Agile gains, but executives are completely clueless, survey finds

A survey of more than 4,000 developers found that agile has reached critical mass — but executives still don't get it. It's a shame, because agile has lessons beyond software.

First, the good news: Adoption of agile methodologies continues to climb. Now, the not-so-good news: Management has no idea what agile is, or what it's supposed to accomplish.

That's the finding of a new survey of 4,048 software developers, conducted by VersionOne, a provider of agile project management tools. This is the seventh year this survey has been conducted, and, alas, the business isn't any wiser to the agile way of doing things.

The survey found that a majority of developers are doing things the agile way. Those who plan to implement agile for future development projects increased from 59 percent in 2011 to 83 percent in 2012, VersionOne reported. In addition, the number of respondents using agile practices across five or more teams grew from 33 percent in 2011 to 48 percent in 2012.

However, only 2 percent of respondents felt that executives are knowledgeable about agile practices at all. The survey also shows that in more than two thirds of failed agile programs, respondents felt it was either because they failed to integrate the right people, or did not effectively teach a team-based culture. For agile to truly succeed in an organization, everyone has to be dedicated to the initiative — especially the executive team.

It's a shame, because agile methodologies don't have to be confined to software development — they can also help improve the quality of a range of activities, including product development for customers.

Who was considered as being the most knowledgeable about agile? Fifty-seven percent gave credit to their ScrumMasters and project managers. Along with executives, another clueless group is product owners, cited by a meager 1 percent.

One emerging approach, Agile Portfolio Management (APM), is still relatively new or unfamiliar to most. Only one quarter are practicing, learning about, or planning to practice APM.

In an agile environment, it's essential that developers and business users work side by side with constant communication to move forward, step by step, with software releases. Most, 72 percent, are using scrum or scrum variants, the survey shows.

A number of benefits for using agile were cited in the survey. Ninety percent of respondents said that implementing agile improved their ability to manage changing priorities. More people are also seeing value in terms of project visibility when implementing agile (84 percent, compared to 77 percent in 2011).

In addition, the general perception of agile is up. When asked what elevator speech they would give their organizations' CEOs , common responses were around cultural change, hiring a knowledgeable ScrumMaster, investing in training, adoption from the top down, and giving agile enough time to succeed.

Here are the top benefits of agile, cited by a majority of respondents:

  1. Ability to manage changing priorities

  2. Increased productivity

  3. Improved project visibility

  4. Improved team morale

  5. Enhanced software quality

  6. Reduced risk

  7. Faster time to market

  8. Better alignment between IT and business objectives

  9. Simplify development process

  10. Improved/increased engineering discipline.