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Written by Kevin Heisey
on September 14, 2021

2021 marks the 20th anniversary of the Agile Manifesto that transformed software development and is still transforming how organizations operate. To succeed, organizations today must respond quickly to ever-changing conditions and the evolving needs of their customers by rapidly delivering value and bringing new products to market. Organizational agility is a must.

Considering the milestone anniversary, we’re reflecting on what we’ve seen in recent years, including taking stock of the current environment, seeing where our clients are and preparing for how to best help them meet their future objectives.

  • Five years ago, organizations wanted help to guide teams in their Agile adoption, specifically to teach specific Agile techniques, practices and terminology and help them develop a playbook and process.
  • Three years ago, they wanted help for their managers to understand Agile and for teams to work better together, including their enterprise-wide big picture and how to work more collaboratively with a focus on organizational objectives.
  • Today, organizations want to align their business and IT functions and understand and manage value streams. They are adopting a Product Management approach and they want to know how that intersects with Agile. They also want to budget using Agile principles as they recognize the value of Agile across all organizational functions.

The 15th State of Agile Report released by Digital.ai in July reflects this evolution. Ninety-four percent of the companies they surveyed are practicing Agile and sixty-five percent have been doing so for at least three years. Fifty-two percent report that all or a majority of their teams are Agile and in the last year they have found an explosive growth of Agile adoption across enterprise functions.   

It’s Like Runners in a Marathon

Think of levels of Agile adoption and maturity as an analog to the level and type of training for runners in a marathon. All runners who complete 26.2 miles are marathoners. They can put the sticker on their car, and they get the t-shirt. But how they experience the race, their objective and how they train and prepare are different.

Novice runners usually set out with a goal to simply finish the race. It might be their first marathon, or they may run one per year. Their training consists of putting in miles and building up endurance so they can complete the race. They might suffer for the last few miles and struggle to maintain their form, but they’re marathoners, and they covered the distance. They are like teams adopting Agile. The teams work in Sprints, are learning Scrum and have Stand-ups and Retrospectives, but they are only beginning to benefit from Agile.

For intermediate runners, training is an ingrained habit. They might run multiple marathons a year and regularly put in enough miles that they don’t require them to build-up from scratch to prepare for a marathon. They can complete one on a few days’ notice. They love to run, love the race environment and love running with others, but they aren’t chasing victories or the fastest times. They are like organizations who have adopted Agile, have developed the practices and techniques that work for them and are scaling across their enterprise. They are comfortable in what they are doing, Agile is part of who they are, and they are benefiting from its implementation.

Being an elite marathon runner is more challenging. Like the intermediates, running is part of who they are. They regularly put in the miles and finishing a marathon is easy for them. Their objective is to run it as fast as possible. Training becomes more complicated as they seek the perfect mix of speed, strength, endurance and rest. They must figure out and monitor their training intensity rhythm. Should they taper or build intensity for optimal performance in a big race? Can they benefit from cross training? It is a mix of factors that they must get “just right” to optimize their performance. This is where many Agile organizations find themselves after the disruption of 2020. They benefit from Agile but want to continuously improve how quickly they deliver value and respond to changing customer needs to operate at an elite level.

How to Accelerate Your Agile Maturity

As the State of Agile report indicates, most organizations benefit from Agile and many are at the intermediate stage. Like the intermediate marathoners, it’s not easy to mature from this level as it is more straightforward to go from novice to intermediate, than it is to go from intermediate to elite. Marathoners who are chasing their fastest time must take actions beyond simply logging miles and need to bring in additional elements to their training. They need to understand the big picture and be aware of their bodies to optimally train and perform.

Organizations seeking to optimally leverage Agile, must do the same. You need to understand how your efforts align to business outcomes. You need to see and connect to your entire system, so you understand how each team impacts your enterprise. If you need guidance, xScion’s three-part webinar series, How to Accelerate Agile describes how to create the culture and mindset to break down organizational silos and offers tools to help you set the stage to go from an established to an elite Agile organization.