Point of View

After 20 years, it is time to retire Agile

October 12, 2021

Agile was never designed for cloud-native solutions; as a technology leader, you must continually seek opportunities to elevate skills and practices while adopting new technologies and techniques that allow for a more collaborative software development practice.

Technology teams and their partners have invested in Agile methodologies and practices for the past two decades, yet the results are mixed. Moreover, with the splintering of Agile into hybrid Waterfall+Agile, SAFE, and a myriad of certifications and hybrid styles, it is worth considering Agile may not be delivering the business value it promised. Thus after 20 years, it may be time for CTOs to decide whether Agile is still relevant.

Agile promised the moon but seldom reached sustainable orbit

In 2001, the Agile manifesto rallied developers to uncover better, faster, and more collaborative ways to create software using teaming across business and technology and adopting quick delivery methodologies. These efforts created a framework for services providers and DevOps teams to codify customer feedback, expedite responses, and speed delivery innovation. Two decades later, scrums, sprints, Kanban, and continuous development are standard terms in every IT team’s vernacular. Still, many business users fail to have new features delivered on time.

While Agile promised to lead us away from Waterfall development practices by embracing a “getting things done” attitude, the expected business collaboration rarely manifested. Instead, as Exhibit 1 shows, 42% of large enterprises are still using Waterfall, and a further 30% are using a mix of Waterfall and Agile. Thus, even after 20 years, we still struggle with Agile adoption! Yet, we cling to the demon we know while adopting new technologies and capabilities.

Exhibit 1: The Agile manifesto has yet to fully manifest

Sample: 800 respondents from Global 2000 enterprises
Source: HFS Research Pulse, April 2021

We agree that Agile has changed how we approach software development. But, unfortunately, the promises of increasing business value while reducing risk have led to more roadblocks than destinations. As a result, the success most often attributed to Agile comes from young, born-in-the-cloud companies rather than the global businesses that deliver daily services and values.

Agile has become a pariah; perhaps moving on is the best action for many business and technology leaders

Agile is often part of a technology team’s DNA, but it has failed to become part of an organization’s culture. The failure of Agile wasn’t that it couldn’t deliver solutions to the business; instead, people, processes, and technologies were not mature enough. Now, as technology and skills have evolved, we must question whether it is fair to burden an increasingly digital culture with the failed promise of Agile.

In today’s way of working, many firms have adopted Agile with rapid application development (RAD) in hopes that having multiple methodologies can lead to faster development cycles. These require cross-functional teams to accelerate software development, deliver timely release cycles, and promote effective collaboration to compete in the markets they serve. However, this has potentially created even more confusion, as in Exhibit 2, 61% of respondents indicated “we have no formal co-development software programs.”

Exhibit 2: Having too many software development methodologies is undermining your success

Sample: 150 respondents from Global 2000 enterprises
Source: HFS Research, May 2021

As a CTO or applications development practice lead dealing with increasing development demands, increasing technology debt, and a mandate to modernize applications, you must escape a growing project backlog while re-skilling your teams. But the business doesn’t care about your challenges, only your outcomes. Therefore, you need to simplify your approach to development by cleaning up your approach and focusing on what tools and which methodology you will follow rigorously.

Achieve your business goals by building on collaboration, cloud, and data-driven DevSecOps

Jamie Dobson, CEO of Container Solutions, points out, “Cloud native is a system of innovation at scale. It helps companies innovate their digital products.” Agile was designed for iterating at speed before adopting the cloud as a basis for your operations. These methodologies were conceived way before solutions like microservices, containers, serverless, artificial intelligence (AI), automation, or low-code were available.

From the business operations perspective, developing for cloud native brings a new set of requirements that can rejuvenate a truly agile way of developing software. Domain context about how to get to data and contextualize it for role-based or project-centric adoption is crucial. In addition, software developers must incorporate design thinking and the operation’s non-functional requirements (NFRs), which are now more important than ever to meet the aspirations of the business.

As Exhibit 3 illustrates, methodologies, technologies, and desired states of our business are constantly evolving. Where Agile and RAD focus on the speed of development once requirements have been gathered and teams assembled, cloud native is more about anticipatory efforts based on data, insights, and awareness of market changes.

Exhibit 3: Mapping the progressive journey to cloud native by technology, culture, and stage

Source: HFS, Container Solutions, 2021,

This progression illustrates how stages, culture, infrastructure, and development tools will continue to evolve. No stage is ever completely done, but they do become less relevant as technologies and skills develop. We are at such a juxtaposition with Agile. Retiring Agile doesn’t mean casting it aside; instead, we must apply the practices, skills, and methodologies to move to the next stage.

How do we move beyond Agile?

Moving beyond Agile is about embracing cloud methodologies and developing the skills needed to deliver technology-driven business value. The change will happen when DevSecOps teams prioritize developing applications for cloud-native architectures (microservices and serverless) rather than just converting their applications to operate on the cloud. To be successful, enterprises will have to evolve their software development and business teams and focus on acquiring the skills that can use modern tools and value collaborating to deliver fast, are user-centric, and sustainable outcomes.

This manifesto is for companies seeking to leverage new technologies, activate digital fluency across the business, and adopt the cloud to develop and deliver services at scale. This manifesto embodies both a methodology for cloud-native development and the values of co-creation between business and technical teams in developing modern solutions for the company and its customers.

The Cloud Native Development Manifesto

  1. Embrace and deploy low-code solutions with software and business users to craft solutions and workflows to meet their needs for rapid, continuous development.
  2. Address technology debt by developing cloud-native architectures geared toward harnessing computing, data, and distribution resources at scale.
  3. Use artificial intelligence and automation as pillars to working faster and wiser.
  4. Design with data at the core by recognizing that development needs are event driven, not requirements driven, and designing around data is core to delivering the best experience.
  5. Security without compromise must be part of DevSecOps and the business’ DNA.
The Bottom Line: Stop promoting Agile as the only methodology for how your DevSecOps team solves business problems. If the business has lost faith in Agile, you may be sabotaging your efforts from the get-go by sticking to your guns

Agile is a technology methodology based on two decades of implementation—it may no longer offer the advantage companies need. But how we work together is constantly changing, and past tools shouldn’t hold the required progress. Instead, organizations should move past Agile and adopt The Cloud Native Development Manifesto to address the talent, process, and technology capabilities we now have rather than aspiring to address the challenges of yesteryear. Adopting the cloud-native design-elements-first-thinking, silo-busting microservice architectures, and AI-enabled software is a boon for development speed, quality, collaboration, and response.

Sign in to view or download this research.

Login

Lost your password?

Register

Insight. Inspiration. Impact.

Register now for immediate access of HFS' research, data and forward looking trends.

Get Started