In its early years, Agile represented a growing trend away from traditional project management structures. Expanding from its origins in the field of software development Agile found acceptance in companies that were younger and operating in spheres largely outside the lines of established business standards, particularly those related to technology. Since then Agile has been implemented on a wider scale in the business world, finding varying degrees of success. Now, 13 years after the Agile Manifesto kickstarted the movement, there are some basic questions that can began to be answered about the growth of Agile; how popular has the methodology become, how are businesses implementing it and what level of success has it seen where it has been implemented?
Often times the best way to determine the success of something is to ask those who are directly involved with it. That’s just what PriceWaterhouseCooper (PWC) did with their third global survey on the current state of project management in 2012, when they polled the opinions of hundreds of project managers from a variety of industries. Let's take a look at some of the key findings related to Agile management.
To start, we learned that 34% of private companies surveyed implemented Agile management in some form in 2012. This is an increase from the 27% who responded in the affirmative in 2011 and 24% in 2010 in a separate survey from PMI, which also found that Agile methods in project management were the number one requested article topic for readers of PMI’s PM Network journal, a sign that business leaders are gaining more acceptance and awareness of Agile.
However, when we compare Agile’s share of the market to other project management methodologies we see that, while Agile is indeed increasing in use, it is not necessarily outpacing other methods. Portfolio Management and Earned Value Management both saw higher gains from 2010 to 2011 (5%), and higher overall usage (55% and 42%, respectively).
In fact the implementation of project management practices and methodology has grown across the board in the wake of the global financial recession. Efficiency has become increasingly more important as budgets and resources are stretched and many businesses are looking to project management as a solution. So while Agile is indeed growing, it is still one of the least popular methods when measured across all industries.
The Underlying Factors
There have been several reasons attributed to the lack of expansion for Agile into the wider business realm. Corporate level resistance, traditional project management advocates and the difficulty of combining the free form essence of Agile with other, more fixed, areas of business, like budgets and billing, have all been identified as restrictions on Agile’s growth. But, perhaps the major underlying reason behind Agile not being as popular as other methodologies is its lack of maturity and practice as a methodology.
Turning back to our surveys we see that both the PWC and PMI surveys found that the most important factor in determining the success of a project was its maturity level within an organization. Not surprisingly the longer a methodology has been implemented the more effective it is. This may explain why the success levels for Agile are rather low in these surveys as the methodology is still in its awkward teenage years.
The project success rate (i.e. meeting business and project goals) for Agile in the PMI survey was only 68%, 4% higher than the average (including companies with no project management structure) and the lowest of the methodologies surveyed. In the PWC survey, Agile had a 59% project success rate, with a mere 17% of those projects meeting what PWC identified as the five key performance indicators (quality, scope, budget, schedule and business benefits). Also telling here is that only 62% of businesses using Agile have a certified Agile practitioner on staff and 67% have a ‘traditional phase-based project manager’ that directly oversees projects, which doesn’t quite match up with the individualized spirit of Agile.
Is Agile Still the Next Big Thing?
Agile management has expanded its reach to include implementation in expected technology-based sectors like project management software, video games, and digital marketing, but also into large scale usage such as major distribution networks, aerospace manufacturing, media broadcasting and telecommunications. However, this growth is occurring quite rapidly and the majority of companies using Agile methodologies have only been doing so for a short time.
So, while more organizations are practicing Agile, they may not be fully trained and prepared for its successful implementation. Again, we see that the level of organizational maturity and a lack of familiarity with new practices is a key factor here. The hope is that these are just growing pains, leading PWC to state; “As organizations continue to mature their understanding of Agile PM methodologies, the role of the project manager should also evolve and align with key agile concepts of integrated, self-directing teams in which team members take responsibility for managing their tasks and commitments.“
Agile is still largely a methodology developed and adopted by the IT sector (71% of PWC survey respondents using Agile). The challenge for Agile is to be able to penetrate new sectors that aren’t as adaptive or streamlined. It’s success in this endeavor will largely determine whether Agile becomes a new standard for project management or if it will remain seen as a more specialized process for technology focused companies.