Jeff Sutherland, Scott Downey and I have found over the past few years that, more often than we wished, companies sometimes abandon agile methods. In our observations, it hasn't been because agile was performing badly; to the contrary, for the first time these companies had measurably improved their performance.
This year, Scott and I decided to tackle this issue as a research effort. We have looked at six companies, so far, but we hope to study more, with your help.
If you have observed agile abandonment, we'd like to talk to you. Your comments and company names will remain anonymous. My contact information is here.
If you've been working in agile coaching or training for a long time, and you've not experienced agile abandonment, or if you've found ways to counteract it, we'd also like to hear from you.
Scott and I proposed this topic for Agile 2012. Here is our submission:
Agile 2012 Proposal
Agile adoption can lead to dramatic improvements in market adoption, engineering efficiency improvements and engineer empowerment. But many companies have adopted agile practices, and then, despite seeing significant benefits, have abandoned those practices, allowed waterfall practices to return, and saw productivity decline. Why? If agile really helps companies succeed, how can we ensure its retention?
This session will summarize a series of root cause analyses we performed with agile leaders, using a “Root Cause Mapping” approach that helps groups of people identify contributing causes and share responsibility. Companies will remain anonymous in the presentation.
Most of us believe that agile adoption requires initial courage and effort, but agile retention also seems to require sustained courage and effort. Loss of a key leader, addition of a new leader, growth of the company beyond a certain scale, company acquisition, insufficiently refactoring mid-level manager roles, and the inability of product management to exploit agility all seem to correlate with agile abandonment.
Today, we have analyzed six companies that have abandoned agile methods. In discussing this issue with others, we have discovered abandonment is more common than we thought. We hope that this session proposal will inspire others who have experienced this problem to contact us with more examples. Email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
If feedback is positive on this session proposal, we plan to incorporate additional companies, further analyze the phenomenon, consult with colleagues on mitigation strategies and assemble a set of best practices for protecting agile gains.
Help us out
If you think this topic merits discussion, consider lending your voice in favor of the topic. Registered users can provide public comments on the proposal at http://submit2012.agilealliance.org/node/14003.
Here's to persistent agility!