One swallow does not a summer make.

Version One  are currently in the process of compiling their 10th State of Agile Survey (Link to Agile Survey)and this caused me to go back and look at the previous results. As an Agile advocate and practitioner I am very pleased to see that last year 94% of organisations say they practice ‘Agile’  albeit that 70% were relatively new to it and could be said to still be in the transition period. This is all great news, it is a sea change and a clear move towards accepting Agile software development as a mainstream way of working.

But, and it is a pretty big ‘but’ how many of these teams are really, truly Agile and how many are jumping on the bandwagon and saying they are Agile when really all they are doing is one or more activity that has its roots in Agile and so ultimately only slavishly adopting Cargo Cult behaviour.

For those not familiar with the term Cargo Cult, it is where some elements of behaviour are mimicked with the expectation of getting the same results, but without really understanding why you are doing it. Cargo Cult    

With many flavours it is difficult to say what makes a team Agile, it is after all an attitude rather than an action, but there are some actions that are generally considered to be core to Agile Principles. At a minimum I would consider: Co-located teams; Iteration reviews; Retrospectives; Continuous integration and Prioritized backlogs as key.  The list goes on but I would struggle to believe a team can be agile without a minimum of those.

So by using my benchmark of what is the minimum less than half 46% (likely even less) do all of those. More than half of those are claiming to be Agile are doing it without co-located teams, without regular reviews, without regular planning, and without regular retrospection. I want to ask them in what way are you Agile?  You could do all of those and still not be Agile, but if you don’t do any then it is doubtful you are able to learn and adapt.

It is with almost despair at times when I am interviewing a candidate and I ask if they have Agile experience, they invariably answer “Oh yes” when I ask them to describe it they will say “well we have a daily stand-up”, sometimes they say more but for a majority that is it.  I don’t hold this against the candidate, most developers when offered a true agile environment learn fast and thrive, but having a daily stand-up does not make you Agile.

The transition to Agile is now in a pretty vulnerable state, the early adopters were motivated and were likely already Agile in nature and the techniques followed on, they succeeded because of their attitude and created a framework on the back of it and for many this works.  The mainstream have heard it works and are mandating a change but are in danger of creating a wave of cargo cult teams paying lip-service to Agile, and when the transition proves difficult they are blaming the framework rather than understanding that it is a change in attitude and a change in culture and not simply a 15 minute standing meeting that must be endured each day.

The message we as Agile practitioners need to get across is that the transition is not always quick and it is very often difficult, but if you adopt an Agile attitude it will pay dividends, if you simply pick and choose one or two ‘Agile’ techniques in isolation without understanding why, you are in danger of failing without ever really trying.

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