Monday, August 20, 2018

Large organizations adopting agile: How well is it going?

Jeff, in your exploration of over 300 organizations, a lot of them are the very big ones. When we look at the adoption profile, it's the late majority, the laggards, that are getting into Agile now. How well is that going? ~ Shane H.

[Editor's Note: During the coming weeks, this CMMI Appraiser will share excerpts from a recent conversation with Shane Hastie, Lead Editor for Culture & Methods on the “Engineering Culture by InfoQ” podcast about leadership, and the kind of leadership that is needed in today’s Agile world. Today’s blog post is the first installment. Listen to the full interview at]

Well, Shane, this isn't a popular opinion, but based on the empirical data we've collected, it's not going well. The marketing of agility is doing far better than the reality of agility, for a lot of different reasons. I always say it's the early adopters who kind of set the tone for adoption.

Of course, the early adopters of Agile tended to be smaller, more compact organizations, and subsections of companies or organizations that were trying Agile. They had great success with Scrum and XP and some of those things. But as Agile has scaled, and as more and more big companies have adopted Agile, it hasn't been as successful.

The reason? Start with the culture. It’s the culture of the company that drives the behaviors of the people. Small startups, small subsections of teams, tend to have very collaborative, transparent cultures. But look at large organizations like General Motors, the Department of Defense, Lockheed Martin, and Nationwide Insurance. All of these organizations have 300 or 400 teams working together, and the culture of those teams is the culture of their organization.

I’ll use General Motors as kind of a metaphor because there are a lot of big companies like them. Why are General Motors’ software teams very document-heavy and very process-heavy with lots of low trust oversight? Because that's how the company operates. It has nothing to do with their software teams. It has everything to do with the culture of the company.

The same has been true with the CMMI. The CMMI has a reputation of being kind of a heavyweight process-burden model. But the only reason people think that is because the early adopters were General Electric, General Motors, Lockheed Martin and the DoD. These are organizations were already heavy, overburdened, over-processed companies, so when they adopted CMMI, they made it a process-heavy model. And when they adopted Agile, what do you think they did? They made it heavy, and over-burdened.

In my work assessing the agile performance of large organizations like these, I’ve found that they all have Project Managers that do tasking. They use Microsoft Project. They do a lot of things that you would think were Agile anti-patterns, or antithetical to agile values. They all do them!

It's only the smallest companies that are running Scrum projects using the Scrum roles as defined in the Scrum Guide. Most larger companies have Project Managers, Architects, Directors, Process Quality, and audits. They have all the things that you would say agile teams would never have. I observed this early on, and said, “Hey, there's a culture clash.”

I'm sure your audience knows what a “type mismatch” is in software, Shane. We call this phenomenon an “organizational type mismatch,” when the values and philosophy of the company are at odds with the values and philosophies of Agility.

When you look at the core agile values – collaboration, transparency, fail-fast, and so on – you see they are directly antithetical to the corporate philosophies of a company like General Electric, for example, and other large organizations that are very much command-and-control, low-trust, document-focused, audit-focused, etc. We noticed right away that senior management -- CIOs and CTOs especially -- were keen on becoming more Agile. But they weren't so keen on changing the corporate culture. That itself was an impediment to their success, and continues to be today. That's why I say it's not going well.

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I hope my readers have enjoyed this segment of my interview with Shane Hastie on the InfoQ podcast. We'll be talking more about leadership, and whether leadership is more or less important in today’s Agile world, in the next segment. Please check back soon.

For those interested in a deeper dive into learning about Agile Leadership, please visit for white papers, blog posts, podcasts and performance models to help software and engineering executives guide their organizations to be more agile, from top to bottom.

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Jeff Dalton is a Certified SCAMPI Lead Appraiser, Certified CMMI Instructor, author and consultant with years of real-world experience with the CMMI in all types of organizations.

Visit for more information about engineering strategy, performance innovation, software process improvement and running a successful CMMI program.

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