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Is Agile the right fit?

September 29, 2021

Agile isn’t the right fit for every business problem–it’s simply a tool in the toolkit–one of many.  

Agile frameworks should be used to solve business problems in complex environments where more is unknown than known.  For simple problems, where more is known than unknown, an alternative approach – such as Lean or Waterfall – should be applied.  In this context, “simple” does not mean easy, instead it refers to the fact that more is known than unknown. 

Let’s start by defining our terms.


What is Agile?

Agile is an umbrella term used to describe value delivery frameworks based on the values and principles described in the Agile Manifesto.  The Agile Manifesto is a document written more than 20 years ago by a group of 17 developers looking for a better way to make software.  While Agile “grew up” in software delivery, today, it’s used in all sorts of environments, from human resources to marketing to hardware applications and cloud services.

Agile is a framework for solving complex business problems and which uses the values and principles described in the Agile manifesto.

When is Agile the right fit?

Agile is best at solving business problems that require a degree of creativity.  It’s not designed for simple environments where the delivery method and requirements are straightforward. Instead, Agile thrives in complex environments where either the delivery method is unknown, requirements are uncertain, or a combination of both. 


Ralph Stacey at the University of Hertfordshire designed the above Stacey matrix to resolve when Agile is a good fit.  According to the matrix, four levels of complexity describe business problems: simple, complicated, complex and chaotic.  The level of complexity depends on three factors:  requirements (whether they are known or unknown), technology (whether the solution is close to certainty or far from certainty) and people.  Stacey uses these three factors to classify a business problem as simple, complicated, complex or chaotic.  Agile methods work best in business situations that are complex where more is unknown than known.


The many flavors of Agile

15th Annual State of Agile Report.


According to the 15th Annual state of Agile report from, eighty-one percent of Agile teams use Scrum, or a Scrum hybrid.  Just 6% of teams use Kanban, and the remainder uses other methods described as iterative, extreme programing, lean, or other.

I believe that the reason that Scrum is so popular is because it's the Goldilocks of Agile in that it provides just enough structure - but not too much.  The Scrum framework consists of three roles, three artifacts and five events (what the uninitiated refer to as meetings).  The roles ensure that team members understand how to relate to each other.  The artifacts ensure that team members understand team goals and what is expected of them.  The five events ensure that team members have a structure within which they can work and produce value.  

According to the 2020 Scrum Guide, “Scrum is a lightweight framework that helps people, teams and organizations generate value through adaptive solutions for complex problems.”  It’s often said that Scrum is simple to understand but hard to apply well.  



To learn more about Scrum and how to apply Scrum to your situation, signup for Applying Professional Scrum, the best introductory class to Scrum that you will find anywhere.  If you are a leader of an Agile team and would like to learn more about how to guide your team to success, I strongly recommend the Professional Agile Leadership class.


About Mary Iqbal  

Mary has trained more than 1,000 people in Agile, Scrum and Kanban.  She has guided the Agile transformation for organizations with more than 60 teams and has led the creation of new products from product definition through self-organization and launch.  Mary is the founder of Rebel Scrum, a consulting company that helps teams transform to Agile and provides training and coaching services founded upon practical experience.  Rebel Scrum has experience in large-scale agile transformations in a variety of environments including technology and business transformations.  Signup for one of Rebel Scrum's upcoming public scrum training classes or contact us to discuss private Scrum training and consulting options for your organization.

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