Top 5 Agile Trends for 2020

As we kick off another year of exciting events, the world of Agile development continues to evolve as companies continue to explore better ways of planning and executing work. I would like to share a few of my personal observations and predictions based on my experience working with various organizations. Towards the end of the year, we will assess how many of these predictions of Agile trends were accurate.

Trend #1 – We Will See More Distributed Agile Teams Than Ever

As companies continue to explore and leverage globalization of product development, team resources across multiple regions of the world are being recruited to join the “Agile revolution”. Why does this matter? Most organizations that are new to Agile development will likely struggle to reap the benefits of Agile from a remote, virtual team because it requires a very different approach. As you might recall, Agile development was originally designed for co-located teams that can communicate quickly and react very efficiently to changing conditions. With the added challenge of physical distance, teams will need to take special steps to bridge that gap and try to replicate the same dynamic of a co-located team, which is very challenging.

Trend #2 – Team Agility Is No Longer Enough; We Need Organizational (Or Business) Agility

The concept of Agile teams has been around since the late 1990s, formalized in 2001 with the release of the Manifesto for Agile Software Development. That means these principles have been around for at least 20 years. Most organizations “get it” when it comes to Agile teams; empower self-organizing teams to do their best way. However, the trend for this year will be towards applying Agile practices across the entire organization, not just engineering or product development.

This trend is demonstrated by recent adaptations of various frameworks including Scaled Agile Framework (SAFe version 5.0) which was released in January 2020. This update to SAFe includes a major addition which is coined “Business Agility”. In addition, another organization, Scrum at Scale, published white papers on applying the [email protected] model to enhance organizational agility. This trend is proof that being able to operate successful Agile engineering teams is no longer “new” or “cool”, and it is largely passé for many companies that have mastered these practices. The next step is to expand and grow the practices to other functions of the company, such as HR, business operations, procurement, etc. Being able to operate an “Agile organization” appears to be the next discriminator for companies that want to acquire and sustain competitive advantage in this ever-changing market.

Trend #3 – Agile Project Management Is No Longer Optional

In 2019, the Project Management Institute (PMI) demonstrated its commitment to remain relevant to changing market conditions by announcing the procurement of Disciplined Agile (DA). Although this acquisition has not yet led to major changes to PMIs training or certification programs, PMI did recently announce a change to the Project Management Professional (PMP) certification program, the largest and most popular certification for Project Managers globally. The change which is scheduled to be implemented on July 1, 2020, consists of a refinement to the content and scope of the certification exam; the PMP exam will expect participants to be familiar with a variety of project execution models, including traditional waterfall, hybrid AND agile methods. This represents a major shift in PMIs strategy for project management domain of knowledge; project managers are now required to at least be familiar with Agile concepts to become certified. This change demonstrates the pervasiveness of Agile, its popularity as well as its success.

Trend #4 – More Training Offerings Available for Agile Coaching

With the growth of companies that have made a commitment to adopt Agile practices, the demand for experienced Agile Coaches will continue to grow. Through my research of major training organizations and consulting firms, I have discovered a variety of training providers as well as Agile frameworks for organizational transformation. It is often difficult to determine which of these organizations are legitimate. One organization that I have interacted with directly is ICAgile (International Consortium for Agile), which provides training and certification courses through third-party providers. My advice: shop around and investigate the training curriculum before investing time and money into any training company. Consult industry experts and ask for their recommendation.

Trend #5 – More Consulting Firms Offering “Agile Transformation” Services

As with trend #4, the growth in demand for Agile Coaching will also drive more consulting firms to offer training/coaching services, usually at a premium rate. This brings an interesting challenge: who do you trust? Many consulting firms have limited experience executing successful Agile transformations, so it is in your best interest to do your homework and evaluate the track record for the firm/consultant prior to hiring them. Ask for references and past successes. Challenge them to prove that they have helped similar organizations make the journey. Ask them tough questions about how they would handle various challenges such as organizational resistance, lack of executive sponsorship, etc. Use this information to make an intelligent decision on who can help you achieve success in the most efficient manner.

In closing, I predict that 2020 will be a very interesting year as companies seek to build on past successes and expand their use of Agile strategies. While this is a good trend for those of us who have built our careers on Agile, it will be increasingly challenging for companies to build the right teams and scale Agile throughout the organization. One thing we need to remember is that collaboration and communication will continue to be king; regardless of the method we choose, we must do our best to help our people work together more effectively and channel their innovation in the right direction.

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Eugene Lai
Eugene Lai