Agile methods adoption

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Agile methods adoption

The start of a new year is a natural time to reflect on the year past and look forward to what may happen in the coming year.

Last year I visited the USA to meet up with Agile methods consultants and practitioners based over there. There’s no doubt the US is where it all began in earnest (though people in the UK can point to the founding of the DSDM Consortium in the early 1990s), and where uptake is presently at its strongest. The UK is typically around 18 months behind the US on the adoption curve so what has happened in the US over the last year may offer some interesting predictions for the year ahead in the UK.

I went to the Agile 2005 conference in Denver, Colorado in July to give a tutorial on refactoring. It was a lucky time for a first visit. Agile 2005 is the first event after the merger of the XP/Agile Universe (XPAU) and Agile Development Conference (ADC) series. For those of you who don’t know the background story, XPAU and ADC maintained a certain rivalry until the merger. It has been recognized in the US Agile community for some time that this was less than ideal, and last year’s merger marked a big step forward. I don’t think anyone anticipated quite how big a step it was.

Agile 2005 was astonishingly well attended. The organizers estimated 675 delegates in total - more than the numbers attending XPAU and ADC put together. This suggests the XPAU and ADC “crowds” were largely distinct groups of people, and that there has been significant growth in interest in Agile development.

Most of the conference sessions were very busy. My refactoring tutorial was packed; since it is based on my refactoring training course it was intended to be highly interactive and thus aimed at 10-12 people, not 40!

The view that demand was high in the US was backed up by talking to the US consultancies. It seems last year was a bumper year and demand shows no signs of abating. There is now a shortage of experienced Agile consultants working in the US, and this has led to calls for European consultants to subcontract for US consultancies. The adverse dollar exchange rate for US buyers and the cost of flying consultants over testifies to strong demand for Agile skills in the US at present. The fact that so few consultants are actually moving to the US shows that demand is strong in Europe too, particularly the UK which seems to lead much of Europe on adoption by a matter of a few months.

The adoption curve

I have for several years predicted Agile development will follow an adoption curve similar to object technology (OT) in the late 1980s and early 1990s. That is, the pattern of spread will be similar, though I believe the non-technological nature of the changes Agile development implies will naturally slow down and spread out the curve because it is less in the interests of vendors to push products with an “Agile” label than it was to do so with an “Object-Oriented” label (not that that has stopped some very big names from aligning themselves with Agile).

Use of OT (notably Smalltalk) began in small pockets in the UK during the mid to late 1980s. During this time, the adopters were mostly small technologically-focussed companies with a single well-informed and capable development team. Often, they found out about OT by reading magazine articles, and simply went off and tried it for themselves - with success. In terms of Geoffrey Moore’s “Crossing the chasm” model, these were technology enthusiasts (I have labelled them “technologists” in the diagram below).

Visionaries entered the scene early in the 1990s, with many financial institutions (notably investment banks) investing increasingly heavily in OT. Many spin-offs started at that time - you may remember object databases, the early attempts to define “the” object-oriented design method, and so forth. All this created the momentum to bring OT to the mainstream. I would say the chasm had been crossed by 1993, and that it took around 6 years to reach that point.

Moore’s “chasm” is the significant make-or-break gap over which a new technological idea must leap in order to reach the mainstream. What is always difficult about interpreting such curves is knowing early on how long the curve will prove to be. It seems likely to be a longer curve for Agile methods than the OT one for the reason I have mentioned, but it is not easy to predict how long.

Technology enthusiasts such as Connextra and Securetrading in the UK in 1999 were primarily interested in XP which was generating a great deal of interest in the US. To put things in historical context, the word “Agile” was yet to be coined and Kent Beck’s book explaining XP was eagerly awaited. XP came to provide a focal point for other Agile methods to gather around, leading to the “Snowbird” gathering in 2001 that coined the word “Agile”. Scrum and DSDM in particular had already been around for about 8 years each by that time.

Over the last three years we have seen growing interest from, once again, financial institutions such as investment banks. Online bank Egg were early adopters, and currently BT is interested in Agile methods. As more large companies demonstrate an interest, Agile methods are likely to gain more credibility in the mainstream.

Growth ahead

It’s possible the US has “crossed the chasm” and is experiencing strong mainstream interest in Agile development. Growth looks to be strong for some time as Agile development appears now to be in the main stream where the bulk of the audience lies. Of course, this is modulo economic factors, which look even less predictable than usual. We may see the growth that the US is experiencing beginning very late this year or in the first half of 2007. Again, the effect of economic factors will be hard to predict. Either way, a rising rate of uptake for the year in the UK and western Europe seems likely.


  • Agile Open 2006 will take place in Mechelen, Belgium on 27-28 April 2006. Agile Open is an “open space” conference, which means the conference content is decided by the participants at the start of the conference.

  • Jason Gorman and I will be running another workshop on creating metrics to guide organizational improvement programmes at SPA 2006.

  • I’ve been busy recently working on an updated website. The pressure of work has meant it has taken 3 months to leave the confines of the office but it is now out there. There is a new look, new articles, and I am moving some of the articles previously hosted on my personal website. Also, I have implemented the RSS feed so many people have requested. This allows you to monitor the publication of new articles on the site automatically.


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