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David vs. Goliath no more, Agile adoption is the new standard

As Agile adoption grows, companies should not be looking to specialists to support agility, says Joseph Flahiff. Make Agile coaching a standard job requirement for team managers.

This past year marks a major milestone in the timeline of Agile adoption. I believe we have passed the early majority and are moving into the late majority of adoption. At least, in part.

In his 1962 seminal book on the diffusion of innovations, Everett Rogers, then a professor of rural sociology, synthesized a theory on how new ideas spread. The work included an innovation adoption curve that is widely used today to describe the different ways in which people and organizations react to a new technology. Rogers divided innovation adopters into five categories:

  1. Innovators: Frontline creators of new ideas; high risk tolerance
  2. Early adopters: First to adopt new models; high-moderate risk tolerance
  3. Early majority: Start of general acceptance; moderate risk tolerance
  4. Late majority: Latter half of general acceptance; low-moderate risk tolerance
  5. Laggards: Last to adopt, do so only when they must; low risk tolerance

Each group represents a percentage of the overall population, too. Innovators are a small percentage -- just 2.5% -- but they start the wave. The early adopters account for 13.5% of the general population, and the early majority for 34%. Those three adopter groups get us midway: Fifty percent of the population has adopted the technology. The late majority accounts for the next 34%. The laggards bring up the rear with the remaining 16% (see chart).

Diffusion of innovations
Diffusion of innovations, according to Everett Rogers. Market share grows as successive groups adopt the innovation.

Diffusion of innovations, according to Rogers. Market share grows as successive groups adopt the innovation.

Where is Agile adoption in this model? Well, a recent study by Hewlett Packard Enterprise (HPE) gives us one answer to this question. If you lump "pure Agile" with "hybrid" -- defined by HPE as organizations that incorporate at least some Agile solutions and principles into the management of their software development -- you get 40% adoption. Lumping "pure Agile" with "leaning toward Agile" and "hybrid" you get 91%. (Note that the HPE chart shows 46% for hybrid, but the text has the correct 24% for hybrid Agile adoption). The truth is probably somewhere in between on Agile adoption. But no matter how you read the information, Agile is in, waterfall is out -- way out: A tiny minority (9%) describes themselves as pure waterfall or leaning toward the Waterfall model.

As discussed in my previous article, many organizations have adopted a team-level approach to agility that severely limits their ability to be nimble. Yet, these organizations may self-identify as "pure-Agile" because their teams are using a pure Scrum model, which doesn't equate to doing Agile. Still, any way you slice it, Agile has been adopted by close to or greater than 50% of organizations, moving us to the "late majority" stage of Roger's model.

There is other evidence, as well, that we have crossed the threshold to the late majority.

Underdogs no more

When you see the big corporate consulting agencies like Deloitte, Boston Consulting Group, Ernst & Young, and KPMG offering Agile consulting, you know you have passed the innovators or early adopters stages. These agencies cater to the large and profitable -- to the early and late majority companies, to stick to Rogers' terminology.

Finally, you can look at who is adopting Agile. I see automotive, financial services, healthcare and even government adopting Agile practices. Would you describe these industries as high-risk tolerance, medium, low-medium or low-risk tolerance? Yeah, me too -- medium or low-medium risk tolerance. So, where does that put Agile? At peak adoption.

What does it mean to the Agile industry that we have moved to the late majority phase in Agile adoption?

For decades, the Agile community has run an underdog race. The Agile David against the Goliath's waterfall method. That is no longer the case. Agile is now Goliath. (And, yes, I still see a lot of those in the Agile consulting and coaching business who act as if they are fighting an uphill battle. But this approach is going to start turning clients off.)

Late majority organizations don't think of themselves as David. They don't want the risk. The late majority companies are also characterized by waiting until a product or service has become commoditized, standardized and able to be compared by price so they can get it cheaply. If Agile is described to them in the underdog terms of previous decades, they will delay adoption or simply turn elsewhere to find a consultant who describes Agile as the mainstream practice it has become.

Training IT and business managers in Agile

What does this have to do with CIOs whose organizations are leaning toward Agile?

Currently, there is a glut of Agile coaches in the market. Many of them hang around for months -- even more than a year -- preaching the Agile gospel or ersatz versions of the gospel. Indeed, it seems that anyone who has taken a Scrum class claims to be an Agile coach.

But now that we have, by many measures, crested the diffusion curve, it's time to think about Agile as normal -- as the way we work. That phenomenon of Agile coaches hanging around companies to train the 1,800 people in your organization should go the way of the horse and buggy, because we have the automobile.

If Agile adoption is the new normal, Agile coaching should become a form of professional development for business and IT managers -- and they should be the ones training employee teams.

Now, many team managers today don't have experience in coaching agility in their people. For those who are qualified and ready for the move, an Agile consultant should be hired. But this manager-level Agile coach is significantly different from the team-level Agile coach of yore.

Call to action

Which brings me to a caveat for CIOs and companies in search of manager-level Agile training. I foresee a lot of people calling themselves manager-level Agile consultants who don't have the experience under their belts to handle the requirements of coaching managers to coach their teams. An Agile coach for managers has to like not being directly involved with the team. As an Agile coach for managers, you don't get to be the hero who comes in and helps the team succeed. You work behind the scenes. Your job is to make sure the manager gets the glory. That takes a different kind of person.

So, here we are at last, at the apex of Agile adoption.

If your organization has yet to adopt agility, ask yourself a question, "Do we consider ourselves a late majority (34%), low-risk organization?"

If the answer is no, then you should be adopting Agile now, as you are already behind half the business world. If the answer is yes, you should start getting ready for Agile adoption, as this innovation is coming to your neighborhood soon.

For my fellow Agile consultants out there? Change your messaging, marketing and approach -- or find yourself working harder to find new clients. It's time for a shift in Agile coaching from months-long training sessions of the rank and file to helping Agile team managers gain a new and important proficiency.

Personally, I am excited to see Agile adoption as the new normal.

About the author
Joseph Flahiff has more than two decades of experience executing, coaching, consulting and training in traditional and agile delivery across large-scale complex enterprise IT organizations, as well as smaller boutique agencies. Email him at [email protected] or text Joseph at (206) 276-1386.

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