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Drilling Down Into Agile Success Factors

| by Christopher Goldsbury on Apr 24, 2012. Estimated reading time: 4 minutes |

Scott W. Ambler discussed some analysis of agile success factors on Dr. Dobbs from the November 2011 Agile state of the Art survey .  According to the article there were two goals of the survey:

  • To explore which adoption strategies, such as executive sponsorship and assigning people to a single agile team, were related to agile project success.
  • To explore the affect of two common scaling factors, team size and geographical distribution, on agile project success. There were 168 respondents to the survey, which was announced in several agile mailing lists and on Scott W. Ambler's twitter feed.
The article derives some key insights about achieving agile adoption success and the meaning of the survey results.  Among them, paraphrased here:
1. Agile success is more likely when there is a dedicated business domain expertise available through the project.
2. Environment and tools should support agile adoption and practices.
3. Executive sponsorship of agile methods and practices tends to yield better success.
4. Successful agile teams were measured on overall value creation rather than traditional measures of project success: scope, budget and schedule.
5. Many respondents indicated scaling agile through large organizations and geography.
6. However...small teams tended to succeed more often with agile.
7. And...the greater the level of geographic distribution, the greater the risk due to communication and coordination challenges, resulting in a lower success rate.
8. An agile center of excellence within the company helps to smooth agile adoption.
9. Teams struggled, irrespective of agile adoption, when assigned to multiple projects at once.
10. Agile teams that work with non-agile teams to deliver a combined product, project tend to be slowed down by the non-agile team.
InfoQ dove deeper into the survey results and found some other insights, questions:
1. 168 people responded, but only 114 completed the survey. In general response rates varied per question.  The least answered question ( #7 ) pertained to how agile benefits were measured. 93 didn't respond.  
2. Queston #2 asks about agile team size.  44.7% of the people who responded said their team was between 6-10 people. 78% of the respondents were on agile teams of 15 people or less. Extremely large teams of 101 or more represented only 4.2% of the respondents ( 6 people ). Of that 4.2%, how many considered their entire company to be the agile team? What do these results indicate about scaling agile in practice?
3. Question #3 asks about location of the agile team.  54.6% of the respondents indicated they were either co-located, the team was on the same floor, or the team was in the same building. 20.6% indicated that some people on the team were greater than 3 hour time zone difference away, but there was no context to explain the roles of these non-co-located team members.  Further, do the answers here indicate that the vast majority of agile teams are co-located in some fashion with perhaps a few members off-shore or vended partners in different time-zones?  What does this indicate with respect to scaling agile across time-zones in practice?
4. Question #4 asked how often team members communicated with project stakeholders.  48.9% reponded that stakeholder communication occurred on a daily basis.  The question gives no insight into the nature of that communication or which team members are doing it. Is it via email? face to face? by phone?  Is it just the scrummaster or any team member?  Are we talking about a daily stand-up or more? 
5. Question #8 asks how well the respondent agrees with certain statements.  One of those statements, "IT and financial governance,including capitalization and budgeting processes, have been addressed and there is an officially recognized agile path", indicated the majority disagreed ( 30.5% ). Does this point to a hole in agile practices and patterns, lack of involvement from the business, or difference in respondents between those engaged in developing software for external sale vs software developed for internal use?
6. Question #9 asked whether the respondent had taken CSM ( Certified Scrum Master ) training and their perspective on that training.  57.4% said they had not taken CSM training.  Does this contradict the wide adoption of scrum in the industry?  Does it explain the plethora of water-scrum-fall adoptions?
7. Question #12 asked the respondents role on the project.  The majority ( 49.0 % ) indicated they were an agile coach or mentor.  The next biggest category was agile team member at 29.8%.  Busines stakeholders represented just 2.9% of the respondents.  Product owners represented only 1.9%.  11.5% indicated 'Other'.  How would the nature of the survey results change were business stakeholders, quality assurance, or product owners more represented?  Do agile coaches/mentors have a vested interest in reporting success?  
8. 6.7% of the respondents had 5 years of experience or less.  Indicating that the majority of those responding had been in the field of sofware development and information technology for a while.  But, why did so few with less experience respond?  Was the survey skewed toward experienced agile coaches?
9. Question #14 asks how many years of agile experience the respondent has.  The three biggest response rates follow.  Less than 2 years = 28.8%.  2-5 years = 29.8%.  5-10 years = 31.7%. 
10.Question #16 asked what is the primary industry your organization works in.  But there was no option to answer the question as 'technology - software' or 'technology - hardware'. The answers for this question may have been inadequate to represent the spectrum of industry types that occur in advanced economies.  This may be why most who answered the question chose: 'multiple sectors' - 31.7%.
The survey results are freely available for review.  Tell us your views.  What does the 2011 Agile State of the Art survey indicate to you?

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Surveys are problematic by Dave Nicolette

It seems to me that InfoQ's comments about the survey reflect general problems. I have low confidence in surveys as a mechanism to collect information about a subject.

How do you feel about my comment regarding surveys?

(a) strongly agree (b) agree (c) neutral (d) disagree (e) strongly disagree

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