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Agile in 2020: A look at the defining trends

(Image credit: Image source: Shutterstock/TechnoVectors)

There is the classic saying that “every business today is in the software business.” While this statement may not be universally true, it is certainly a reality of today’s business climate. Software has fundamentally changed the way organisations of all sizes and verticals approach their objectives -- and how customers interact with them. Today, customers engage with businesses most frequently through digital means, whether through a website or an app. This shift towards digital in even the most traditional of businesses (think FinServ, government, etc.) is a monumental change. To drive this change, organisations are looking for strategies to move faster and stay ahead of the competition -- and one of these key strategies is agile.

Agile methodologies are focused on delivering features quickly, adapting to feedback instantly and weaving value into every stage of the lifecycle. In 2020, we expect to see one important trend in agile that will influence the way companies develop, deliver, and iterate on their software products. In this article, we’ll explain this trend -- and how it might impact enterprises for the foreseeable future.

The most important trend for Agile in 2020

The most important trend in 2020 will be managing and tracking the delivery of business value.  By tracking this path, it allows development organisations to select the right priorities and celebrate the right successes. As agile becomes increasingly baked into organisations’ strategies, stakeholders are starting to take a step back to look at the ways that agile is delivering value and trying to gain more visibility into where the organisation is excelling or stalling. Whether it is OKRs (Objectives and Key Results), value stream management (VSM), or a metric/results tracking tool (like Pluralsight Flow - formerly GitPrime) - engineering groups will find ways to track and celebrate their successes.

Objectives and Key Results are what they sound like: business objectives and key business results that development teams are focused on delivering.  Notice the focus on business in that sentence - OKRs are about business results.  If a development team is delivering features it should be about those business results. OKRs, reflecting their agile origin are changeable.

Value Stream Management is a way of tracking the delivery of software back to the originating request (whether it came from a customer or an internal stakeholder).  Value Stream Management allows an organisation to see how, when, and for whom it is delivering value.  It can also show you how close to delivery a particular request is.

Code metrics have been around for a while but they have been changing and producing deeper insights recently.  The idea of monitoring test coverage as a metric has been around for some time, but tools like Pluralsight Flow (formerly GitPrime), GitClear, and other similar products allow developers, architects, managers, and team leads to visualise the development process and gain additional insights.  Does your team have bottlenecks?  How much code is re-used?  Is it effective re-use? How much time is wasted on code that is thrown away? Many people would like to have these insights and these new tools can provide them.

What makes this trend so significant?

This trend is significant because software development and delivery are crucial to enterprises of all sizes, and technology leaders need ways to track and understand how expectations are being met, exceeded or failing. Engineering teams also need to demonstrate how they add value as well as ways to boost team energy and increase retention. In today’s hypercompetitive business environment, it’s not enough to just “use agile methodologies” and expect to win. Successful agile is all about optimisation -- including maximising the productivity of development teams. By measuring and celebrating success, teams will stay laser-focused on driving results because they can directly see the impact of their work.

Additionally, leadership needs ways to understand a team’s work and to be able to make improvements and increase the performance of the team.  If the flow of work inside of a development team is opaque and cannot be seen, then it can be difficult to understand and improve upon.  While software developers might believe they know best, allowing leadership and experts the ability to see and ask questions can open up opportunities that might not previously have been visible.

While overall (US) productivity growth remains weak, it is important for the business to continue to find ways to make improvements.  Understanding how work is performed and searching out improvements is one way to make improvements to business results.  If bottlenecks can be automated or sorted out with improved process it can actually free up a team’s time to focus on client value delivery.  This can improve delivery without the need to add additional resources.

How will leaders and developers react to this trend?

If handled the right way, this is a win-win situation for technology leaders and developers alike. Of course, for this to work, both sides need to have input into the construction of the metrics and OKRs. If it is too heavily weighted one way or the other, then there is the risk of having it be viewed as meaningless by the business or completely untrusted and undermined by engineering teams.  Balance in design and rollout is the key. By celebrating true successes -- and looking for opportunities to improve -- metrics will hold much more value and carry much more weight.

As the namesake of agile implies, it is all about being flexible. Indeed, the agile of 2020 is far from the agile of the past, and by measuring and reporting successes -- and giving increased visibility into software development pipelines -- organisations can continue to see all the benefits of this modern and adaptable software development methodology. We encourage you to start tracking your successes today -- and shouting them from the rooftops tomorrow.

Jonathan Fries, VP of Engineering and Digital Transformation, Exadel