An Agile Agenda – How CIOs Can Navigate The Post-Agile Era

April 1, 2017

Agile IT in the UK is facing a hidden crisis: one in eight (12%) Agile projects are failing completely.

Unless this is addressed, British business is set to waste an estimated £37 billion on failed IT projects in the next 12 months. The situation is worse in the US, where the rate of failure is higher and Agile IT projects last longer and are more expensive.

These are the stark findings from a substantial piece of research 6point6 commissioned in the spring of 2017. We set out to measure how successfully the principles of Agile are being applied and executed.

We commissioned a survey of 300 CIOs in the UK and the US (150 in the UK; 150 in the US) to understand their views on Agile. The organisations taking part employed approximately 1,300 people on average with revenues of £127m. We have examined the industry through the eyes of its leaders in an attempt to understand the modern reality of Agile IT delivery.

Our research showed that Agile is now the de facto approach to delivering software in the global digital economy. Just 1% of CIOs told us they’ve never used it. But despite this success, Agile is not well regarded by a significant proportion of IT leaders.

Over half of CIOs regard Agile development as “discredited” (53%) while three-quarters (75%) are no longer prepared to defend it. Almost three- quarters (73%) of CIOs think Agile IT has now become an industry in its own right. Half (50%) say they now think of Agile as “an IT fad”.

Agile development doesn’t always work in practice – despite the hype.

As technology innovation and digital disruption become progressively important drivers in the business world, CIOs have come under increasing pressure to deliver change. This is becoming more challenging as larger organisations push the boundaries of what Agile originally set out to do by using it in multi-team, multi-vendor, cross-border scenarios. The reality is that this is not working in a significant minority of cases: UK and US CIOs now estimate that nearly a third (32%) of Agile projects fail to some degree.

So what is going so wrong and what can CIOs do about it?

In many ways, Agile has been a huge success story. Its cultural impact on the IT industry has fuelled possibly one of the most dynamic and innovative periods in recent history.

But with this success has come fresh challenges – challenges the original Agile philosophy did not anticipate. In many ways Agile was a reaction against the very forces that are now testing its limits. The forces of scale, globalisation, commercial disaggregation, cost reduction and the need to provide more certainty and transparency to non- technical business leaders, who increasingly rely on technology innovation in order to compete in the global economy.

Our research demonstrates that the principles of the Agile Manifesto need to be augmented in practice and that CIOs need to relearn some of the lessons discarded by the original Manifesto. In reality, these are the answers to the perennial and ever present issues faced by large scale IT delivery.

That is why we are now outlining the 6point6 Agile Agenda – six calls to action to CIOs. We want to help them enhance Agile, to meet today’s real world challenges, and to navigate a post-Agile era.

6point6 Agile Agenda

1. Be ready to distribute Agile

32% of Agile projects that fail do so because teams are geographically disbursed. We believe that the pressures of high local costs in the US and UK coupled with skill shortages are driving organisations to distribute their Agile teams internationally and across supplier boundaries.

2. Be ready to scale Agile

95% of CIOs have worked in a scaled Agile environment. We believe this shows that the need to scale to multiple teams is now a common reality for most CIOs.

3. Be ready to transition

44% of Agile projects that fail do so because of
a lack of documentation. We believe that this is a symptom of short termism in Agile, which does not acknowledge that software development teams do not last for ever and handover is inevitable. That will require ‘comprehensive documentation’.

4. Protect the CIO

14 months is the average life expectancy of a CIO. We believe that, without strong and consistent leadership, Agile projects will continue to falter significantly. The CIO tenure is currently a transient one that requires more protection if Agile projects are to be more successful as the driving force behind the rapid innovation demanded by the modern digital economy.

5. Bring back planning

34% of Agile projects that failed did so because they didn’t do enough upfront planning. We believe that (just enough) planning is now essential in Agile contexts, both to reassure CIOs of progress towards strategic goals and to coordinate distributed Agile at scale

6. Bring back architecture

68% of CIOs agree that ‘Agile teams require more Architects’. We believe that as Agile is increasingly used at scale, the need for strategy, architecture and oversight is returning and there is a need to accommodate it more formally in Agile delivery.

To discuss the findings, or to find out more, contact us on [email protected]

Chris Porter
MD, Digital