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Has Agile Peaked?

Scott is Practice Leader Agile Development for IBM Rational.

During the last week of February 2008, Dr. Dobb's ran a survey exploring the current adoption and success rates of agile software development techniques. We found that the adoption rate was the same as last year at 69 percent, that most agile teams had iterations of four weeks or less in length, and that agile teams had high rates of success. We also found that people believe that, on average, agile teams are producing greater levels of quality, are more productive, enjoy greater stakeholder satisfaction, and are doing so at lower costs than traditional teams.

Agile Adoption Rates

The title of this month's column is provocative for a reason: I was very surprised, and concerned, that the agile adoption rate appears to have flattened out. To be fair, I'm working from a three-year "trend" so there really isn't enough data to truly judge. In the 2006 agile adoption survey we found that there was a 65 percent agile adoption rate, in 2007 a 69 percent rate, and in 2008 69 percent again. To be fair we asked the question differently in 2006, so it could be argued that we shouldn't be comparing 2006 with the 2007/2008 adoption rates.

The good news is that the majority of organizations have adopted agile techniques and seem to be sticking with them. Only 18 percent of the people who indicated that their organizations have run one or more agile projects indicated that they were still in the pilot phase, implying that 82 percent are further along in the adoption process. My concern is that last year, 24 percent of the people who had indicated that their organizations hadn't yet tried agile approaches would likely do so sometime in the coming year, leading me to believe that we'd see a higher adoption rate. Granted, some new organizations may have adopted agile approaches in 2007 whereas some abandoned them, with a net gain of zero. This year, 15 percent of "No" respondents hope to do agile this year, so we'll have to wait and see.

I was curious about why the adoption rate seems to have peaked, so I crunched the numbers a bit. My first theory was that "stealth adoption" was occurring, something that I've seen in many organizations, where the developers were doing agile without the knowledge of senior management. But when I analyzed the adoption rates by role, I found that only 61.4 percent of developers thought they were doing Agile, whereas 78.2 percent of IT management thought so, the exact opposite of what I would've expected to see if stealth adoption was occurring. Based on these numbers, I suspect that developers and management have different criteria for what it means to be Agile, and that developers have set a higher bar for themselves. My fear is that management may be motivated to water agile down to earn their "agile gold star".

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