Key Insights from the 2020 State of Agile Report

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15th Mar, 2021
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25th Jul, 2020
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Key Insights from the 2020 State of Agile Report



How are agile businesses changing in 2020?  Digital.aithe creator of the industry’s first intelligent Value Stream, recently published its 14th Annual State of Agile Report, along with a survey addendum to reflect the current 2020 landscape. The report took a look into the enterprise, what Agile techniques companies are implementing, their benefits, and what’s trending. 

The report provides the most comprehensive data in the world to benchmark your Agile practice and plan your next wave of expansion. The survey documents the experiences of more than 1,100 business and IT professionals across a range of industries and roles worldwide.  

About 40,000 Agile practitioners, consultants, and executives have shared their insights to make this the longest-running and largest report of its kind. For the first time, it revealed insights beyond the general results by filtering the results along the demographic lines. The analysis indicates a correlation between the time practicing Agile, the ability to manage the changing priorities, and improved time to market.  

In this article, we give you the complete lowdown on the state of Agile in 2020 including the COVID-19 impact and what’s next in Agile. 

Agile in numbers 

Let us explore the top responsesto the survey in numbers. Respondents answered their top reasons for implementing Agile techniques, which techniquesand methodologies they employ the most, what tools they recommend most, and the top benefits of using Agile. 

Top five reasons for adopting Agile

Top five reasons for adopting Agile
Top Five Reasons For Adopting Agile

Respondents were asked why their teams adopted Agile methodologies and techniques. These were the most responded benefits:

  • Accelerate software delivery (71 percent) 
  • Enhance the ability to manage changing priorities (63 percent) 
  • Increased productivity (51 percent) 
  • Improve business/IT alignment (47 percent) 
  • Enhance software quality (42 percent)  

This year, the reasons for implementing Agile were more about reducing project risks as opposed to reducing project costs.

Top five Agile techniques employed

These are the five most used tactics that help teams adhere to the twelve principles of Agile.

Top five Agile techniques employed
Top Five Agile Techniques EmployedThe Daily Standup was the most common Agile technique used in organizations. The most notable changes from last year was a decrease in Release Planning (51 percent this year as opposed to 57 percent last year) and an increase in Product Road Mapping (49 percent this year as opposed to 45 percent last year). 

Top five benefits of adopting Agile
Top five benefits of adopting Agile
Top five benefits of adopting Agile

We see that the top five benefits of adopting Agile are built around speed and adaptability. Project Cost Reduction was last on the list with only 26 percent of the respondents considering it to be the benefit of Agile implementation. 

Top five Agile methodologies 

Top five Agile methodologies
Top five Agile methodologiesThe survey shows that Scrum and its variants are the most common methodologies used for Agile implementation. 3 percent of the respondents didn’t have any idea of the methodology used by their organization.  

Top five Agile project management tools

Top recommended project management tools
Top recommended project management toolsRespondents were asked if they would recommend the tools on the basis of their experience. Atlassian JIRA and VersionOne were the most recommended tools. 

Five critical takeaways from the 2020 State of Agile Report 

Many organizations still learning to adopt Agile

percentage of teams using Agile
percentage of teams using AgileThe survey showed that only 18 percent of the organizations implemented Agile for all the teams. 77 percent of the organizations had still not implemented Agile in all the company’s teams. With 5 percent of the organizations yet to adopt Agile, there is clearly plenty of area for growth. 

Agile maturity
Agile maturityWhile 95 percent of organizations have some form of agile process in place, practice maturity and adoption remain a work in progress. Around 50 percent of respondents report that less than half of their teams are using agile, and 84 percent acknowledge that their organizations are below a high level of competencies.  

Areas other than software development yet to take advantage of Agile

Areas of organization practicing Agile
Areas of organization practicing AgileAgile practices are not limited to software organizations. The survey data showed that while Software Development continues to be the major area for Agile adoption, other areas like IT and Operations have also started adopting the methodology. Other areas in the organization are yet to take advantage of everything the Agile approach has to offer. 

More business outcome KPIs, fewer metrics 

As per the respondents, accelerated delivery speed is the most critical measure of the success of Agile initiatives. Next is improved quality, followed by reduced risk and increased customer satisfaction. Reduced IT costs is low on the spectrum with just 39 percent considering it as important for measuring success.  

How success is measured in Agile transformations

Agile success and metrics
Agile success and metricsWhen asked how organizations measure success of Agile transformations, the top measures of success were consistent with those reported over the last few years. Outcomes, customer satisfaction and business value, ranked higher than outputs like on-time delivery and productivity. 

The survey results for this section remain consistent over the past few years. There might be some ups and downs. But overall, Customer Satisfaction and Business Value are at a higher rank than productivity and on-time delivery. 

How success is measured in individual Agile projects

How success is measured in individual Agile projects
How Sucess is Measured in individual Agile projectAs with Agile transformations, business value delivered, and customer or user satisfaction remained the top two cited measures of success within for individual projects.  

Scaling Agile faces culture challenges

Methods and approaches of scaling Agile
Methods and approaches of scaling AgileAbout one-third of respondents are applying the Scaled Agile Framework, roughly another third are using other scaling frameworks, and another third stated they didn't know/other. There appear to be several common challenges scaling agile as over 40 percent of respondents cited six different challenges/barriers with adopting and scaling agile practices. These included: resistance to change, lack of leadership participation, inconsistent processes, misaligned organization versus agile values, inadequate management support, and insufficient training.    

Challenges experienced when adopting and scaling Agile
Challenges experienced when adopting and scaling AgileEnterprises are adopting the framework at a remarkable rate that shows that companies want to get the benefits of a structured framework included in the Lean/Agile BoK of SAFe.  

The lack of qualified professionals also remains one of the common challenges with insufficient leadership participation (46 percent) at number 2 and lack of experience or skills with Agile methods (41 percent) at number 6.  

The report also shows that culture is at the primary target of change as it affects the thinking and working of the organization. 

Agile organizations slowly adopting DevOps 

DevOps practices are a strong partner to agile methodologies, and 69 percent of survey respondents stated that DevOps transformation was either important or very important to their organization. But adoption of DevOps practices lags its important with only 55 percent employing continuous integrations and 41 percent continuous delivery. Only 36 percent practice continuous deployment. 

The top two benefits targeted are accelerated delivery speed (70 percent) and improved quality (62 percent). But respondents are tackling quality first with 67 percent implementing unit testing and 58 percent coding standards, even higher engineering practices over the 55 percent on continuous integration.  

More than half of the respondents reported that their organization was already implementing Value Stream Management (VSM) or have plans to do so. VSM is a combination of people, technology, and processes that maps, measures, optimized, visualized, and governs the business value flow using a heterogeneous enterprise delivery pipeline.  

Each level of automation requires investment and additional work to prove its robustness. There are seven prerequisites before improving release frequencies, and that requires investment in aspects of these seven DevOps practices. Even so, there are questions DevOps teams should answer before increasing deployment frequency. 

Summary of key insights 

Currently, the Agile approach is predominantly implemented in the software or information technology sector. The benefits an organization can reap once Agile is implemented in other areas as well would be tremendous. 

Here is a quick summary of key insights from the report: 

  • Cost reduction is not anymore one of the primary reasons to adopt the Agile approach. 
  • Identifying technical risk before deployment is considered very valuable by 34 percent of the respondents, which was 22 percent last year. 
  • Greater Agile maturity is correlated to the time of practicing Agile. The length of time since Agile adoption is also related to the increased ability to manage the changing priorities and improved time market. Organizations that have practiced Agile for more than 5 years have a greater percentage of DevOps initiatives and interest in Value Stream Management.  
  • Companies with 20,000 or more people are more likely to have been using Agile for 5 or more years. Companies with less than 1,000 people correlated to a higher percentage of all their teams implementing the Agile approach.  
  • More than half of the respondents stated their companies are either implementing VSM or have plans to do so.  
  • Risk and compliance increased by 54 percent to be the top value to identify and measure technical risk before the deployment begins. 
  • SAFe is the most popular scaling method, increasing 5 percent over the last year. 
  • There was a shift in Agile techniques as release planning decreased by 11 percent while product road-mapping increased by 9 percent. This change can be attributed to the increase in CI/CD and better program increment planning. 
  • Currently, Agile is mainly confined to software development, operations, and the IT sector. However, it is expected that by next year, the organization will expand agility into areas beyond developing, deploying, and maintaining software solutions. 

The COVID-19 impact and what’s next in Agile 

The COVID-19 pandemic has triggered a health emergency worldwide. Leaders across industries are moving promptly to protect employees and build resilience, as the impact of the crisis continues to mount. 

In mid-May 2020, Digital.ai conducted a brief supplemental survey of respondents to learn more about how the COVID-19 pandemic has affected their Agile adoption. Supplemental findings reveal that: 

  • 55 percent say their company plans to increase the use of Agile in the next 12-14 months. This is an increase of 13 percent over the original survey completed just five months ago. 
  • 43 percent of organizations say their momentum for Agile adoption has increased over the past 90 days, with 15 percent saying it has increased significantly. 
  • 33 percent say they increased or expanded Agile adoption in the last 90 days to help manage distributed teams. 

In summary, forecasters continue to predict how long the COVID-19 crisis will last, but it seems inevitable that many organizations will be working remotely for the foreseeable future.Implemented correctly, an agile approach can help remote teams function effectively and build resilience for the future.  

Following the pandemic, working from home more frequently (perhaps 2-3 days per week) may become an accepted norm for many companies, as this could realize cost efficiencies and prove that an agile, remote working model is productive.

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