5 Critical Takeaways from the 2020 State of Agile Report

The 14th annual state of agile report is now available, and it's one of the papers I look forward to reviewing every year. It surveys over one thousand software development professionals from a mix of company sizes, development team sizes, geographies, and industries. It provides a barometer on what the practices, tools, and business benefits aligned with agile methodologies.

StarCIO Agile Culture and Transformation

My one concern about the survey is that too many respondents come from industries that traditionally have high maturity in technical practices. In this year's survey, 27 percent of respondents come from the technology industry, and another 17 percent from financial services. The report does not separate out these segments, and my strong suspicion is that they skew the results to higher performing agile organizations.

That caveat aside, allow me to share my key takeaways.

1. Many are Still Learning and Adopting Agile

While 95 percent of organizations have some form of agile process in place, practice maturity and adoption remain a work in progress. Around 50 percent of respondents report that less than half of their teams are using agile, and 84 percent acknowledge that their organizations are below a high level of competencies.

For example, 77 percent are following standard scrum rituals, including standup, retrospectives, sprint planning, and sprint reviews. But only approximately 50 percent are adopting agile transformation practices such as roadmaps, release planning, and agile estimation.

Analysis: Agile practices are a start, but culture change requires transformation practices

It's common for non-tech companies to adopt agile in select innovation teams but then struggle to develop agile cultures and mindsets. In my opinion, too much emphasis has been around scaling agile, rather than maturing broadly defined agile ways of working. Adopting agile continuous planning practices can help more organizations see better collaboration and deliver more value from agile practices.


2. The Fallacy that Agile Teams Must Colocate

This is somewhat good news for organizations focused on working remotely because of COVID-19 and others seeking to add people and skills outside of their primary office locations. In the survey, 81 percent of respondents have agile team members in multiple locations, and 71 percent have multiple collocated teams working in different geographies.

Analysis: Organizations aid collocated teams by adding tools and adjusting collaboration practices

Digital leaders that have collocated teams and multiple locations should review the best practices for remote agile teams and also consider devops for remote engineers.

3. Scaling Agile Faces Culture Challenges

About one-third of respondents are applying the Scaled Agile Framework, roughly another third are using other scaling frameworks, and another third stated they didn't know/other. There appear to be several common challenges scaling agile as over 40 percent of respondents cited six different challenges/barriers with adopting and scaling agile practices. These included: resistance to change, lack of leadership participation, inconsistent processes, misaligned organization versus agile values, inadequate management support, and insufficient training.

Analysis: Organizations are trying to solve the wrong problem when scaling agile 

StarCIO Agile Planning

Scaling methodologies aim to get more people adopting a semi-standard agile practice, but the approach often fails to address organizational culture and people's mindsets. Lack of leadership, misaligned values, inadequate support from management, and change resistance are all signals that organizations are fighting cultural and not scaling issues. 

The approaches I help organizations with on StarCIO Agile Planning help organizations achieve these fifteen benefits around agile culture, agile mindset, developing great products, releasing reliably, and developing technical standards

4. More Business Outcome KPIs, Fewer Metrics

The good news is that the top two agile success metrics cited by respondents are business value delivered and customer satisfaction. For organizations seeking agile transformations, cultures, and mindset, agile leaders must demonstrate KPIs targeting business outcomes and impacts. 

Unfortunately, almost three-quarters of the remaining metrics listed are all operational and describe how well agile teams are following practices, not the outcomes they are driving.  Other business outcome metrics listed, including customer retention, revenue/sales impact, and product utilization had a low response rate of 14 percent and lower. 

Analysis: Agile by itself doesn't drive digital transformation. 

In my book, Driving Digital, and during StarCIO Workshops, I share seven other digital practices, including product management, devops, customer experience, and data-driven practices that are often needed to enable transformation. A best practice is to develop organization-wide KPIs that touch on all the strategic drivers and focus on fewer metrics.

5. Agile Organizations Slowly Adopting DevOps

DevOps practices are a strong partner to agile methodologies, and 69 percent of survey respondents stated that DevOps transformation was either important or very important to their organization. But adoption of DevOps practices lags its important with only 55 percent employing continuous integrations and 41 percent continuous delivery. Only 36 percent practice continuous deployment.

The top two benefits targeted are accelerated delivery speed (70%) and improved quality (62%). But respondents are tackling quality first with 67% implementing unit testing and 58 percent coding standards, even higher engineering practices over the 55 percent on continuous integration. 

Analysis: Testing and integration are necessary prerequisites before accelerated delivery

It's been fashionable for some development teams to promote weekly, daily, and even more frequent deployments, but survey respondents share a more pragmatic and realistic approach. 

Each level of automation requires investment and additional work to prove its robustness. There are seven prerequisites before improving release frequencies, and that requires investment in aspects of these seven DevOps practices. Even so, there are questions DevOps teams should answer before increasing deployment frequency


Make sure to have a look at the full report as there are plenty of other insights that I didn't cover in this post. 

And if you're looking to transform into an agile culture and way of working, please reach out to me!

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About Isaac Sacolick

Isaac Sacolick is President of StarCIO, a technology leadership company that guides organizations on building digital transformation core competencies. He is the author of Digital Trailblazer and the Amazon bestseller Driving Digital and speaks about agile planning, devops, data science, product management, and other digital transformation best practices. Sacolick is a recognized top social CIO, a digital transformation influencer, and has over 900 articles published at InfoWorld, CIO.com, his blog Social, Agile, and Transformation, and other sites. You can find him sharing new insights @NYIke on Twitter, his Driving Digital Standup YouTube channel, or during the Coffee with Digital Trailblazers.