Home > Articles > Software Development & Management > Agile

Everybody’s Doing Agile--Why Can’t We?

Aaron Erickson suggests that it would be wise to think, very candidly, whether Agile is really something that your company can achieve.
Like this article? We recommend

Have you gone Agile? What are you doing this year to become Agile? We must become Agile in the next three months! These days, it is not unusual to hear about executives wanting to do an “Agile Transformation” on the entire company. Who knew that a bunch of relatively obscure techies would create a movement that is now the lingua franca of executives who are attempting to turn around companies! Agile really has “come a long way, baby.”

It’s amazing how things change in ten years. Once considered a methodology preferred by software developers because it “helped them avoid having to do status reports,” Agile has now gone beyond its original remit as a software development method. The word Agile, in many places, has become nearly synonymous with the word Good. As flattering this must be to the original founders, it probably means it would be wise to think, very candidly, whether Agile—as in Agile Software Development, or a broader Agile Enterprise—is really something that your company can achieve.

Can You Handle The Truth?

There are generally two classes of managers. Those who want the truth, and those who say they want the truth, but get mad at anyone who communicates bad news. The less transparency is tolerated in a company, the less traction Agile will get. While there is no formal index to measure how transparent a given company is, there are a number of questions you can ask yourself:

  • What happens if you miss the budget number this quarter?
  • What happens if you miss the target number of points this iteration?
  • What happens if a salesperson misses her quota?

If the answers to these questions are things like mandatory overtime, public scolding, demotions, or firings, you probably are not ready. If a company is really ready for Agile, a response to a miss generally will be to look for root causes. If, on the other hand, the reaction to a miss tends to be knee jerk blame and punishment, the company probably isn’t ready.

What happens when budget estimates of a project exceed what the sponsor wants to pay? In companies that are likely not ready for Agile, the response will be one of the following:

  • Find a lower rate vendor who brings the budget inline
  • Ask the estimators to just “lower the estimate”
  • Ask what can be done with a lower level of quality
  • Threaten to put the project out to “the lowest bidder”

Generally, in companies that are well suited to Agile, the answer will involve having adult conversations that involve scope management or some other real trade off. A key prerequisite for being Agile is having the ability to have this adult conversation. On the other hand, an organization that is willing to pit one group estimating in good faith versus another estimating in “price to win” mode (aka lying about price and making up the difference in change orders) is simply not ready to have these kinds of adult conversations.

Are Hubricists Tolerated?

In a prior article, I outlined a creature called the Hubricist. This is a person who seeks to advance his career by demonstrating confidence above all else, regardless of the actual circumstances at hand. The problems of the Hubricist involve lack of transparency, but go further, in that they create the ecosystem where transparency is punished in favor of confidence—above all else.

Hubricists are especially harmful in that, unless rooted out, presence of one spawns more Hubricists because they get involved in a confidence arms race. If manager A promises X in 3 months no matter what, it will not be long until manager B starts making similar kinds of promises, if only to keep up. Those who seek to be transparent become punished because they are unwilling to get involved in the bidding war. Needless to say, transparency suffers when these kinds of people exist in large numbers in an organization.

What Happens in Risk Management Meetings?

A good sign you are not ready for Agile is a lack of stomach when managing risks. In a healthy risk management meeting, a list of risks will be identified, and a strategy for the significant ones will be chosen. Sometimes, the risk will be accepted; other times, it might even be exploited as an opportunity. Risk reduction or mitigation is one of many possible strategies, when the conversation is an adult one.

Contrast that by the response in companies that are not ready for Agile. In such companies, the only reaction to a risk is doing whatever it takes to mitigate the risk. Such organizations tend to be culturally loss averse—despite any upside—and tend to lack the courage to truly do things differently. They will fold into command/control driven management the minute things do not go perfectly to plan.

Transparency Required!

If you want Agile, you must be willing to deal with things as they are, not as you want them to be. If you are in a culture that is averse to transparency, shoots the messenger, and is overly risk averse, you will not make the leap to Agile.

Are You Organized For Failure?

You can be a very transparent organization, but if you are organized badly, you will still have a great deal of difficulty making the leap to Agile. To understand this, we need to go back to the roots of Agile in the context of software development. In software development, we have user stories that represent a single unit of work that has real value to a customer. This enables the software developer to be empowered to bring value to a customer without having to cross an onerous set of organizational boundaries. Ideally, any single person in an organization is empowered to bring value to a customer in a truly Agile enterprise.

So how does the org chart affect this? In software, if you create an operations group who has goals that are too divergent from the goals of the software development group (or vice versa), yet they have to work with each other to get anything done, your organizational structure is working against agility. For example, imagine you have an operations group that has incentives purely around uptime, and a development group that has incentives purely around release frequency. Because more frequent deployment can create a perception of downtime risk (though perhaps not the reality!), you will likely have frequent and continuing conflict. Recognizing—and working to resolve—this common organizational defect is a large reason why the DevOps Movement and Continuous Delivery are gaining so much traction.

But this goes beyond software development. In many organizations, front line people are not empowered to solve even the smallest customer issues. How crazy is it that, when you call a cable company, you have to talk on the phone to a customer service representative’s supervisor to get, say, a five dollar refund on an errant charge? In others, the people who are closest to the work—say, line mechanics—have to ask for permission to some master industrial designer at headquarters to solve obvious problems on a shop floor. In general, if a company is organized in a way where people are designed to be plug-compatible units in some grand plan, you will have a very difficult time “going Agile,” at least without the requisite organization model changes.

Misuse of Metrics

Similar to how a bad organizational model hinders agility, bad metrics can have the same affect. One of the lauded things about metrics is the concept of “what gets measured gets done.” It just so happens, however, that one of the most dangerous things about metrics its evil twin, “what doesn’t get measured gets ignored in favor of what is being measured.”

It would be a mistake to take a position that all metrics are bad. When you boil them down, they are mere facts at our disposal that we can use as points of feedback. If you are a software developer, you want to know how often the build is being broken per day. The problem isn’t metrics; it is the misuse of metrics.

Let’s take a hypothetical example. Say that company X is going to give everyone a bonus if test coverage reaches 80% on a codebase. One might laudably believe that having good coverage is something that is desirable. The problem is if you bonus that metric, and ignore other metrics, you create a system that rewards bad behaviors. For example, it is quite easy to create unit tests that cover code, but do not assert anything around the correctness of that code. Such tests contribute to coverage, but do not contribute to business value. This is why you should not give bonuses to developers based on single metrics, be it coverage, lines of code produced, or any other single thing in isolation.

In the broader business world, we can see this as well. I have seen cases where consulting companies would pay a commission based on revenue, but would charge the project manager with making sure the engagement was profitable. As you would guess, the project managers frequently got assigned to flawed projects, because the salespeople were literally incented to push as much revenue through as possible, even if it resulted in negative margins. The PMs would get the deal, and almost always be fighting a losing battle, which resulted in massive drain of PM talent.

Metrics, when not carefully aligned, create behaviors that work against the creation of business value. They soak up any responsiveness an organization might have to the direction of the metric, rather than in the direction of the customer. Groups may have different metrics, creating reasons for them to work against each other, which works against the collaboration required to make Agile work.

But I Want To Be Agile! Can I Change?

Most of these problems—lack of transparency, misaligned organization model, and perverse metrics—tend to be part of the DNA of a company. I may be able to get contact lenses that change my eye color from blue to green for a day, but changing my DNA to produce a different eye color is an entirely different matter. Similarly, you can do the easy parts of Agile—daily stand-ups, story cards on a wall, and so forth—yet still not ever deliver software because others in the organization lack any incentive to push the new stuff to production. Indeed, changing the culture of a large organization is a very, very hard problem, one of which takes a lot of courage. The CEO who embarks on the effort to change her company to Agile must be willing to take some pretty serious risks, up to and including risking her own position at the top. This is not the kind of thing for the faint of heart!

Yet, ironically, the impetus to change stares us in the face every day. There are few companies that have such a strong competitive position where they can afford not to go Agile. The business landscape is littered with the carcasses of companies that could not change faster than their competitors (think Borders, Circuit City, and Linens n’ Things),. I recently witnessed one company President tell his company, in no uncertain terms, to Change or Die. Such a bold statement may not be true for your business, this year. But rest assured, at some point, unless you have either no customers or no competition, it likely will be!

InformIT Promotional Mailings & Special Offers

I would like to receive exclusive offers and hear about products from InformIT and its family of brands. I can unsubscribe at any time.


Pearson Education, Inc., 221 River Street, Hoboken, New Jersey 07030, (Pearson) presents this site to provide information about products and services that can be purchased through this site.

This privacy notice provides an overview of our commitment to privacy and describes how we collect, protect, use and share personal information collected through this site. Please note that other Pearson websites and online products and services have their own separate privacy policies.

Collection and Use of Information

To conduct business and deliver products and services, Pearson collects and uses personal information in several ways in connection with this site, including:

Questions and Inquiries

For inquiries and questions, we collect the inquiry or question, together with name, contact details (email address, phone number and mailing address) and any other additional information voluntarily submitted to us through a Contact Us form or an email. We use this information to address the inquiry and respond to the question.

Online Store

For orders and purchases placed through our online store on this site, we collect order details, name, institution name and address (if applicable), email address, phone number, shipping and billing addresses, credit/debit card information, shipping options and any instructions. We use this information to complete transactions, fulfill orders, communicate with individuals placing orders or visiting the online store, and for related purposes.


Pearson may offer opportunities to provide feedback or participate in surveys, including surveys evaluating Pearson products, services or sites. Participation is voluntary. Pearson collects information requested in the survey questions and uses the information to evaluate, support, maintain and improve products, services or sites, develop new products and services, conduct educational research and for other purposes specified in the survey.

Contests and Drawings

Occasionally, we may sponsor a contest or drawing. Participation is optional. Pearson collects name, contact information and other information specified on the entry form for the contest or drawing to conduct the contest or drawing. Pearson may collect additional personal information from the winners of a contest or drawing in order to award the prize and for tax reporting purposes, as required by law.


If you have elected to receive email newsletters or promotional mailings and special offers but want to unsubscribe, simply email information@informit.com.

Service Announcements

On rare occasions it is necessary to send out a strictly service related announcement. For instance, if our service is temporarily suspended for maintenance we might send users an email. Generally, users may not opt-out of these communications, though they can deactivate their account information. However, these communications are not promotional in nature.

Customer Service

We communicate with users on a regular basis to provide requested services and in regard to issues relating to their account we reply via email or phone in accordance with the users' wishes when a user submits their information through our Contact Us form.

Other Collection and Use of Information

Application and System Logs

Pearson automatically collects log data to help ensure the delivery, availability and security of this site. Log data may include technical information about how a user or visitor connected to this site, such as browser type, type of computer/device, operating system, internet service provider and IP address. We use this information for support purposes and to monitor the health of the site, identify problems, improve service, detect unauthorized access and fraudulent activity, prevent and respond to security incidents and appropriately scale computing resources.

Web Analytics

Pearson may use third party web trend analytical services, including Google Analytics, to collect visitor information, such as IP addresses, browser types, referring pages, pages visited and time spent on a particular site. While these analytical services collect and report information on an anonymous basis, they may use cookies to gather web trend information. The information gathered may enable Pearson (but not the third party web trend services) to link information with application and system log data. Pearson uses this information for system administration and to identify problems, improve service, detect unauthorized access and fraudulent activity, prevent and respond to security incidents, appropriately scale computing resources and otherwise support and deliver this site and its services.

Cookies and Related Technologies

This site uses cookies and similar technologies to personalize content, measure traffic patterns, control security, track use and access of information on this site, and provide interest-based messages and advertising. Users can manage and block the use of cookies through their browser. Disabling or blocking certain cookies may limit the functionality of this site.

Do Not Track

This site currently does not respond to Do Not Track signals.


Pearson uses appropriate physical, administrative and technical security measures to protect personal information from unauthorized access, use and disclosure.


This site is not directed to children under the age of 13.


Pearson may send or direct marketing communications to users, provided that

  • Pearson will not use personal information collected or processed as a K-12 school service provider for the purpose of directed or targeted advertising.
  • Such marketing is consistent with applicable law and Pearson's legal obligations.
  • Pearson will not knowingly direct or send marketing communications to an individual who has expressed a preference not to receive marketing.
  • Where required by applicable law, express or implied consent to marketing exists and has not been withdrawn.

Pearson may provide personal information to a third party service provider on a restricted basis to provide marketing solely on behalf of Pearson or an affiliate or customer for whom Pearson is a service provider. Marketing preferences may be changed at any time.

Correcting/Updating Personal Information

If a user's personally identifiable information changes (such as your postal address or email address), we provide a way to correct or update that user's personal data provided to us. This can be done on the Account page. If a user no longer desires our service and desires to delete his or her account, please contact us at customer-service@informit.com and we will process the deletion of a user's account.


Users can always make an informed choice as to whether they should proceed with certain services offered by InformIT. If you choose to remove yourself from our mailing list(s) simply visit the following page and uncheck any communication you no longer want to receive: www.informit.com/u.aspx.

Sale of Personal Information

Pearson does not rent or sell personal information in exchange for any payment of money.

While Pearson does not sell personal information, as defined in Nevada law, Nevada residents may email a request for no sale of their personal information to NevadaDesignatedRequest@pearson.com.

Supplemental Privacy Statement for California Residents

California residents should read our Supplemental privacy statement for California residents in conjunction with this Privacy Notice. The Supplemental privacy statement for California residents explains Pearson's commitment to comply with California law and applies to personal information of California residents collected in connection with this site and the Services.

Sharing and Disclosure

Pearson may disclose personal information, as follows:

  • As required by law.
  • With the consent of the individual (or their parent, if the individual is a minor)
  • In response to a subpoena, court order or legal process, to the extent permitted or required by law
  • To protect the security and safety of individuals, data, assets and systems, consistent with applicable law
  • In connection the sale, joint venture or other transfer of some or all of its company or assets, subject to the provisions of this Privacy Notice
  • To investigate or address actual or suspected fraud or other illegal activities
  • To exercise its legal rights, including enforcement of the Terms of Use for this site or another contract
  • To affiliated Pearson companies and other companies and organizations who perform work for Pearson and are obligated to protect the privacy of personal information consistent with this Privacy Notice
  • To a school, organization, company or government agency, where Pearson collects or processes the personal information in a school setting or on behalf of such organization, company or government agency.


This web site contains links to other sites. Please be aware that we are not responsible for the privacy practices of such other sites. We encourage our users to be aware when they leave our site and to read the privacy statements of each and every web site that collects Personal Information. This privacy statement applies solely to information collected by this web site.

Requests and Contact

Please contact us about this Privacy Notice or if you have any requests or questions relating to the privacy of your personal information.

Changes to this Privacy Notice

We may revise this Privacy Notice through an updated posting. We will identify the effective date of the revision in the posting. Often, updates are made to provide greater clarity or to comply with changes in regulatory requirements. If the updates involve material changes to the collection, protection, use or disclosure of Personal Information, Pearson will provide notice of the change through a conspicuous notice on this site or other appropriate way. Continued use of the site after the effective date of a posted revision evidences acceptance. Please contact us if you have questions or concerns about the Privacy Notice or any objection to any revisions.

Last Update: November 17, 2020