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Adoption of Agile in Eastern Europe

The gap in agile adoption between Eastern Europe and North America and Western Europe is becoming smaller. Scrum is the most widespread framework, Kanban adoption is growing and SAFe, LeSS, DAD are trending. The way that companies are transitioning to agile is significantly different in Eastern Europe.

These are some of the conclusions from the interview below with Kirill Klimov, who is involved in organizing the Agile Eastern Europe 2015 conference. The conference will be held in Kiev, Ukraine from March 27-28.

The goal of AgileEE is described as:

This event is to bring the regional Agile movement onto the next level by integrating goals and directions of the local communities.

Also it is to integrate the regional Eastern European movement with the World-wide Agile movement by expanding the horizons and by adding new fresh pieces to the multi-cultural mosaic. About a half of conference speakers are well-known industry professionals from U.S, Canada and Western Europe.

InfoQ: In general how is agile adoption progressing in Eastern Europe?

Klimov: Agile adoption in Eastern Europe lags behind US and Western Europe. This has been the case for years. While it is already 14 years since manifesto is signed, the term "Agile" is only widely used for just 7-8 years in Eastern Europe. Yes, some pioneers were using it earlier, but it was not a trend. During these years, the movement is growing (which is the same as on the west, as I see it). More and more companies see the value of business agility - ability to learn by doing, incorporating real feedback from the market to make further business decisions.

Also, the landscape in Eastern Europe is specific to some degree. Most of the companies are working in outsourcing, offshoring, nearshoring or whatever you name it way. The essence is that the team here represent only a part of the bigger group, working all together on bigger products. It could be just division (ODC) of the western company itself or an outsourcing provider working as supplier for a western company. So reality is that in most cases we are talking about distributed teams in this or other way. This is a general case for most of the countries in the region, probably apart from Russia, where outsourcing is just 5-15% of the market and the rest is focused on the internal market. Historically a lot of Agile implementations has been started because of specifics described above, western customers were demanding Agile delivery.

InfoQ: Which agile practices are being used mostly by companies in Eastern Europe?

Klimov: Scrum is ruling the World, and here it is the case as well. It is the most widespread and most well-known framework. Even when it is not applicable for some reason(s), conversation usually starts from Scrum. When talking about worldwide organisations promoting and supporting various practices, correspondingly the Scrum Alliance is the most recognised organisation here.

Kanban is growing really fast during last few years primarily because of huge organisations like financial institutions, telecoms. They realise that Scrum may not be applicable for them for some reason, still they want some of the benefits, they are very focused on improving time-to-market and are turning to Kanban for that. LeanKanban University is growing and starting to be recognised as the most powerful provider of Kanban education. Engineering practices from XP are used quite a lot by most of the companies because of obvious reasons – you can not archive business agility just by changing your processes and not touching technical side. CI is kind of standard de facto, CD is a reality for some companies here, a mid-term goal for a lot of companies.

InfoQ: Do you see differences in how agile is deployed in Eastern Europe, when for instance compared to Western Europe or North America?

Klimov: Definitely yes. In North America and Western Europe in majority of cases transition to Agile means moving from Waterfall. Here, very often what we see is that the transition to Agile means moving from chaos, from self-made on-the-ground processes, which was ok for a small company and is not working anymore due to growth. This is very different. Quite a lot of people here, haven’t seen Waterfall in real life at all. This is not good, nor bad, just different. Another aspect is that because of distributed nature cases when we deal with fully collocated team are extremely rare. Mostly those are distributed setups. Obviously, that adds some complexity for Agile adoption.

Another huge difference I see a lot is how adoption is performed. External consultants are still quite rare here. A lot of companies prefer to hire a person on the staff to do the job. Or, even better, send your existing employee for 2-days certification class, so that he will do the transformation afterwards. This is often very close to reality here. Certifications had spoiled the market here, the same way as everywhere.

InfoQ: Do you have examples of the benefits that agile has brought?

Klimov: Those are very common with the worldwide picture (like from VersionOne’ state of Agile or SA’ state of Scrum). Time to market, improved quality, better serving customer needs, improved communication in and between groups. Last one is important because we are talking about communication in distributed setups, often even overseas.

InfoQ: Can you elaborate on the trends in agile in Eastern Europe. What’s hot, why?

Klimov: If you’ll roll back 4-5 years from the west you can pretty much guess the current state here. Scaling became a hype here. SAFe, LeSS, DAD were rare just few years ago and now are much more trending. It is still considered as a silver bullet of next generation, like "we haven’t succeeded with Scrum, let’s use SAFe because we are big, so we need it".

I can see more systemic work on culture-structure level of organisations during transformations. A lot of people realise that just process change won’t really help and most likely will not cause a mindset change. Some differences from the West are positive. Even though the community here is very small, it is quite advanced. Quick example. Let’s take the Scrum Alliance line of certifications as most widespread for our example. Worldwide ratio in between certifications of 1st and 2nd levels (CSM+CSPO vs CSP) is ~1:1000, which means that, unfortunately, not that many are making next steps on their Agile journey. In Ukraine, the same ratio is, at least, 10 times better (1:70). Even though, overall number of professionals is low, still we have quite a few of this middle level. At the same time, if you compare on the top level (CST, CSC) we are below the world’s average.

InfoQ: What do you expect the future to bring for agile in Eastern Europe?

Klimov: We already learn quite intensively from World level experts, so trying to utilise World’ best practices and knowledge. So I am sure the gap in between the West and Eastern Europe in terms of Agile adoption will decrease over time. I tend to believe, that during next 10 years we will cover most of that, so the gap could be probably 1-2 years at most. The distributed nature of product development is here to stay, still more and more local product companies will arise (we see that trend already, it will increase). There will be more and more top experts here having level of expertise comparable to top level on the West.

InfoQ will be covering the Agile Eastern Europe conference with Q&As, write-ups, and articles.

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