In May 2015, I attended Jeff Sutherland’s “Getting to Done” presentation at the DC Scrum Users Group meetup. During his presentation, two things really grabbed my attention.
The first was the Standish Group’s 2011 CHAOS Report, which revealed the percentage of successful, challenged and failed projects using either waterfall or agile methodologies. The second was Sutherland’s statement that “as larger companies adopt Scrum, the percentage of successful agile projects will drop.”
For the purposes of their report, the Standish Group defined project success as being delivered on time, staying on budget, and reaching completion with all planned features intact. In their 2015 CHAOS Report, they published their findings on the state of waterfall and agile projects that were conducted from FY2011 through FY2015. The results of that report are shown in the table below.
Overall, successful agile projects only dropped by 3 percent, while challenged projects increased by a corresponding 3 percent. However, the more startling statistics begin to become apparent when looking at the success and failure rates of small projects versus those of large projects.
Small agile projects were approximately three times as successful as large projects, while the failure rate of large agile projects was almost six times greater than that of small agile projects.
In light of this data, the question remains -- why is this happening?
My thoughts are (1) large organizations are feeling the pressure to adopt agile methodologies and do it quickly for fear of being left behind by their competition, (2) large organizations tend to underestimate the level of commitment and effort it takes to successfully transition to an agile environment and (3) they fail to realize that a successful transition is not going to happen overnight.
So, if small agile projects are three times more successful than large agile projects, why not incorporate the advantages of small projects into your organization’s agile transition strategy? Why not transition to an agile environment using a series of small transitions and rolling wave planning?
The advantages of doing so include not taking on the entire organization all at once, spreading out the cost over a longer period and having the freedom to make initial mistakes on a smaller scale with little to no large-scale repercussions. And, as you learn more, each subsequent transition will naturally progress more smoothly than the one before it.
When planning the transition series, consider the composition of your organization’s population. Every organization has three major profile types within its population.
Those three types are:Early adopters: These are the kindred spirits who are most receptive to moving forward with new and innovative methods. The silent majority: The mainstream folks who need to see solid evidence of success before embracing a new way of working. The Resistance: Those who are decidedly in favor of the status quo and are neither interested in nor comfortable with change. Their favorite quote is likely to be, “But we’ve always done it this way!”
Execute your strategy in the same order, starting with the early adopters. As you execute your transition, make sure to capture pre- and post-transition metrics as well as the user experience for each project. Then, make sure each project success is widely publicized and that the people who worked on those projects are recognized.
Repeat this process for each profile type. This will give you the opportunity to build your case for transitioning to an agile environment while simultaneously fostering ground swell.
Using a transition strategy that incorporates this approach lets the organization publicize the fact that they are successfully transitioning to an agile environment, while doing so in a manner that will allow both the organization and its people to truly reap the benefits of a real agile environment rather than an environment that is “agile in name only.”