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It's the end of 2015 and perhaps the beginning of Agile maturity

Nothing is harder to accomplish than Agile maturity, but expert Jennifer Lent thinks it happened in 2015. Here's why she and other experts believe it.

My watchwords for 2015 are "Agile maturity."

I know it's not the next big thing. It's not a new initiative. Nobody is shouting it from the rooftops. But in 2015, I heard Agile practitioners use the phrase "Agile maturity" over and over again. You had to listen hard to hear it. It was a whisper, a phrase that kept coming up when I spoke with software pros about other topics such as continuous delivery, automated testing, better business engagement and mobile testing, to name a few.

I picked it as my 2015 phrase because Agile maturity -- that thing that software pros kept whispering -- is crucial. The big initiatives mentioned above are tough to tackle without it. A mature Agile practice does not guarantee success. But it provides a crucial underpinning to help make successful projects happen.

There's another reason Agile maturity matters. It's not a passing fad. No matter how long you have been practicing Agile, doing it at a high level of fluency is enormously challenging. It's an ongoing quest, according to software quality expert Matt Heusser, principal consultant at Excelon Development in Allegan, Mich. Successful Agile teams are continually "moving toward maturity," changing course when they need to, he said.

I asked Heusser and others whose words appear regularly in our pages for their definitions of Agile maturity. Here's what they said.

Don't act immature

Agile maturity occurs at the self, team, management and organization levels.
Johanna Rothmanhead of Rothman Consulting

It's no surprise that teams that strive for Agile maturity understand the importance of mature behavior on the part of individual team members. They treat one another with respect and keep their egos in check. "When I think of the term maturity, I think about the old, French definition of the word: Having a studied and considered understanding of one's actions, and living with the consequences," said Heusser, co-author with Markus Gartner of the book Save Our Scrum: Tools, Tips, and Techniques for Teams in Trouble. He compared that approach with an immature one, characterized by "magical thinking, crying, attempting to 'get away with it.'"

Quality assurance engineer Abby Buell, a contributor on ITKnowledgeExchange, said, "Mature Agile teams are made up of … members who are respectful of each other and … have learned to work well and efficiently with each other." As teams approach Agile maturity, they move past "the ego problems that plague less mature teams," added test manager Mike Corum, weighing in on the same discussion.

Reflect and then refine

Another mark of Agile maturity? Getting good at reflecting on what works and what doesn't, then refining the software development process accordingly. Of course, this is part of the very definition of Agile, but becoming accomplished at it takes practice. "[Mature teams] reflect at regular intervals and experiment with their internal processes," said Johanna Rothman, head of Rothman Consulting in Arlington, Mass., noting that "Agile maturity occurs at the self, team, management and organization levels."

Agile maturity requires practitioners to "articulate why they do things, what problems that creates and why those problems are better than what they were doing before," Heusser said. "[They] understand the trade-offs involved in the software delivery process."

By contrast, less mature teams do things by the book. Following the rules has its place, of course. But over time that approach can result in rote actions and responses. For an Agile practice to evolve, you have to "move past the useless stand-ups (yesterday I worked on that, today I'm working on this, no obstacles),"noted Corum, posting on ITKnowledgeExchange. Mature teams refine their processes to adhere to the spirit of Agile, he said.

Can Agile maturity always be achieved?

Experienced Agile teams understand "there are always new problems to solve, always improvements needed," said Lisa Crispin, an Agile testing coach and practitioner, and co-author with Janet Gregory of the book More Agile Testing: Learning Journeys for the Whole Team.

What is Crispin's definition of Agile maturity? "In my experience, there's no mature Agile," she said. "I currently work for a company that's been Agile since the late '90s, and though I think we are more Agile than most, we still have to identify obstacles and try experiments to chip away at them."

Now, that's the most mature definition of Agile maturity I've heard all year!

Next Steps

Three signs you're part of a grown-up Agile team.

Beware "faux" Agile

With mature Agile, should there be a new Manifesto?

This was last published in December 2015

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What steps has your team taken to achieve Agile maturity?
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We have regular retrospectives to reflect on each iteration. For a while, the meetings seemed like a nuisance and we started having them only "as needed", which basically translated into almost never. We've gone back to regularly scheduled retros every two weeks, and I think that it helps us pinpoint areas for improvement.
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Good compilation of opinions in the article. I'm surprised that sustainable pace isn't even mentioned. Burning out teams can't reach "agile maturity".
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When one thinks on agile maturity one has to consider multiple dimensions like: Engineering Excellence, Governance,Backlog management,Retrospective learning and implementation,knowledge creation etc., and derive a methodology for teams to assess themselves and continuously improve
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One of the steps we’ve taken has been to shift focus from velocity to value. That’s allowed us to make progress in all four areas mentioned by Johanna Rothman.
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I do not doubt that agile maturity has long been discussed.  I am still not sure we are there.  Oh some companies a select few may think they are there, but I think recognizing agile maturity will be one of those things where you wake up, look back and realize you actually have been for a long while.

We certainly are not there yet.
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I think we hear about agile maturity because “X” Maturity is popular right now (excluding capability maturity, which has fallen out of favor). Think about all the talk we hear about operational maturity, and the maturity of our ITSM “managements.” I just hope that we avoid using a surrogate measure for our maturity, which could cause much more harm than good.
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Same as each person reaches maturity to their own extent and in their own time, each company reaches (or not) maturity of their development process at some point. But take away a few key people - and the maturity is lost. That should tell something.
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