Analyst firm Voke recently published “Market Snapshot Report on Agile Realities,” a report that reveals that agile development is often assumed to be faster, better and cheaper than waterfall, but often proves to be otherwise. “Many organizations are diving into the agile movement without a clear understanding of what it is, and what the consequences of adoption may be,” Theresa Lanowitz, lead analyst at Voke, said in a statement.

The July 11 report summarizes the results of a Voke survey of more than 200 participants about their use and general perceptions of agile software development. The report’s two main findings were that organizations often experienced difficulty with agile because they start agile without first having a clear understanding of what agile is, and that the average cost of agile software projects is rising dramatically in spite of smaller development teams working much shorter durations.

Voke’s report also provides details on the types of projects that are more likely to succeed with agile, the benefits and challenges of agile most frequently cited by survey participants, and agile project results across technology and other enterprise companies. The report is designed to provide organizations a context for evaluating whether or not to participate in the agile movement, as well as identifying how, when, or whether or not agile practices make sense for their organizations.

Many survey respondents started agile software development without first having a clear understanding of what agile is. “We read over 100 unique definitions of agile, with 9% of survey respondents really uncertain of the definition,” Lanowitz told SD Times. “And I think that’s part of the problem. There’s no definition of what agile is. There’s no centralization of it.

“In the report, we talk about the fact that we believe agile is based upon the Agile Manifesto and the guiding principles of it. However, when you look at those things, there’s no mention of Scrum, there’s no mention of iterative, there’s no mention of a lot of these things that people say, ‘Oh yes, of course that’s agile.’ So, who is to say that something is or isn’t agile? So that adds to the confusion.”

Agile done without having a basic understanding of it beforehand can certainly be a problem. Agile, like any new disruptive technology does, is going through a hype cycle, according to Nathan Wilson, principal research analyst at Gartner. “The hype cycle is where a technology goes from being introduced to being at the peak of expectation where everybody thinks it’s the silver bullet that’s going to save the world, to the trough of reality, and then it comes up to a productive light,” he said.

“Right now, we have agile in this ‘trough of disillusionment’ phase where people are trying it, and they’re finding it is maybe not everything they had hoped it was going to be.”

Jez Humble, principal at ThoughtWorks Studios and co-author of “Continuous Delivery,” agreed that companies are often confused by agile or don’t understand how to implement it correctly at first.

If there’s confusion about agile, some would argue that it’s actually not about the nature of agile. As a set of development team practices, agile is pretty well understood at this point, according to Forrester Research analyst Tom Grant. “I think the bigger source of confusion is the goal for agile. Often, there’s a disconnect between what the team understands the goal to be and what people outside the team think the goal should be,” he said.

“For example, while executive management might see agile only as a vehicle for getting to market faster, teams might be adopting agile to deal with quality or customer satisfaction issues.”

Voke’s report also found that the average cost of agile software projects is rising dramatically in spite of smaller development teams working much shorter durations. This, the report says, is due to the rising cost of discovering and fixing defects. But, according to Humble, it is important for organizations to understand that building quality into software is central to lean and agile methodologies, which emphasize the importance of cross-functional teams (including QA and operations).

“Indeed, it was agile practitioners who pioneered engineering practices such as test-driven development, continuous integration and refactoring, which substantially reduce the cost of discovering and fixing defects,” Humble said.

In response to Voke’s report that agile software costs are rising, Humble said that Voke is making the same mistake as many enterprises that treat IT as a cost center: It is focusing on development cost instead of return on investment. Humble quoted Douglas W. Hubbard in his book “How to Measure Anything: Finding the Value of Intangibles in Business”: “Even in projects with very uncertain development costs, we haven’t found that those costs have a significant information value for the investment decision… The single most important unknown is whether the project will be canceled…. The next most important variable is utilization of the system, including how quickly the system rolls out and whether some people will use it at all.”

Thus, according to Humble, getting a quality product that incorporates customer feedback in 11 months for the same price as getting a mediocre one in 17 months represents an incredible deal. “Today, enterprises are being challenged by technology-powered startups that are able to leverage lean and agile methodologies to create a competitive advantage,” Humble said. “Thus, the failure of many enterprises to implement agile at scale, as noted by Voke’s report, is indeed a serious problem.”