Is the Agile Bubble Bursting? I Hope Not.


During a recent conversation with a friend, he was keen to tell me how after two years of investment, his company was tearing down its Agile program. This news was delivered with the same straight forwardness that people use when they tell you that open plan offices don’t really work for employees. There was a certain joy that the fad of the day was meeting its reckoning.

Rather than be shocked by the news it reminded me of another recent CIO conversation. This organization had gone all in on Agile but were not seeing the benefits trickle over to the business. This was causing them to have a deep reflection on whether their investment in Agile had been worth it. The CFO was certainly asking for the ROI, and business heads, skeptical to begin with, were worried they had been sold another IT promise that had come up short. But this was not just an internal IT and business gap. Now there was an impact on customers who had been engaged by design thinking and who had spent days in workshops analyzing their customer journeys. Could they back away from these engaged customers? Why had all this Agile investment not resulted in better technology in the hands of real customers in a faster and safer way?

Why Companies Adopt Agile

As I compared this to my own experience in IT, I was struck by how Agile and the way it has come into many organizations carries with it a built-in risk for those who are not cloud-native startups. This very risk was being realized in the two companies above and causing them to question their commitment to Agile.

But what is the nature of this risk? Adopting all-in Agile without first putting enough focus on DevOps. In fact, the 12th Annual State of Agile Report confirms 71% of survey respondents report that a DevOps initiative is planned for the next 12 months, meaning they likely don’t have that capability today.


Why DevOps Must Come Before Agile 

Agile without DevOps just moves the constraint in the software value stream from the user specification, software creation stage of the life cycle, to the test and release phases. Some argue that Agile is DevOps and DevOps is Agile, but I don't believe that’s generally how Agile was sold to the business. Software teams usually led the pitch, and infrastructure teams, many outsourced to 3rd party IT services companies, were largely ignored. When software teams thought of the production and infrastructure at all they tended to want to go around them by adopting public Cloud and cutting them out. But that is not really an option in most companies with large on-premise application portfolios.

DevOps, with the added importance of Security (commonly referred to as DevSecOps), is the next critical part of the Agile journey for companies. DevSecOps is much harder to explain to people in the business, especially when you already sold them on the idea that Agile would deliver better software faster and cheaper. “What, you forgot about all the other stuff that needs to happen to get that software into the operating eco-system of the company?” they may rightly ask.

And what about those production support teams, systems managers, DBA’s, IT operators and testers?  What about the security, software quality and governance folks? They were created to keep the production environment safe from crazy software teams who want to throw anything over the wall to meet a business user’s need. Without a full reckoning of the DevOps integration with Agile, that’s what Agile looks like to them.

We know that DevOps has many of the answers that are needed to fully realize the benefits of Agile. Whether it’s different team alignments to support platform and services, automated build and test environments, A/B releases, automated code scanning and non-branching code release trains. The bigger questions for CIO’s now become: How do you take a lot of non-technical people along on this deeply technical, IT-centric part of the journey? How do you get governance and compliance people comfortable as you automate and dismantle the Development-meets-Production wall that they have come to trust? Because without doing this, your Agile journey is seriously at risk.

As you mull over these questions, I will be working on my next article, where we will evaluate the value of Software Intelligence in keeping Agile/DevOps journeys on track.

Filed in: DevOps IT Leadership
Bruce Lee
Bruce Lee CIO and Strategic Advisor
Bruce Lee is a strategic advisor for enterprise IT organizations looking to transform their operations and technology. Most recently, Bruce was CIO and head of operations and technology for Fannie Mae. Prior to that, he held positions as Group CIO for NYSE Euronext, COO of HSBC’s Americas Investment Bank, and various CIO roles in BNP Paribas. He holds a BSc in Computer Science from the University of Hertfordshire.
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