Tuesday, May 12, 2009

How many people are doing Agile?

The BIG question came up the other week during my presentation to HP: “How many organizations are doing Agile?”

As I said at the time: Thats the $64,000 question - or perhaps in todays money, $64,000,000,000.

Of course, it depends a lot on how you even define “Agile”. Sure if your following everything Kent Beck says in the XP books your probably Agile. But in most places adoption is patchy, a bit of TDD here, some iterations there - stand up meetings seem to be very common now but one practice does not an Agile team make.

Within organizations Agile exists in some places and not in others. There is a large Swiss bank in London which has one of the best Agile teams in the country - well, at least it contains many of the best Agile people in the country.

As I said, Its a LARGE bank. I met someone from elsewhere in the bank at a BBQ last week. The very mention of Agile upset him. His team claimed to be doing Scrum but it didn’t sound anything like the Scrum I know - requirements changed everyday.

“What is Agile” is big question in its own right, maybe we’ll come back to it another day. Back to the original question.

When Jeff Sutherland spoke in London last month he mentioned that there are 83 certified Scrum Master trainers. Bob Martin at the ACCU conference mentioned that there are now 50,000 certified Scrum Masters.

Of course we don’t know how many of those Scrum Masters are practicing, how many work with multiple teams and how many unofficial Scrum Masters there.
Neither do we know how many other teams there are so knowing how many Scrum Masters there are doesn’t help.

In late 2006 Gartner issued a report (“Agile Development: Fact or Fiction”) which estimated less than 5% of development groups were doing Agile. If think its reasonable to assume more teams are doing it now.

I heard from a developer who was looking for a new job in Moscow recently that about 1 in 10 companies claimed to be Agile. That would make it 10% of companies, or 10% of teams.

To get an idea of the UK market I did a series of searches on two job boards: JobServe.com and Monster.co.uk. I searchied for all jobs asking for Java, C# and C++ then I repeated the searches for the same languages with Agile.

% of Agile


Java and Agile

C# and Agile

C++ and Agile

I was quite surprised by the results for C++ here, but if you want to work Agile you are going to have to look hard for an Agile C++ shop. Another surprise, especially for C++, is that different jobs boards might be better for different languages (I’ll leave that thought for someone else to follow up.)

% of Agile


Java and Agile

C# and Agile

C++ and Agile

Interesting while there are fewer C# jobs than Java jobs the percentage of jobs asking for Agile is similar. So bang goes the theory that there is more Agile Java than Agile C#.

These are very crude counts, I made no attempt to adjust for duplicates (which certainly exist), location anything else. I don’t even know if the searches included JavaScript in the Java searches. (I suspect not because the number of Java jobs is not so far ahead of C# jobs.)

It is worth pointing out that, in general, only those jobs which are difficult to fill get listed so these stats are not representative of the job market as a whole.

Crudely, there seems to be a cluster around 13%. If we ignore the highest and lowest results the answer is between 7.2% and 13.5%. Which isn’t far from that Moscow report.

Certainly there will be teams who are asking for Agile but don’t do Agile. For some teams they may be looking for Agile developers in the hope that they bring Agile into the organization.

For me one of the tests of Agile is: Is it working?

If your development is not effective then I don’t think you are Agile. You might be following a process called Scrum, XP, DSDM or something else but if your team is not effective then you are not filling the business need and you aren’t Agile. How can you be Agile if you are failing?

To be Agile you must be effective.

(That is a little sneaky of me because I am equating Agile with success. It also means the questions “How many people are doing Scrum?” is different to “How many people are doing Agile?” but lets leave that to one side.)

Back to my favourite study from Bain Consulting (The Alignment Trap) which estimated that only about 15% of organizations had effective IT. Now not all these IT groups are doing software development and some will be effective without Agile.

But, if we put those two statements together we get 15% as the upper bound of adoption. That is: at most 15% of oranizations are effective, therefore at most 15% of organizations are Agile. (If they are not effective they cannot be Agile.)

None of this data is conclusive, or definative, but I think it does give us a range:

Between 5% and 15% of all software development is done using Agile software development.

It its worth pointing out that both a high number and a low number is good.

The more companies adopt Agile the safer it is to adopt. The more companies adopt it the more mainstream it is and the more reason to adopt it.

But, while only a few companies are working Agile there is a real competitive advantage in companies adopting it. If your company can produce software in a fraction of the time, or with a fraction of the people of your rivals then your onto a good thing.

It is a risk reward ratio. If you wait until its adopted by 80% of the industry there won’t be an advantage. You’ll be playing catch up.

Given that, the 5-15% range is probably good news. Its common enough to be safe but rear enough to be advantagous.


  1. Hmmm. You mention a presentation to HP. I work at HP, and agile has recently (e.g. first mention today) been mentioned. Wonder if there is a connection? Well it's a giant company, so, it's unlikely.

    I notice in the agile manifesto, having everybody in the same location is... kind of a requirement?

    We have people working on the same project who are in Colorado, Texas, in the northeast U.S., in China, in India... could not possibly be more global if one tried. And yet agile is mentioned... seems agile is mentioned as a possibility. Also plenty of "teams of one", in which cutbacks have been so severe that there's only one person doing development for many, many projects. Lonely scrums, I guess. This agile stuff seems a fantasy of times gone by when such luxuries were affordable.

  2. Hi Anonymous@hp,

    glad to hear you're having conversations about Agile - reviewing your development processes is good, especially if the intention is to improve.

    Co-location is stipulated in a lot of Agile methods because it addresses a lot of communication issues. But these issues can be addressed in other ways - chat, email, conference calls etc. These have less "bandwidth" than, for example, a daily stand-up so you have to work at it - but it can be (and is being) done.

    It is the communication and feedback within the team that support Agile methods - so if you've got that, then you're on you way to being "Agile".


  3. Interesting post Alan. My feeling is that the number is towards the lower bounds of your estimate. Developers alone being hired to 'bring Agile into the organization' have little chance of making the entire organization agile on their own.

  4. Allan,

    I think a more relevant question is how much impact does adoption of Agile have on topline / bottomline performance of these companies ? The percentage of companies or people doing Agile is only for headlines, but the real change (i.e., wider adoption both within those organizations and across the industry) will happen when there is more objective data on how well adoption of Agile leads to improvement in business performance. Just wondering if there are such results anywhere ?

  5. Yes, thats also a good question.

    Thing is I don't get asked that question very often - I can't recall the last time someone actually asked it.
    But I do get asked "How many people are doing this?"

    Again I'll refer you to the Bain piece for numbers on how much difference effective IT can make.

    As much as I'd like to think companies are rational and ask "Is it financially worth adopting Agile? and make a rational decision, I think for many people and organization the question they ask is "How else is doing this? Is it safe?"


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