Agile Trends and Technology
Who would have predicted that Agile would grow when the world went remote? After all, Agile promotes co-located teams working face to face. As the word ‘agile’ would imply, we have adapted. I see several trends emerging in this time of growth and adaptation, based on my interactions and networking with people in organizations across the country. I’d like to share the top Agile process and technology trends as I see them.
The first trend is the acceptance and growth of distributed teams. Technology has made it possible to conduct virtual standups with video and digital Scrum/Kanban boards. This trend was born out of necessity, but companies that had previously rejected this as an option have seen proof that it can and does work. This trend may even play a role in the decision by some companies to continue working 100 percent virtually, or to work in a blended environment.
“If we’re not measuring business value, we’re focusing on metrics that could drive the wrong behaviors. When we do measure business value, it encourages IT and business teams to work more closely together to make sure they get it right.”
The second trend is the expansion of Agile practices into business and operational areas. As more business associates interact with Agile development teams, they start to realize it translates quite well to most any type of work. I’ve seen Security and Audit teams at multiple companies asking to learn how they can do their jobs better when working with Agile teams. This has led to the avoidance of issues rather than reporting on issues after they occur. Operational teams are asking to be trained on how to work together more efficiently by embracing standups, and through visualization and better prioritization of their work. They also seem to really like shorter, more frequent, planning cycles with feedback loops.
Trend number three is that scaling seems to be more popular, using frameworks such as SAFe. In my own area of the country, I’ve seen a growing number of companies scaling, including one that I never thought would embrace something that could be considered controversial in the Agile space. The reason for this trend, in my opinion, is that as companies grow and mature, they need processes that support multiple Agile teams working together to build large or complex solutions. It also helps some large, hierarchical organizations adopt Agile because of the built-in leadership inclusion in the process. It’s been heavily debated by what I would call “Agile purists”, which I can say because I used to be one…but my thought is that if it helps more companies adopt Agile practices, great!
Trend number four revolves around how we measure success. Measuring business value is increasing in popularity. This is one of my personal favorites because it happens in real-time as major features are deployed, not months or years after the completion of the entire body of work, like ROI. It’s also a measure that matters!! I mean, who cares if the timeline slips a little if the business value is high. Likewise, who cares if the team delivered on time if the business value is low. If we’re not measuring business value, we’re focusing on metrics that could drive the wrong behaviors. When we do measure business value, it encourages IT and business teams to work more closely together to make sure they get it right.
The fifth trend that has gained popularity in many Agile shops is the move away from projects to thinking about the work in terms of products. The difference is that projects have a finite beginning and end, usually with a specific scope and budget in mind. Organizing teams around products allow us to think about the work in terms of the full lifecycle of that product. Projects typically have a hand off to a supporting team to handle bugs and defects, which often causes the customer to try to cram as much work into the project as they can because they feel they won’t have the ability to request enhancements after the project is done. This is a very positive trend because products typically require continuous evolution to keep up with change. It also allows the business more control over priorities and the ability to make course corrections along the way.
Finally, DevOps practices are showing up more and more as companies modernize their development tools and practices, even with Legacy systems. This trend has been coming for a long time, but finally seems to have gained momentum and is becoming more mainstream. This is great news because Agile isn’t just about having a Scrum Master and standups every day. There are engineering practices that need to be included as part the transformation to realize the full value. In fact, many teams start out small with the basics of Scrum and stop there. I like to ask teams, “what could we do to become even more Agile?” In other words, I don’t believe in judging whether or not a team “qualifies” as an Agile team based on what they’re doing or not doing. If they’ve adopted a few practices, they’re on their way, but they need to continue bringing in more practices over time, such as DevOps, so they get the full benefit and deliver value in the most reliable and efficient manner. Oftentimes, DevOps is seen as a separate transformational effort when in reality, it should be part of the Agile transformation.
Those are my observations in terms of Agile trends and technology. I’m sure there are others, but these stand out to me because they are either changing the way we think about Agile, or they are demonstrations of continuous improvement. The Agile Manifesto was written 20 years ago, which is really just 4 Values and 12 Principles, not a detailed implementation guide. However, one of the first lines in the manifesto says, “We are uncovering better ways of developing software by doing it and helping others do it.” The trends I’ve outlined here show that even today, we continue to uncover better ways.
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