I wrote a coaching article a while ago that illustrated an agile coaching anti-pattern. It was quite well-read and I received quite a bit of feedback on it.

One of the folks who responded was Mick Maguire.

A great article by Bob Galen, he shines a light on an all too common pattern, especially among the late adopter market that we are in these days... My advice... If you are about to engage agile coaching, and you don't want to waste (a very big pile of) your money, make sure the first conversations are "what does success look like?" and "How will we know if we are getting there?...”

I’m not focusing on the coaching part of his reply, but more so reacting to this entry level statement:

“Especially among the late adopter market that we are in these days…”

Mick’s comment has stuck with me since I read his reply. Making me think about Geoffrey Moore’s, Crossing the Chasm and where the agile (movement, methods, frameworks, etc.) might be on that scale.

As a backdrop, let’s get some dates “out there”:

  • Scrum was introduced in 1993
  • Feature-Driven Development was created in 1997
  • Extreme Programming, the initial book, was published in 1999
  • The Agile Manifesto was signed in 2001
  • Scaled Agile Framework was initially explored in 2007
  • Kanban for software began surfacing from 2007 – 2011

From my perspective, the essence of agile approaches has been conservatively around since 2000. That would make the core or popular methods ~ 17 years old and counting. From a length of time perspective, I could easily see someone implying that the methods are in the Late Majority or Laggard (late adopter) phase of their lifecycle.

However, what I’ve been thinking of is that the methods are in all phases at once. That is depending on their context. I.e., there is no clear agile phase at the moment. Let me give you a couple of examples to make my point.

An example – Capital One

Because I live in the SouthEast US, I’m relatively familiar with the agile journeys of local companies. One of the more famous is the journey of Capital One in Richmond, VA.

To the best of my knowledge, Capital One is on its third or fourth agile transformation. I believe the first iteration started around 2005. And their current iteration, around 2-3-4 years ago. Each successive iteration was marked by a leadership phase change. That is, a new leader would join Capital One and be bullish on agile. They would push it as a transformative initiative across the enterprise and there would be incredible focus and change for a few years.

But then that leader would move on for some reason and the next leader wasn’t as sold on agile approaches. So, they would defocus the efforts and institute their own initiatives. This went on for over 10 years.

Given this sort of iterative adoption approach at Capital One, you can see that they were forever in the early adopter / early majority phase. I would venture a guess that they still haven’t achieved a late majority at an organizational level in their current iteration. Close, but not quite yet.

Another example – Many large financial firms

Size is another factor. In large financial institutions, it’s really hard to achieve a consistent phase of agile transformation. Quite often, specific groups are accelerating thru agility and achieving an early to late majority stage.

While still other groups or application teams, haven’t even begun, so they’re pre-innovator. Even though they’re fully aware of the progress being made within other groups or teams.

And some teams regress as well. For example, they may have had an innovator leader who really sparked their agile journey. But then he/she left, and the team has reverted to previous stage practices.

So, if you look at many large organizations, there are many iterations, or stages, or chasms being crossed at different times.

A final example – Spotify or Salesforce

But there are also examples where organizations have crossed the chasm and moved through even the laggard stage into a very Ri-like agile transformation. In these instances, it’s not simply the technical teams who have “gone agile”, but the entire organization has transformed. And the transformation has remained “sticky".

Two that clearly come to my mind are Spotify and Salesforce. While they are very different companies, cultures, and adoption journeys, they are firmly committed to their agile transformations in the longer term and stay focused towards continuous learning & improvement.

As a Coach…

I think that, as an agile coach, we should be aware of adoption curves for each client that we engage. And I don’t think we ought to put in place a one-size view.

For example, for any one client:

  • Fully expect to find innovators and early adopters. Realize that they are your instigators for further adoption and sort out how you might partner and help them evolve.
  • Fully expect to find early majority folks. They may be leveraging the methods, but need help in maturing and achieving the real benefits. In the Shu-Ha-Ri scale, these folks are mostly Ha-level and you’ll want to meet them where they are. But also challenge them.
  • Fully expect to find the late majority and laggard folks. They may either be at the Ri-level, or think they’re at that level. This is where you’ll find subtle and not so subtle resistance as well.

And you’ll find these folks at these levels within teams, with groups or divisions, and within the entire organization. And, as in the case with Capital One, there are often times when things revert. We need to realize that there isn’t a transformation steady maturation rate and instead, things are iterative, often chaotic, and situation.

But, where is agile overall?

I think that as an industry, we’re not in one big chasm, but in a series of small chasms. For example,

  • DevOps
  • Agile HR
  • Business Agility
  • Digital Transformation
  • Agile Scaling
  • Agile outside of Technology/Software (ex: schools, non-profits,
  • Agile in Hardware

Are all cycling with their own stages. And within any organization, you’ll see these initiatives injecting even more turbulence that we need to be mindful of.

Bob, what’s the point?

I know this wasn’t Mick’s point or intent, but it struck me that the lens many might be looking through in agile transformations is from a singular chasm crossing.

And the more I thought about it, the more the metaphor resonated with me, but I realized that the agile methods seem to be crossing many chasms. And that there is even a recursive loop in many cases.

For example, Extreme Programming. Initially, I think XP move into a late majority phase. But in doing so, it lost its uniqueness in lieu of Scrum and Kanban. It got lost and forgotten to some degree. Or subsumed by other chasms.

But recently I’ve seen movements that are focusing on returning to the simplicity or essence of early agile thinking. Returning to the basics, if you will. And a renewed focus on XP practices seems to be a healthy part of that. So, they’ve come full circle and now are viewed as an innovator or early adopter play.

Wrapping Up

If there’s a central theme to this post, it’s to remind ourselves never to type-cast an agile transformation as one specific thing, or phase, or chasm. Organizations are systems that behave organically. They are never, ever one specific thing.

And if you are in the business of helping them transform, then we need to be wary of looking at anything within them singularly.

And no, this isn’t a rant against Mick. It’s his one sentence that inspired me to rethink how I look at things – both within myself and in the systems, I encounter.

And to answer the title's question: Is Agile in Late Adoption Stage?

The answer is: maybe in some system contexts, right now ;-)

Stay agile my friends!