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InfoQ Homepage Podcasts The State of Agile in 2024

The State of Agile in 2024

In this podcast Shane Hastie, Lead Editor for Culture & Methods spoke to Joyce Tompsett about the 17th State of agile report.

Key Takeaways

  • There is a disconnect between how Agilists think about agile and how business people think about business, leading to misaligned expectations and results.
  • agile is becoming more important as part of the way organizations operate, and a hybrid approach to methodologies is becoming more common.
  • The value delivered to the business is a key focus, with an emphasis on business metrics and outcomes.
  • Organizations are adopting agile approaches in various parts of the business, including engineering, product, research, marketing, and customer support.
  • The challenges in adopting agile include cultural issues, leadership participation, business teams' understanding of agile, and the need for ongoing education and training.


Shane Hastie: Good day, folks. This is Shane Hastie for the InfoQ Engineering Culture podcast. Today I've got the privilege and pleasure of sitting down with Joyce Tompsett. Joyce is the GM of the State of agile project for Joyce, welcome. Thanks for taking the time to talk to us today.

Joyce Tompsett: Hi, Shane. Thanks for having me. It's great to be here.

The big trends in the state of agile report [01:12]

Shane Hastie: Wonderful. So 17 States of agile Report, we have, at InfoQ, been monitoring them over the years and looking for the trends. But if I can ask you, let's dig right in, what are the big trends this year?

Joyce Tompsett: Well, the big trends are somewhat contradictory on the surface, but when you dig into them, they're not as much so, and the one trend of course is that when agile works well, it works really, really well. And then, what appears to be the contradiction but isn't as you dig deeper, is that there are still lots of challenges in scaling agile, right? So when we look at the team level or where you have a small group of teams, people seem to have that well under control. They know what they're doing, it's adapted to the organizations. They've got the frameworks, they've got their methodologies, and they're doing okay.

The challenge is that you get a little bit of success, and then you want to scale it, and you want to take it to more parts of the organization because it looks like a good idea. And of course, as it scales, as anything scales, it's never the same as it was when you started, right? And so there's a lot of challenges in that, and perhaps the biggest challenge in that comes down to some disconnects between how Agilists fundamentally think about agile and how business people fundamentally think about business. And so on the business side, they're concerned about creating value for their customers, right, and growing that customer base or expanding on the offerings. And Agilists are concerned about getting the work done right, in the most efficient way, and the quickest way, and in a way that works for their group. And what that means though, is that agile has to be in service of the business. The business cannot be in service of agile, and so when there is a disconnect between those languages, that is when we start to see disconnect between expectations and results, right?

So at a very high level, I think that's what we're really seeing in the organizations. And if anything, agile is becoming more important, but it's not becoming more important as a thing in and of itself, it's becoming more important as just part of the way we do things in an organization. So one of the other trends we're starting to see is more and more organizations are starting to say that they take a hybrid approach, so they're not sticking to one framework or one way of doing things. And this of course within the agile world creates all sorts of conversation because there are people who have gotten to know a methodology inside, outside, upside down, and it works for them and they think they can make it work everywhere, but most businesses want to tweak things, they get it good enough and then they want to adopt it to whatever's going on in their business.

For example, recently we were talking to someone who said that agile seems much easier to do in a software company than a hardware company, right? So when you're working with an abstract product, it's a lot easier than when you're working with physical material projects and products, right? So you have to modify. We have heavily regulated industries which have lots of rules, and so sometimes you have to work your way around those rules and around what happens in those industries, right? So we're seeing this sort of hybrid approach to which methodologies, how much we lean into it, when we lean into it, where we lean into it, in the survey as well.

Shane Hastie: So isn't that just agile being applied with an agile mindset?

Joyce Tompsett: In many ways, that is exactly what it is. When you live in the agile world, you look at everything that way, and people look at that and they say, "We want to be part of that." And it's really that adaptation of how do we start to think in an agile way? And that involves some change, right? And that's some of where the rub is, right? So how do you measure whether you're agile, right? How do I know if I'm being agile? Here's the thing, you cannot buy agile. You cannot go online, or do a distributor, or into a store and purchase agile. You have to create it and you have to manifest it in your organization. And so how do you do that, right? What are the things that make it? And so there's a lot of discussions on how people are measured, and interestingly, when we talked about software development, one third of teams are still measured on velocity, right? It's still getting it done fast. So that talks about outcomes and efficiencies, right?

Shane Hastie: Yeah, looking at the graphs, velocity is the highest in-use metric for teams, but surely we should have got over that by now.

Finding good metrics [06:14]

Joyce Tompsett: During my day job, I work in software development and everybody's always trying to get everything out faster, fix the bugs faster, get the new features out faster, get the customers what they want faster, right? Make the performance faster. So I don't know that we're ever going to go fast enough to satisfy everyone. I don't know that this, somewhat tongue in cheek, I'm not sure the speed of light is fast enough, right? But you're right, because speed for its own sake is not helpful, but which velocity implies speed with direction though, doesn't it? And so speed in the right direction is really important, and then you start to say, "Well, what is the right direction?" And so the second thing you see coming up then is value delivered, right?

There's a lot to unpack there because if you ask any two people in an organization what the value is, you're likely going to get a range of answers depending on which part of the organization they're in and what their day job is, right? But increasingly, we're starting to see people talk about business metrics, as well as maybe traditional metrics that you might look at, right, such as how much work did we get done, what parts of the work got done? There's also looking at things in other metrics. I'm looking to pull up the slide we had on metrics here, 39% rely on individual project metrics, so that's up 9% from the previous year. And 32% are using OKRs linked to epics, which is up 5%.

So we're starting to see that connection between what is the value to the business and what is the group doing, right? And building that connection. I was discussing this with a couple of customers the other day, and they both work with agile teams. One of them coaches agile coaches, and they said, "Nobody really cares about the work you do other than your team. The executives care about the goals they're tracking, which may be KPIs, it may be NPS scores, it may be OKRs, it may be revenue targets, it may be bug reductions. Whatever that is, that's the sort of thing that they're leaning into in the business and that Agilists are increasingly shifting their focus forward." This is important to say because if you look at that chart down at the bottom, 17% say they're not sure. That's one in six, right?

Shane Hastie: One in six, don't know how they're measured.

Joyce Tompsett: Don't know how they're measured.

Shane Hastie: Another interesting thing that leaps out at me on that one, the DORA metrics. There's been such a lot of emphasis on the value of those metrics as internal tools for teams to understand, and yet only 6% of organizations are saying they use them, or 6% of teams say they're being used.

Joyce Tompsett: We have this conversation within about the relative importance of DORA. And increasingly, I think we see DORA as table stakes, as fundamental, know what's going on with your software and development, know what's happening, but those don't easily translate to the business necessarily, right? And so I would never ever say, "DORA metrics aren't important," but I would say that the answer here is know your audience, right? So if you're talking to software development, and you're looking at that, and these teams may be in fact very internally focused on that, then DORA metrics would be expected. But if you're reporting up to a higher level, looking at something around revenue, then DORA metrics might not be the best way to demonstrate what it is you're doing.

Shane Hastie: We're still seeing agile approaches, predominantly in the software development IT areas. What's the growth been through other parts of organizations?

Agile adoption outside of software development [10:13]

Joyce Tompsett: The other area that we saw it really big in then is engineering, the product and the research, but then it's starting to move into things like marketing, business operations, customer support and services. We talk about the fact that areas like finance and HR are harder to do because they're very guided in how they need to do things, and measure things, and look at things, right? Because they're affected financially, and by jurisdictional rules, and things like that. But in other areas of the business, we're seeing that really starting to take off.

In fact, a customer reached out the other day in a webinar we were doing and said, "I'd like to hear us talk more about what's happening outside because we have people in our data, data specialists really working in agile ways to get to that." So I think we've gotten a few minutes in here, and I haven't said the magic two letters yet, so I'll put them out there now, but AI is going to affect even agile, right? And so I think, as we start to look at AI, being able to work in an agile way as you develop AI projects becomes really key too.

Shane Hastie: Where organizations aren't using an agile approach for software development, information technology, engineering, what are they doing instead?

Joyce Tompsett: Well, a little bit of the challenge of this survey is that we take it to the agile world and we ask the Agilists. So there is absolutely a bias towards agile. We're not going out into the larger, broader world, right? So not surprisingly, the overwhelming majority of people we speak to, are Agilists, are doing an agile approach, but some of these people work for very large organizations that will buy other companies. They're in multiple geographies, and so even in a given organization, you won't see agile adoption uniformly across the board, right?

So the next thing we're seeing is a hybrid approach here, which is using some combination of capabilities. Sometimes people are just doing DevOps without necessarily bringing the agile, the planning and looking at those kinds of things up front. They're just working in a DevOps manner. Some people are doing iterative, which the definition of iterative that we used was to implement a set of software requirements, test them, evaluate them, pinpoint further requirements, and then produce a new software version at each phase, right? And then heaven forbid, there's still Waterfall out there. It's still happening, and depending on the application, depending on the group, you'll find that. I think newer applications are much more likely to be agile and DevOps, and some of the older stuff is where you're more likely to see older ways of doing things. There's some other things in there as well.

Shane Hastie: What about the frameworks? Did you explore the different frameworks and what's happening in the adoption of... I want to almost say are we getting past the religious wars that the agile community has had about now, if you're not doing it exactly like this, you can't call it Scrum or whatever.

Getting past framework wars [13:23]

Joyce Tompsett: I think we have because we just don't have the energy to waste on having religious wars, right? Now, having said that, there are adherents, the camps, and you can find them, and you can rattle the cage, and probably get a response. But most of the time when I talk to people, it's much more of look, use the tool where it makes sense to use it. And I gave an example the other day that I'll repeat here. My son has been in youth sports, he played basketball for a while, but this would apply to any sport really, to rugby, or football, or anything. When you start, you learn the fundamentals and you just repeat them over and over, and you follow exactly what the coach tells you to do, and you follow the rules very prescriptively. And then you begin to do more complex plays, right? Once you have the fundamentals down, then you start to do more complex plays and maneuvers, but then the game comes and you actually have to get into the game, and hopefully you're remembering the fundamentals, and you're remembering the plays because the coach is going to call one out. But you're going to have to deal with what is actually happening in that environment in the moment, right?

That's sports, and I think that agile is a lot like that. We begin, we take a framework and we learn it, and we follow the rules of the framework, and we follow the steps of the framework. We follow the advice, and then we start to look at it in our organization, and what works, and we repeat that. But if you look at the original agile manifesto, it's not terribly prescriptive at all, right? And if you become, ironically, if you become too rigid in your agile approach, then you're contradicting the point. And I think people are getting to that point now where we know how to do it in teams, we've proven we can do it, and now we understand our business. We're living in a very dynamic environment right now, and it used to be in business, we worried about our internal issues, our customers, a set of competitors, but now the things we're worried about, we're in a global economy, so we worry about global supply chains. We worry about not only our domestic elections, but the elections that are affecting those members of our supply chain or our customer bases, right?

Agile approaches help make organisations more resilient [15:40]

We have an awful lot of environmental activity going on that affects us and what we can do. And so organizations are really looking to make themselves more resilient, more able to adapt to change. So agile approaches, arguably, are needed now more than they've ever been before, right? And part of being agile is to take what works and think about it in a new way, maybe what happens if a manager calls up and says, "I need an agile take on this," you're going to bring all your knowledge, all your experience, but at some point you're just going to have to make it work for that situation, right? So I think we've really moved past the age of my methodology is superior to your methodology. And we're especially seeing that, again, as you get to the enterprise level, as you get to all of that complexity, what works for one part of the organization may just not work for another. It may be too complicated or it may be too simple, right?

Shane Hastie: Where are the struggles? What are the things that organizations and teams are really struggling with to get the benefit from agile ways of working?

Joyce Tompsett: So not surprisingly, and this is a podcast on culture, right?

Shane Hastie: Yes.

Challenges around leadership and culture [16:56]

Joyce Tompsett: Culture is always a challenge, and we've been talking about a lot of those cultural issues. If I'm coming from the American office over to you in the New Zealand or some sort of Asia-Pacific area, we may have very different styles of doing things. And agile may or may not work in a more hierarchical organization than it would in, say, a flatter organization, right? Or the way that one executive works may be a very different approach than a new one, right? Or a counterpart in another part of the organization. One product may have been formed being completely agile, and now you're trying to translate that agile to a product where they've always done it Waterfall, and now we have to figure out a new way to do it. So the biggest challenge really is human beings being human beings with each other, that's kind of it.

Another challenge is, especially as you're scaling agile, is leadership participation. You need to have that knowledge and support from the ground, but to make it scale, you really need to have that support from the top. You have to have a champion who believes in it, who understands it, and who's going to back it up when you say, "Hey, we need to do something different." You need that and you need, again, that sponsorship and that support. To some degree, there's a challenge, the way it's worded is, business teams not understanding what agile does or can do. We've all been through times where we've been through change and somebody comes in and says, "We're going to adopt this new framework," or, "We're going to adopt this new software system," or, "We're going to adopt this new methodology." And you look in the organization and you say, "Do I just wait for this to pass? Is this a fad? Is this a real thing? Are we really going to make it happen?" And then you know that you have work you have to do in a day, and to learn something new takes time.

It takes energy, and so there has to be that commitment that we're going to get through that awkward part, that transitional part, and for the laggards, that they will be brought along, and that the people who jump in will be rewarded for jumping in and trying, right? Those are a lot of the things that we see as the issues. And then of course, education and training. You have to train people in these techniques, whatever methodologies or whatever frameworks you're going to adopt, you absolutely need to provide training, and not just one course. It's got to be ongoing, and coaching, and helping people with it, right?

Shane Hastie: One of the industry trends that we are certainly seeing playing out at the moment, is the challenges around the traditional agile roles. Organizations not wanting Scrum masters, but still wanting the benefit of Scrum, not wanting agile coaches, but still wanting agility. What's this telling us and what is the survey telling us?

Communicate the value of agile roles [19:51]

Joyce Tompsett: The challenge is, I think to a degree, how do you explain the role? How do you describe the role? People want the benefits of agile. They don't necessarily want to hire a whole bunch of agile teams who are going to run around doing agile for agile's sake. So if you're an Agilist and you want to have your job, you want to keep your job, because we've heard of companies, they look at the costs of their coaches and they say, "Are we getting the benefit from having the costs of these team members? Can we do this without them?" So the benefit is to really demonstrate where the value is. And that gets back to speaking the language of the business.

The higher up the chain you get, the more they're concerned about the money, the number, the revenue, the cost, the risk. And so to the degree that you can translate what you do into money that you can say to someone, "Well, we can get rid of these agile coaches and here's what the cost is going to be to the organization, from a pure salary, but here's what the cost is going to be, in terms of efficiencies, in terms of outcomes met, in terms of time to do things." So you cannot take for granted that people will just say, "Oh, agile equals this." You have to justify your existence, right? But that is true for most of us in any program we're doing. We have to show the benefit it has. We have to show the cost that it has, and so when we get into times where companies are looking to cut or they're looking to reframe or adjust, it becomes really important for the agile people to justify, to be able to show those benefits in business value terms that relate to their organization.

There's no one magic bullet, right? It's your organization, and if you don't know what matters to your organization, then your next job should be to go figure that out, right? To go find out what matters. And if you do know what matters, look at what you're doing and say, "Am I translating this into what my manager can take to their manager, and so on, to say, 'Here's the value above and beyond the sheer costs of having those employees, or paying for this training, or...'" Those input level costs, right?

Shane Hastie: In the report, you say an astounding 91% report that their teams are fully distributed. Obviously, we've come through the pandemic, people are coming back, we're seeing return to work, return to office, hybrid and so forth. But that's a big number. What's happening there?

Remote work is the norm [22:27]

Joyce Tompsett: In the pandemic, people discovered that you didn't need to all be in the same room to make it work. Now, there are certainly those that are trying to get everybody back into the same room. I have worked remote for most of my career, so I'm biased towards team distributed. All of the best talent never lives in my hometown, right? And you see that that's why companies open offices, but we're interconnected, right? What I do in one office affects something else, and very rarely do you have completely separate divisions that don't have an impact on each other. And agile was able to lean in during the pandemic. Agilists were able to lean in, and figure out how to take those tools, and make them work. And so a lot of people, I think, found that they could work well in a distributed manner.

Now, distributed doesn't necessarily mean remote. It may just mean extended and distributed, right? Like you're in an office in New Zealand and I'm in an office in the US, and that may be fine, but we leaned into those tools and we found the workarounds to do that. We found the way, and so now what people are saying is, the challenge is to keep the ongoing training and coaching, right? To help people keep doing that, to sure you have the right tools in place to work in a distributed fashion or in a remote fashion, right? But to really be able to get and keep the best talent and to produce things in the most effective manner, distributed seems to be the way to go.

Shane Hastie: And let's cycle back to the magic two letters, the AI, using agile for adopting AI initiatives, which you referred to earlier. What is the implication for Agilists of AI as a team member, a partner, an assistant? Can I replace my Scrum master with an AI chatbot?

AI tools as partners and team members [24:27]

Joyce Tompsett: With AI, we're hearing the big fear, right? I could possibly be replaced, but we had that fear when we started factories and any kind of automation, there's been a round of fear that people could lose their jobs, and yet they never have. Jobs have been replaced, there've been fewer of them. The workforce has shifted. And if you're an agilist who spends a lot of time making meetings and doing very low level tasks, you could be replaced. It's entirely possible, but most people are doing higher-order, human-level skills, right? They're coaching people on how to work with things. They're deeply involved in the contextual information. AI is horrible at context. GenAI is really, really good at predicting the next word that you should use, or the next term in your code if you're coding. But it's not really good at understanding the entire program in which you're writing code, or it's not good at understanding the entire context at which you're asking it for something. And so AI ultimately should be a tool in the toolbox of the agilist.

How can you use AI to do the things that you can automate, that are low level, that you could get an intern to do? This is your, somewhat intelligent, intern. Although the level of AI right now is more like an irritable toddler than it is a young intern, but that will change of course. We're at the beginning of the technology. In the survey, people were hesitant to use it in production because a lot of organizations are waiting to pick the right tool to figure out the cost of the tool, take care of the security of data, the veracity of the tool. These tools tends to hallucinate quite a bit.

So those challenges are all there, but over time, we'll get through them as the technology matures. But Agilists should be familiarizing themselves with the AI tools. They should be looking at ways to help them get rid of the lower level tasks. We talk about this with developers in general. How do you reduce toil? It's much the same. Use AI where it can reduce toil and free you up to do the more interesting, higher-level tasks that you probably enjoy more in your work, anyhow.

Shane Hastie: Joyce, thank you for taking the time to talk to us, some interesting and useful stuff here. Where can people find the report?

Joyce Tompsett: Well, we have got all 17 reports sitting at, and we also have, on LinkedIn, a State of agile group. It's State of agile, I believe, and people are welcome to come in there, look at the report, ask questions about the report. And of course on as well, the parent company, we have the report there and more information if you want to find that out as well.

Shane Hastie: Well, thank you so much. Been a pleasure talking with you [inaudible 00:27:25].

Joyce Tompsett: Well, thank you. Take care, Shane.


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