the business benefits expected from applying agile, these principles must be embraced across the enterprise value chain. My experience is that when development or IT uses agile and other groups in the enterprise are not aligned with similar principles, there is a large disconnect (that I will describe shortly), that can jeopardize business success.
So how is the adoption of agile principles and practices progressing across the entire enterprise value chain, including in such groups as Sales, Legal, HR, Finance, and more? Not too well. In fact, from working with many different companies, it is clear to me that, by and large, these groups do not embrace these principles. There are a few exceptions. Referring again to the 2015 State of Scrum Report, we see there is some adoption of Scrum outside of IT and development (p. 19).
But even these numbers do not show aggressive adoption. Outside of operations and R&D, few other groups across the enterprise value chain are using Scrum, or, as I would say, embracing agile principles.
Where there is no adoption of agile principles, the resulting misalignment between the IT and development groups on one hand and the rest of the organization on the other places enterprise agile in a precarious position.
At best it puts limits on how successful the IT and development teams can be with agile.
Once again, the 2015 State of Scrum Report
data supports my own observations. When respondents were asked about whether tension existed between the Scrum teams and the rest of the organization, 71 percent admitted that it did, at least to some extent (p. 13).
Misalignment Leads to Failure
When development and IT teams work with one set of principles and the various other groups across the value chain work according to other principles, we have the potential for a serious disconnect. Instead of the various groups using a consistent set of principles to work collaboratively towards achieving the overall business goal of creating products or services that delight customers, each group is likely using a set of principles focused on optimizing its own output
with perhaps a secondary focus on how that might affect the overall corporate outcome
. As a result, significant misalignments form in the work across the groups that can threaten the ability of companies to realize the business benefits they seek by adopting agile.
The following illustration highlights examples of the kinds of enterprise value-chain misalignment that I frequently see within the companies that I work with. Do any of the statements in this drawing sound familiar?
I bet they do! When the legal team still writes contracts that lock down date, scope, and budget, it constrains the organization’s ability to be agile
. When HR wants to maintain an annual performance review that will ensure the company is in a legally defensible position should a personnel issue occur, it is poorly aligned with agile’s fast-feedback cadence. When finance groups require annual budgeting where every dollar is pre-allocated to specific projects up to 15 months in the future, I can hardly image a less agile-like way of working.
Marketing and sales are often out of step with agile, too. Marketing often has to plan their activities many months in advance. As such, they believe that they need to know the complete feature set and delivery date upfront—a time when teams have the least information and the most uncertainty
on a project. And frequently salespeople are being pressured to close deals as fast as possible, often without regard to the capacity of the development teams, which can quickly overwhelm any work-in-process (WIP) limits
that development teams put in place.
Similarly, if operations is deploying on its own schedule, one that may not align with the development cadence, how will the company deploy to customers and obtain business value from the small increments of customer-valuable work that the development and IT groups are producing? It would be difficult to claim the company is getting the desired value from using agile if it produces world-class software each iteration and has no ability to get the software into the hands of its customers in a timely way.
And speaking of customers, they can cause misalignment problems as well, especially when they make special requests for features, but do so expecting to lockdown date, budget, and scope. That brings us to the management group, who too often seem to be saying, “Hey, you guys in development and IT, go do agile but we will operate in the same way we have always operated in the past.” What customers and management both do not understand is that their actions increase overall corporate fragility and add significant risk to their ability to deliver superior value in a timely way to their customers
With such misalignments running rampant within companies, the long-term successful use of agile is in jeopardy. I invite you to follow me on twitter
and visit my blog
, so that you read my upcoming blog series about these issues. I'll be addressing how various non-development groups across the company can embrace agile to better align the enterprise value-chain for the fast, flexible, flow of work.