What’s the Future of Agile? Is There Something Else Coming Next?

I recently saw a discussion on an online forum where an individual raised the question of “What’s the Future of Agile?”

  • Someone speculated that the next big methodology might be Lean
  • I’ve also seen some people suggest that Kanban will become the next big methodology

I’ve seen this pattern before – I call it the “Program Du Jour” pattern.  When something new comes along, everyone wants to jump on the bandwagon.

The Future of Agile
Bandwagon with kids on a white background

Here’s one of my favorite quotes on this subject:

The “Program du Jour” Effect

“Americans are our own worst enemy when it comes to new business concepts. We love novelty and newness. We become so enamored with new ideas, we burn through them the way a child rips through toys on Christmas morning – squeals of delight, followed by three or four minutes of interest, then onto the next plaything. That is our pattern with new management techniques, too.”

Barry Sheehy, Hyler Bracey, & Rick Frazier, Winning the Race for Value, American Management Association, 1996

The above quote was about business concepts and management techniques but the same thing can be said about methodologies.

An Example – Six Sigma

Here’s an example:

  • When Six Sigma came into vogue in the 1990’s and early 2000’s, it was really hot, everyone wanted to jump on the Six Sigma bandwagon, and
  • Any other earlier process improvement approach was considered obsolete and passé.  

I published my first book on Business Excellence in 2003 and I interviewed a number of companies for my book at that time.  What I saw was that:

Superficial, Mechanical Implementation

Many companies were doing Six Sigma very superficially and mechanically.

  • In these companies there was a lot of “hoopla” and very visible ceremonies about Six Sigma including Black Belts, Green Belts, etc. 
  • The implementation in many of these companies was not very successful because the company was looking for a “silver bullet” and
  • When it didn’t meet their expectations, the company tossed it out and started looking for the next “silver bullet”.
More Successful Implementation

In other companies where I thought Six Sigma was more successful and lasting, there was a big difference.  

  • Six Sigma was seen only as a tool and not a “silver bullet” or panacea,
  • People in the company understood Six Sigma at a deeper level, and
  • The implementation was not just mechanical and superficial.  
  • Six Sigma was so well-integrated into the way the company did business that it might not even have been very visible that it was Six Sigma and
  • They might not even have called it “Six Sigma”

How Does That Apply to Agile Today and the Future of Agile?

I see a similar pattern with Agile today. 

  • Many people today see “Agile” as a “silver bullet” or panacea for almost any problem you might have.
  • In many cases, the implementation of Agile is superficial and mechanical; and,
  • When it doesn’t work, there’s a tendency to toss it out and look for something new to replace it
  • I think that kind of thinking has some serious flaws

What’s Likely to Happen?

Rather than Agile being replaced by something new, what I hope that will happen is that:

1. People’s Understanding of Agile Will Mature

People’s understanding of Agile will mature. They will start to understand the principles and values behind it at a deeper level, and they will go beyond superficial and mechanical implementations

2. People Will Stop Seeing Agile as a Panacea

People will stop seeing Agile as a “panacea” or “silver bullet” for any problem you might have. Rather than force-fitting all problems to some particular methodology like Agile, they will recognize the need to go in the other direction and fit the methodology to the problem

3. Agile” Does Not Make All Other Management Approaches Obsolete

People will also recognize that “Agile” does not make all other management approaches obsolete and:

  • There’s a need to see Agile and more traditional plan-driven approaches in a fresh new perspective as complementary rather being competitive
  • Various Agile approaches such as Scrum, Kanban, and Lean are also complementary to each other rather than competitive

What’s the Future of Agile – Trends in Agile Development and Project Management

Although I don’t see something else replacing Agile in the future, there are a number of trends that seem evident to me in the future of Agile:

1. Convergence

Traditional plan-driven project management is beginning to converge with Agile. That is definitely a strong component of the future of Agile. Agile started out as a revolution against traditional plan-driven project management practices (what many people loosely call “Waterfall”). That pendulum is starting to swing back to the middle. 

  • People are beginning to recognize that there isn’t really a binary and mutually-exclusive choice between “Agile” and “Waterfall”.
  • Rather than force-fitting a project to one of those extremes, a better solution is to fit the methodology to the nature of the problem. That may require a blend of both approaches in the right proportions to fit the situation.

2. Hybrid Approaches

Learning how to blend those approaches together requires understanding a broader range of methodologies at a deeper level.

  • Many people today do Agile somewhat mechanically “by the book” without really understanding the principles behind it.
  • That results in a somewhat rigid approach to how to apply Agile. That is exactly the opposite of the adaptive approach that is intended for Agile. Check out this article for more on that:

3. Scaling Agile

Many companies and people are attempting to scale Agile to larger and more complex, enterprise-level projects. That will accelerate both of the above trends. Agile was originally designed around small, simple, single-team projects and it can be difficult to scale. Scaling Agile often requires thinking about how to blend it with typical enterprise-level management practices. Those practices include project/program management, project/product portfolio management, and overall business management. Check out this article for more on that:

4. Enterprise-level Agile Transformations

Sometimes, an attempt is made to force a whole company to be agile in order to adopt an Agile development approach. That just isn’t completely realistic or desirable in some cases. Becoming Agile is not necessarily a goal in itself. It has to be applied in the context of the company’s most critical business objectives. What problem will it solve and how will it solve it? Check out this related article for more on that:

Overall Summary

It is difficult to predict the future of Agile but we can definitely see some trends evolving:

  • There has been a lot of experience applying Agile to small, simple single-team development projects.
  • There has been far less experience in scaling Agile to larger and more complex enterprise-level solutions

Achieving that challenge requires a lot more skill and knowledge and a much more in-depth knowledge of the principles behind Agile.

Additional Resources

You will find much more detail on this in my Online Agile Project Management Training.

What is an Enterprise Agile Coach?

What is an Enterprise-level Agile Coach? There are very different Agile Coach roles and when people use the term “Agile Coach” it is often not exactly clear what role that they are referring to.

Enterprise Agile Coach

Typical Team-level Agile Coach Role

Most often, what they’re talking about as an “Agile Coach” is what I would call a team-level Agile Coach. Someone in that role works at a tactical level with individual members of an Agile team to help them become more proficient in executing a Scrum process.

What Is an Enterprise Agile Coach?

The role of an Agile Coach at an enterprise-level needs to be better-defined and differentiated from a normal team-level “Agile Coach” role. Beyond the team-level Agile Coach role, an enterprise-level Agile Coach:

  • Helps companies design and implement an effective Agile transformation for their business
  • Works at a more strategic level to integrate an Agile development process with a company’s business. (See diagram above)

An enterprise-level Agile Coach should be able to see the need for an Agile transformation from a broader business perspective. Check out this article for more on that:

The Impact of the Business Environment

The problem is that there is a big difference between companies whose primary business is focused on product development and other types of businesses.

Product Development Companies

  • Agile works very well in companies that are in the primary business of developing products (particularly software products). Intuit is an example that develops TurboTax, Quicken, and QuickBooks).
  • In those companies, there is a strong and natural alignment between an Agile development process and the overall business goals of the company
  • It is very easy to apply an Agile development process in that environment.

Non-Product Development Companies

It is much more difficult to apply an Agile development process in a company that is not in the primary business of developing products. In that kind of business, the relationship of an Agile development process to the company’s overall business strategy is much more indirect.

In companies that are not in the primary business of developing products:

  • You can’t just force the company to be “Agile” in order to make the company more amenable to an Agile development process
  • The company’s overall culture and business strategy needs to be optimized around the critical success factors for that business

Fitting the Approach to the Business

An enterprise-level Agile Coach role can be very challenging. It’s important to fit the approach to the business rather than force-fitting the business to some arbitrary approach, Here’s an example:

  • If a company is in a business that requires operational excellence, it needs to focus its overall culture and business strategy primarily on efficiency of operations and reducing costs and
  • That doesn’t necessarily align completely with just becoming more “Agile”.
  • In that kind of environment, you have to develop a strategy that considers both the company’s business strategy and the requirements of an Agile development process to develop a well-integrated approach
  • The implementation of that strategy often requires fitting the approach to the company’s business environment rather than simply trying to force-fit the company to some kind of overall Agile approach

Blending Agile and Plan-Driven Project Management

The solution in that kind of environment could be a blend of Agile and traditional plan-driven management principles and practices. That is a lot more difficult thing to do and requires a lot more skill than a typical team-level Agile coach would normally have. It requires an understanding of:

  • Agile principles and practices; as well as
  • Traditional project management principles and practices
  • And a deeper understanding of the principles behind both of them to know how to blend them together as necessary to fit a given situation

Business Perspective

An enterprise Agile Coach should have the ability to look at a very complex, broad-based, enterprise-level business from both:

  • A more strategic high-level business management perspective as well as
  • A more tactical product development process perspective to develop a strategy for integrating the two.

Overall Summary

An Enterprise Agile Coach is a different kind of Agile Coach role:

  • Instead of working at a team-level on improving team performance,
  • He/she needs to work at a much higher strategic level to help a company fit an Agile approach to their business

Additional Resources

You will find much more detail on this in my Online Agile Project Management Training.