Written by Fernanda Alvarez Piñeiro Updated on January 25, 2023 If you’ve ever set foot in the Project Management workverse, you have probably heard of Agile. Buzzwords like “Scrum” and “Sprints” will ring a bell to those enthusiastic about workflow optimization, and moving cards around a Kanban board will feel like a familiar routine exercise characteristic of your morning stand ups. According to our research, although a minimum of 71% of US businesses say they are using Agile, about 44% of Agile projects fail because of a lack of experience with proper Agile techniques. Therefore, unlocking the benefits of Agile requires more than throwing around flashy terms on random occasions. It requires understanding of what Agile actually is and what it’s really supposed to look like.Creating new products and services to stay competitive in today’s market needs more dynamism and innovation than before. Agile can be the key to start swinging in that very-much-needed-direction. To understand how you can become a genuine Agile project management expert at every step of your operation, we’ve retrieved insightful data and spoken to Agile business connoisseurs to help break through all the noise that envelops this beloved project management methodology.What is Agile?Before we go any further, let’s tackle the basics. What are the building blocks of Agile, and what does it look like in theory? To understand this, we first need to rewind the clock to 2001. Back then, a group of software developers gathered in Utah to piece together the ideas that would culminate in The Agile Manifesto. Composed of 12 principles, at its heart, the Agile methodology was constructed to uncover better ways of developing software. However, nowadays, the principles have become more universal and transferable to other industries. The Agile methodology values:Individuals and interactions over processes and toolsWorking software over comprehensive documentationCustomer collaboration over constant negotiationResponding to change over following a planTo give you a better idea, here are some of the principles found in the Manifesto:“The most efficient and effective method of converting information to and within a development team is face-to-face conversation”“Business people and developers must work together daily throughout the project”“Build projects around motivated individuals. Give them the environment and support they need, and trust them to get the job done”Distilled to its core components, Agile brands itself as a more hands-on approach to project management. It prioritizes experiences and flexibility over a set-in-stone plan. The ultimate goal is to give your project enough dynamism and adaptability through continuous loops of feedback and interactions that, by the time you complete everything, you’ll have the most efficient and robust end product.The Reality of Agile – The StatsHopping on the Agile bandwagon is tempting – and for all the right reasons. Agile Hall of Fame members include many Fortune 500 companies, including Cisco, Microsoft, and IBM. The statistics clearly demonstrate that businesses are increasingly rejuvenating through the use of Agile.Companies have seen an average 60% increase in revenue and profit since using AgileBuilding a strong Agile culture in your organization will result in an increase commercial performance of 237%Businesses that fully adopted Agile before the COVID-19 pandemic outperformed units that hadn’t on customer satisfaction (93%), employee engagement (76%), and operational performance (93%)A minimum of 71% of US businesses say they’re using AgileFull Scrum usage can result in up to a 250% improvement in product qualityProjects under the traditional competing approach, known as waterfall, only have a 49% success rate, while projects under the Agile methodology have a success rate of 64%CMOs report that 80% of them have seen an increase in productivity since adopting Agile91% of organizations state that it’s a strategic priority to adopt AgileThe top five reasons for adopting Agile areFaster deliveries to customers (83%)Productivity improvement (76%)Predictability, transparency, and visibility (70%)Efficiency improvements (69%)Work organization methods (68%)What does this tell us? When done correctly, Agile can unlock endless benefits that will boost your productivity and profitability. However, it’s the doing-correctly bit that can cause some issues when onboarding Agile, as some businesses shallowly embrace the terminology without the practice. Here is what the statistics have to say about that:The leading cause of 44% of Agile project failures is a lack of prior experience with Agile techniquesThe most significant Agile adoption barriers are:Inconsistencies in processes and practices (46%)Cultural clashes (43%)General organizational resistance to change (42%)Lack of skills and experience (42%)Absence of leadership participation (41%)Inadequate management support and sponsorship (40%)Only 38% of respondents in a KPGM survey stated that top management fully supports their Agile transformationWhy is Agile So Misunderstood?If there is a glaring red flag that the statistics wave, it's that there is a fine line between being a business that genuinely embodies Agile and one that shallowly uses bits and pieces to create a facade of modern project management techniques.To understand why this phenomenon occurs – and more importantly, how to avoid it – we spoke to Agile experts, Marco Consolaro and Alessandro Di Gioia. They are the authors of ‘Agile Technical Practices Distilled’ (2019) and Founders of Alcor Academy, through which they offer structured socio-technical training grounded on Agile principles.We asked Di Gioia and Consolaro why Agile is so misunderstood and why so many companies only shallowly apply the principles, at best. “The biggest problem is the expectations and the motivation of doing the Agile transformation”, confessed Di Gioia, “I think many companies just want to show that they are doing something that is modern enough, but without understanding the implication of applying it for real.“If you’re really doing Agile you have to trust people to do their own thing, let go of your control, and become a servant leader. If you’re becoming a servant leader this means that you are there to make sure that the people doing the practical work won’t have any impediment to do that.“On the other hand, what happens many times is that since we said we are doing Agile and Scrum, we are applying it in a shallow way. Our meetings are now called Stand Ups or retrospectives, which if applied correctly, can have a value but most of the time it’s just renaming things that were already in place before. When you’re just renaming things, you’re promoting a culture of command and control with different colors.”Consolaro and Di Gioia shared another fallacy of applying Agile. This emerges when businesses apply Agile frameworks without training their employees for all the technical practices required by the project. Di Gioia specified that “if you apply those frameworks and you even manage to become more efficient, if you’re not matching that with technical skills, you’re just becoming faster at becoming wasteful and inefficient.”Consolaro also added that “the cultural aspect, the one that they start to apply some stuff without really changing the culture, that’s very common in big corporations and large environments”. He elaborated that “they can’t really let go of a command and control approach, it’s a shallow change.”Therefore, transitioning to Agile requires bravery as a manager. It means letting go of old processes that feel familiar and comfortable, shedding any attachment you might have to micromanagement, and trusting that your employees can get the job done.Beyond the Statistics – Agile In Real LifeMoving beyond command and control can be done with the right mentality and can bring an endless list of benefits. To show how genuine Agile cases look like in real life, we reached out to small and medium sized business managers and employees to hear about their success stories.“The Agile methodology has helped our business to become more efficient and productive. By starting with a core team of developers dedicated to working on user stories and sprints, we have quickly developed and released new features and products. This has helped us to stay ahead of our competitors and maintain a leadership position in our industry. In addition, the Agile methodology has enabled us to communicate better with our customers and get their feedback during the development process. This has allowed us to deliver products that are more aligned with their needs and expectations” (sic)– Jamie Irwin, Marketing Executive at Elocker.com“Our employees have received the Agile methodology very well – and I think that’s because they feel like they’re being heard and their needs are being met. We have regular one-on-one meetings with each employee to discuss what’s going on and how they can help us work better together. This is something that would be hard to do without an Agile approach!” (sic)– Michael Miller, CEO of VPNOnline.com“We’ve found that the Agile methodology is a great way to manage product development and ensure that our products are meeting customer needs. The key to making it work is to be flexible and willing to adapt as needed. We start by identifying the goals for the project and then creating a timeline with specific tasks and milestones. We then break down those tasks into smaller manageable chunks, which we call Sprints. We track progress and communicate regularly with stakeholders throughout the process. The Agile methodology has been crucial in helping us keep up with the ever-changing demands of our customers and maintain our high level of quality standards.” (sic)– George Harrison, Director of Marketing and Operations at PKGMaker.com“I feel like it’s quite a rewarding way to work because if you split everything up into small chunks that you can move along the Kanban board, then you know which achievement to move onto the next point. The Kanban board specially means everyone is feeding into it, which gives a lot of visibility into what everyone is doing, and where other people can help you and where you can help other people. Rather than our projects going on and on and feeling like you haven’t completed anything, you’re hitting small milestones every couple of days, which is very satisfying.” (sic)– Amy Irvine, Senior SEO Campaign Executive at MVFEver Blue – Understanding How Agile Accelerates Digital TransformationMasterfully adopting the Agile methodology can help a company transform digitally and modernize. To understand how this plays out, we spoke to Chris Boggiano, President of Ever Blue, a boutique innovation strategy and technology company. Ever Blue helps state government entities, utilities, and nonprofit organizations to digitize their paper-based processes. They’re experts at implementing cloud technology and specialize in the process of innovation thinking.In trying to understand their process, Boggiano started by revealing they “never want to implement technology just for the sake of it, so we first spend a lot of time understanding an organization’s challenges, which leads us to the Agile methodology.”A case when it was particularly successful was in helping a utility company. “We came to them, and they were still doing a lot of things on paper, lots of legacy processes, and before starting to work with us, they wanted to jump onto using Google Glasses for their workers in the field who are filling out paper forms.” After onboarding the client, Ever Blue spent a lot of time working with the company, trying to understand what the problem actually was and how new technology should be used to optimize workflows. “Long story short, we ended up developing a platform that allows them to digitize most of the paper forms that they were filling out, and also the workflow around those forms.” The trick to the project being a success was to keep things simple and understand the real problem that was stagnating workflows.“I think the whole beauty of Agile is you start off with the smallest, simplest, most discrete minimum viable product, and then get feedback on it, and then iterate on that feedback. They got further in the long run than if they had jumped to Google Glasses without even understanding whether that was the technology they needed in the first place.”When asked what benefits Agile holds, Boggiano mentioned that “you go out and start interacting with end users of a product more quickly, and you’re far more likely to get their buy-in and get them to want to use the product”. He added that “it almost doesn’t matter if you’re a startup trying to develop a new software product or if you’re a state government trying to building something where your customer is your employee – if you use Agile and you get their feedback sooner, they are far more likely to adopt using the product.”Therefore, Agile isn’t simply about optimizing your internal processes and getting your team to work better together. Agile is also a way of placing your customer at the forefront, understanding their needs, and designing the best possible solution for them.Agile Is A No-Brainer – But Do It RightWhen debating whether you should implement Agile or not, it’s really not a debate. The only asterisk we can disclose is that specific operations that are running on extremely tight deadlines might not gel well with the adaptability and recurrent episodes of feedback that are characteristic of Agile. However, as you should probably be able to tell by now, Agile goes way beyond just name-dropping Scrum, Kanban, and Sprints. Therefore, keep the following in mind as you step into the Agile-verse:Command and control is a thing of the past: trusting your employees to get the work done will help you slide into Agile more easily and create the work relationships you need to nurture collaborationInvest in software that harmonizes with Agile: software like project management platform Jira is great for facilitating Agile methodologyTrust the process: sometimes Agile might feel slightly tedious, whether it is from having to go through numerous rounds of feedback, adapting, or feeling like your final product is too distant in the horizon. It all pays off and the end result will be better than just sprinting (pun not intended) to the finish line. Written by: Fernanda Alvarez Piñeiro Fernanda is a Mexican-born Expert Market writer, specialising in providing in-depth insights about business software to help businesses of all shapes and sizes thrive. From VoIP systems to project management software, she’s passionate about helping businesses find the tools and methods that will help give them an edge over their competitors. Fernanda has ample journalistic experience, having written for a multitude of online magazines about topics ranging from Latin American politics to cryptocurrency.