Remote work fueled an agile adoption boom in 2020
Adoption of agile with remote teams formed the seeds of changes that have ramifications for how workflows through organizations and reaches the end customer, in 2021 and beyond.
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The COVID-19 pandemic was a catalyst for major changes — not only in the way we work but also in the way our enterprises are structured. Adoption of agile with remote teams formed the seeds of changes that have ramifications for how work flows through organizations and reaches the end customer, in 2021 and beyond.
Data from the recently released 15th State of Agile Report indicates major gains in agile adoption. Agile usage effectively doubled in tech-related areas like software development, IT, and operations. The use of agile with remote teams was also embraced by departments not traditionally considered technical: marketing, security, human resources, and sales.
While many outcomes of the pandemic were incalculably devastating, the rise in agile adoption represents a trend towards workflows that better reflect the need to maintain efficient and consistent value delivery to end customers.
This moment in history will undoubtedly represent a major pivot point for how enterprises operate and how they approach daily work. Some enterprise teams may, admittedly, backslide towards non-agile techniques once they return to regular office work (many already have). But the overall trend is that many offices will become hybrid or fully remote and continue to embrace agile to keep physically disconnected teams connected to their work. Only 3% of survey participants say they plan on going back to the office full time.
Since many teams will remain remote, agile working practices will continue to remain attractive and will undoubtedly spread thanks to established models of success. Like many outcomes triggered by the ongoing pandemic, the nature of enterprise work will undoubtedly never be the same again now that agile practices have become more widespread and accepted throughout nearly every industry on the planet.
Types of agile transformations that increased during the pandemic
"Agile" can be a generalized umbrella term, so here's a quick dive into what specific methodologies, practices, and tools were used in 2020 for agile with remote teams:
A large majority of participants (66%) said they followed Scrum methodologies. ScrumBan, Kanban, and Iterative methodologies were less popular (between 4% – 9%). 7% of participants said "other" or "don't know".
The most popular agile practices included:
- Daily standups — 87%
- Retrospectives — 83%
- Sprint/iteration planning — 83%
- Sprint/iteration reviews — 81%
- Short iterations — 63%
- Kanban — 61%
- Planning poker/Team estimation — 58%
- Dedicated customer/product owner — 56%
- Release planning — 54%
- Product roadmapping — 52%
The most popular Agile planning and delivery tools used among teams were:
- Kanban board — 77%
- Taskboard — 67%
- Spreadsheet — 66%
- Agile project management tool — 64%
- Bug tracker — 62%
- Wiki — 62%
- Product roadmapping — 58%
- Automated build tool — 54%
- Unit test tool — 54%
- Continuous integration tool — 53%
- Wireframes — 51%
Some participants may only use some agile methods or tools selectively, rather than adopt a comprehensive agile "system" like Scrum. However, the adoption of any single tool or practice lends itself to the growth of comprehensive agile adoption throughout the entire enterprise. Once the transformation has begun, successes become a blueprint that inspires further adoption among other teams. This has been the experience of companies like Levi Strauss & Co., whose agile pilot programs modeled success that prompted other teams to adopt their methods.
Why teams adopted agile throughout 2021
Based on statistics and anecdotes, we know that agile adoption surged in 2020. What's also important to reflect on, though, is the question: why agile?
The best way to summarize most participants' opinions is that agile resolved many of their pain points while helping organizations better meet their objectives.
In most cases, the need for agile tools and practices emerged from frustrations encountered as a result of remote work. What many teams did not fully realize, though, was that these frustrations were present because of pre-existing silos. Remote work just made the silos more evident. This necessitated some way to coordinate work and standardize workflows, putting all teams on an equal footing regardless of geographic distance.
Top reported reasons for adopting agile with remote teams included:
- Enhance ability to manage changing priorities — 64%
- Accelerate software delivery — 64%
- Increase team productivity — 47%
- Improve business and IT alignment — 47%
- Enhance software quality — 42%
- Enhance delivery predictability — 41%
- Improve project visibility — 40%
- Reduce project risk — 39%
- Better respond to volatile market conditions — 39%
Overall, Agile allowed teams to coordinate and ensure objectives were met on a consistent basis, without losing track of work items and responsibilities. The result was that agile introduced not just great tools to coordinate remote teams but also new ways to introduce control and accountability throughout daily work cycles.
Agile shifts anticipate a bright future for value stream adoption
The adoption of agile practices lends itself towards global net positive effects in the form of improved products and improved CX. This is true whether agile adoption represents small changes or wholesale transitions to agile frameworks like Scrum.
One major breakthrough commonly seen among agile teams is that they shift towards specific goals, which are preferably measured by concrete metrics that indicate value delivery. On the recent State of Agile Report, 49% of responding organizations indicated that they measured the success of agile delivery in terms of business value delivered and customer/user satisfaction. Velocity was secondary at 45%
The need for recurring sprint performance reviews — and consideration of review data during planning — introduces accountability to achieve specific outcomes, not just outputs. Teams strive towards a greater goal than "more releases, delivered faster"; they can instead pursue a vision of greater customer experiences or measurable growth of market share. This shift towards metric-based accountability and outcome-focused goal-setting may cause organizations to realize that they should focus on value stream management and value delivery, rather than merely the timely completion of work tasks. Managing value streams involves, in a nutshell, mapping value streams, restructuring teams around value delivery cycles, and forging a commitment towards continuous improvements in light of data feedback.
According to data from the report, Value Stream Management (VSM) adoption has already grown, as has an interest. Over half (56%) of State of Agile participants indicated they were currently implementing VSM or were in the planning stages. An additional 23% indicated they were interested in VSM as a whole.
Gartner predicts that “By 2023, 70% of organizations will use value stream management to improve flow in the DevOps pipeline, leading to faster delivery of customer value.”
In light of this trend, lingering effects of the agile adoption wave of 2020 will be felt in the presence of the growing adoption of DevOps, VSM, and other comprehensive agile-based frameworks. These changes aim to completely restructure corporate strategy and activity towards more control over outcomes, as measured by objective data.
Looking back at the past few decades, the transition from waterfall corporate hierarchies to agile at first spread slowly since the Agile Manifesto was published in 2001. Last year, however, was a watershed moment. COVID-19 became a forcing factor that will continue to make the transition among enterprises towards agile and VSM more complete and more comprehensive than ever. This is especially likely to be the case since very few teams will move back towards all in-office working environments. The result of this sea change will be more efficiency, more automation, and more deliberate efforts to ensure that labor is engaged towards value creation — not just going through the motions of daily tasks. In other words, agile and VSM are here to stay.
Learn more about the growth of agile with remote teams in 2020, and peruse other data when you review the 15th Annual State of Agile Report.