By Dr. Willis H. Thomas, PMP, CPT
This article discusses approaches that are being used by some organizations who are utilizing agile principles in an ad hoc fashion in an attempt to realize its benefits. It stresses the importance of agile maturity, which can be segmented in five stages:
|Project teams begin to see the benefits of Agile as they compare it to other methods of project management, i.e., Waterfall, they may be currently using.||Project teams receive basic training on agile principles and understand how, where and when it can be implemented in the organization.||Project teams become certified or qualified in agile and are now able to convince key stakeholders that agile will work effectively and efficiently and gain their support to champion key initiatives where agile can be used.||Project teams who have been certified or qualified are utilizing agile methods based upon industry guidance and best practices.||Project teams have advanced their certification or qualification to agile job descriptions and organizational structures. They are now in a position to promote continuous improvement.|
As you consider the maturity model represented above, it is important to keep in mind that this is only one way to look at how an organization’s adoption of agile will become stronger over time. The important thought here is that project teams must keep in mind that agile principles require patience and change management as the culture of an organization will likely change.
Many organizations have embraced Agile and are convinced it has:
- Enhanced project coordination, i.e., streamlined documentation
- Improved project communication, i.e., faster stand-up meetings (huddles)
- Streamlined project cycle time, i.e., working in sprints to allow for changing requirements
- Strengthened project teams, i.e., empowered self-directed work teams
- Encouraged best practices, i.e., modernized development approaches
Because some organizations have not realized formality in their agile approach, they will utilize terms such as pseudo-agile to indicate where they are on the agile maturity scale. The term pseudo actually means false, pretentious and not real, but in the concept of agile it has been redefined as partial, somewhat or interim. In other words, pseudo-agile is not perceived as negative by some critics, but rather a natural evolution in transitioning from waterfall to agile.
Technically, it is preferable to avoid this terminology of pseudo-agile when referring to where your organization is at in its adoption of agile simply because it can be misinterpreted or confusing. Other terms that may be more appropriate to describe adopting agile include:
- Being at an interim stage in transitioning to agile
- In the initial stages of agile implementation
- Intermediate knowledge of agile principles
- Established and follow basic agile principles
- Hybrid approach to software development
It is important to remember the concept of pseudo-agile might have a negative connotation:
- Being wishy-washy in the commitment to adhere to agile principles by training team members
- Using some agile processes, but really preferring to adhere to a waterfall model
- Meeting infrequently in stand-up huddles, but usually electing to gather in sit down meetings
- Documenting some aspects of the project extensively and others barely to reduce overall size
- Taking short cuts in testing and development instead of optimizing the project life cycle
As one author expressed it, “Pseudo-Agile is a slow poison to Software Quality. Pseudo-agile is a dangerous practice for the Software industry. It impacts both the Software design & testing effectiveness. It’s a slow poison whose effects are not immediate.”
This has become increasingly important, especially for software developers who are experiencing increased pressure from their clients to keep up with the times and start utilizing agile approaches in software development to reduce cycle time. These software developers cannot afford to risk their credibility and state that they are pseudo-agile.
On the flip side of the coin, there are critics who have embraced agile and are excited about new advancements in agile methodology. Despite the obvious benefits of agile, the question remains – how do we make things (products, services and results) even “Better – Faster – Cheaper?”
In search of improving agile leads to some interesting philosophical discussion and an attempt to arrive at new terminology. Some people might refer to this as hyper-agile. In an article by Kayleigh Bateman, she talks about “speedy innovation” as a must for survival and says hyper-agile is the next big leap forward for larger organizations. Mike Chang has a completely different perspective on hyper-agile, calling it a term for “an agile organization that has become so obsessed with rapid prototyping and iterating that its processes start falling through the cracks.”
So the real key to the success of hyper-agile, should you choose to pursue it, is balance.
Hyper-agile can be thought of as:
- Agile on steroids
- Vitamin-based agile
- Agile using templates
- Agile with shortcuts
- Agile probiotics
Essentially, the thought of hyper-agile is to enhance available tools and techniques to make agile more efficient. It may also incorporate the use of mobile apps that can streamline processes.
Reasons why some project teams struggle to properly adopt agile:
- Organization has not embraced agile
- Team members are not trained on agile
- The development model, i.e., software has not been formalized with agile principles
- They have not evaluated agile return on investment (ROI) or return on quality (ROQ)
- They did not anticipate the challenges and key learnings when transitioning to agile
There are no firm statistics on how long it takes an organization to transition to agile. Some reliable estimates that can be considered include the length of time that it takes to certify or qualify project team members and how long it takes the project team to become comfortable with agile principles, i.e., stand up meetings in the form of huddles vs. traditional sit down meetings. Note: This is not to say that every agile meeting should be a stand-up huddle.
In summary, agile in and of itself is enough. Project teams do not need to be pseudo-agile, nor is hyper-agile going to enable a project team to see enhanced performance. Looking at agile concepts in stages of maturity is a better indicator on how to link project performance. This statement is supported by industry experts who support agile maturity models through research.
IIL can support your organization on its journey to agile maturity.
About the Author
Willis H. Thomas, Ph.D., PMP, CPT has worked for large corporations and academic institutions in the areas of human resources, learning and development, quality assurance, project management, sales and marketing, measurement and evaluation, and operations. He has been in senior management for life sciences companies for the past 15 years. Dr. Thomas is a member of adjunct faculty at the Lake Forest Graduate School of Management, International Institute for Learning and Institute of Validation Technology.
His publications have received global recognition from associations such as the Project Management Institute (PMI) where he received the Cleland Award for “The Basics of Project Evaluation and Lessons Learned.” This book was an 8-year effort that enhanced the framework for the evaluation of projects using the PMBOK® Guide. He has been a featured speaker on an international basis and has received the Apex Publication Excellence Award for implementing useful tools for project management, evaluation, and training.