Has agile crossed the chasm? Unambiguously: yes and no. To apply the concept of Geoffrey Moore’s book, we must first answer the question, “Is agile a disruptive technology?” To me, that answer is yes. If you do not agree, this is a good stopping point.
Next, we must answer the question in regards to the market. Let us first focus on the software industry, both software product companies and IT. Then we can answer the question: yes, agile has crossed the chasm, from the perspective of the total addressable agile market. Certainly, mainstream has adopted agile. Traditional manufacturing organizations such as Caterpillar, Boeing, and Ford use agile methods. Insurance companies like Farmers, United Healthcare, and State Farm use agile methods. Financial companies such as Capital One, Fidelity, and Wells Fargo use agile methods. Government agencies, including NASA, the FBI, and the US Department of Defense and their vendors, all use agile methods. These lists are not the exceptions. It is now normal to have some agile methods in any company but the laggards. For many companies, like those listed above, agile projects represent less than 20% of total expenditures. But do people do agile well? Generally, mainstream companies that have adopted agile will have pockets of agile that do well. Conversely, this also means many aren’t doing agile well.
So, if the total addressable market has crossed the chasm, where are we on the technology adoption curve? I’d say that we are near the crack between early adopters and late majority. The market for agile is well developed at this point. Evidence of this can be found in the explosion of agile consultants, coaches, trainers, certifications, and analysts supporting agile. Further, demand for these services outstrips supply. From the total addressable market perspective, agile has crossed the chasm and is migrating from early to late majority even though companies generally do not do it well. Thus, we face the problem of technology competence, an indicator that we are in “the mainstream.”
If we change our viewpoint and define each organization as a market segment, then from this view, few have crossed their own chasm. Within organizations, there are different market segmentations and thus different realities. Agile certainly has begun to disrupt, but the organization struggles to adopt the technological paradigm. Here, the technology adoption curve is different. Agile takes a different form. For the early majority to truly adopt agile, much more has to be given up. People must fundamentally change their perspectives, learn new approaches, and unlearn many of the truths they once held as self-evident, as Israel suggests. To make matters worse, unlike technologies such as the personal smartphone, crossing the chasm in agile is not about self-discovery. Instead, we must collectively navigate the world we do not understand by actively changing the world we know. If agile weren’t so disruptive, it would never have a chance.
Consider Yahoo! as an example of an organization with some great agile teams; they can respond quickly and deliver incredibly well. Yet there are also entire groups at Yahoo! that will say that agile has failed spectacularly. Within this company, few would say it has crossed the agile chasm. In other words, Yahoo! has not been able to take advantage of what agile has to offer because the company itself hasn’t increased its business skills enough to support agile technology. While I would never say that lack of agile is the only reason for the challenges Yahoo! faces, the competencies required to take advantage of agile do relate to the company’s bigger problems. Thus, Yahoo!’s position skirts the chasm between early adopters and early majority.
So, from a total market perspective, agile has indeed crossed the chasm. Yet, we now must face the burden of the heavy lifting required for organizations to take advantage of this new technology so that they can cross their own chasms. Importantly, the signatories of the Agile Manifesto came to agreement on the following success factors at the 10-year anniversary of its writing:
- Demand technical excellence.
- Promote individual change and lead organizational change.
- Organize knowledge and improve education.
- Maximize value creation across the entire process.
Every organization today can be comforted like never before since agile is now mainstream and thus better understood. But beware: the chasm in your organization may still be in front of you.