The more things stay the same, the more they change. That malapropism best sums up the results of the eighth “State of Agile Survey,” which drew nearly 5,000 respondents.

The survey, executed by agile project management software provider VersionOne, found that the key benefits of agile (shorter time to market, better quality code and more), the methods used (Scrum, pair programming, Kanban), and the success factors remain the same.

But change is being seen in terms of how organizations that identify themselves as agile are adapting their practices to meet their own realities. For instance, one organization might have distributed teams on different floors of a building or in locations around the globe. The way that group implements agile will be different from a shop in which all developers, QA engineers and stakeholders are in the same office.

According to the survey, the number of teams practicing distributed agile rose from 35% last year to 76% this year. That doubling is due to the fact that distributed teams are the norm in today’s world, and as agile becomes the norm for developing products, the two are coming together.

“The bandwidth of communication is better when people are face to face,” said Robert Holler, CEO of VersionOne. “Agile promotes that. Immediate feedback, collaboration in a room, those might be best agile practices, but it’s not a reality” for many organizations today.

“Agile has had to adapt to that reality. People are using Skype and video conferences, attempting to overcome the fact that teams aren’t sitting next to each other,” he added. “Now, that’s not a challenge that can’t be overcome by good technology and trust across the teams, but the ideal (for agile practices) would be to have them all sitting together in the same room.”

Because not all organizations are equal, the way they are agile is not equal, so the definition of what it means to be agile has changed a bit, according to Holler. “In the early days of agile, agilists didn’t want to see the definition adapt. But that’s not being agile,” he noted wryly.

“It has run up against a new reality. I have always promoted agile as a spectrum. You had a strict definition at one end, but that doesn’t mean the spectrum didn’t exist. So what we’ve really seen is this adaptation of what is really agile. It has to adapt to the reality of an organization. Pure agile is going to be very difficult. As a consultant, you have to understand how organizations operate and progress them down a path toward a vision of agile, and not force them to do all of it right away.

“It’s a big change-management issue,” he continued. “Adoption has to be very incremental, very adaptive, and tailored to an organization because of differences in culture and in skill set. They may go down different paths to get there.”

But it certainly appears that most organizations are on the path. According to the survey, 88% of respondents had good knowledge of what agile is, up from 80% two years ago. More than 72% of respondents have at least two years of practicing agile, up from 50% last year. This year, 38% of respondents said their organizations had 10 or more teams practicing agile, up from 30% last year. And 60% said they have more than six agile projects going on, an increase from the 41% who reported that last year.

“What this shows us,” Holler said, “is that you basically have to be sticking your head in the sand to not know about agile.”

VersionOne has created a website called, where readers can find not only the results of this year’s survey, but can also look back at the others through the years to track trends and see how agile has evolved over the years.
One final point: Holler said there is a fundamental difference between “doing” agile and “being” agile. “You start out doing agile, and nirvana is being agile,” he said.

To get there requires more than just picking up a bunch of tools and implementing daily stand-up meetings, or changing the name of “tasks” to stories. That’s “doing” agile. To be agile requires a change in culture, a change in thinking about how software is delivered, a change in thinking about the roles within the organization and how they all can get on board with faster delivery of products while cutting down on costly errors.

That, Holler said, takes “incremental, thoughtful, methodical steps. It’s not ‘Here’s everything you need to be agile, now go and do it.’ ”

David Rubinstein is editor-in-chief of SD Times.