Agile has crossed the chasm. What does it mean for Agile Coaches?

Agile has crossed the chasm” said Lyssa Adkins during Scrum Trainers and Coaches retreat in Dublin. Recently I’ve finally read the book by Geoffrey Moore, where this concept is described. And it leads to a lot of interesting insights regarding the role of Agile Coaches at the current market.

What is the chasm anyway?

The concept comes from “Crossing the Chasm” book, where Moore presents the technology adoption lifecycle. Moore defined 5 different types of users but we will focus now on two groups named Early Adopters and the Early Majority. New technology is uses first by Innowators then by Early Adopters. Next group is called Early Majority. There is a huge difference in terms of needs and expectations between those two groups. Therefore, despite offering them the same product, they must be perceived as separate market groups. To move from one type of users to another company must adapt its product, together with marketing and sales strategy. As the change is significant, it is presented as crossing the chasm. Although the model is used to describe new technologies, it’s based on research on the adoption of new strains of seed potatoes among American farmers. It also explains what is happening in Agile landscape really well.

What are the Agile Adopters looking for?

According to Moore, the Early Adopters can easily imagine the benefits of new technology and want to use it to gainmarket advantage. Rather than based on references, they make their decision on intuition and vision. They’re willing to take a risk and invest into solution not yet fully proven in a hope to disrupt the market. Therefore they accept, that the product is not complete yet and are willing to pay a premium for it. On the other hand, they expect strong support from the manufacturer and further development of the product according to their needs. Because the new product significantly differs from existing solutions, they’re prepared for internal resistance and are keen to address it themselves.

The Agile Adopters are the leaders from the first wave of the organizations doing Agile Transformation. They perceive it as a leverage to outperform their competitors. The Early Adopters are expecting strong support from Agile Coaches, who help them introduce agility to the whole organization. Failed experiments are a part of the risk, but the potential success is promising a capacity no other company on the market has. So Early Adopters are willing to invest a lot to transform the whole organization. And they are willing to pay extra as long as they see things are heading in the right direction.

This market is served well by high-quality Coaches and Trainers, who are willing to stay with customers for a longer time. These include people gathered around eXtreme Programming, Scrum (as promoted by Scrum Alliance and, Nexus and LeSS. They see the transformation as something more than just another job. Thus they’re working hard to create amazing cultures, which will make their customers a benchmark for the market.

What are the needs of the Agile Majority?

On the other hand, the Early Majority are pragmatic people, who’d like to see linear productivity improvement gained for existing operations. They want a product that is well recognized on the market. Because they rollout the product though whole company they’re looking for a complete solution, that can be integrated with their current system and more reasonable price than Innovators were willing to pay. Being far away from taking the risk the Agile Majority is looking for evolution, not revolution.

The Early Adopters constitutes the second wave of organizations looking into Agile. They want a complete solution answering all the questions. An approach they can introduce in the organization while minimizing any risks related to that. Therefore they’re not interested in revolutions, significant changes in organizational structure and, worst of all, experimenting on their organization. Of course they won’t create a fully Agile organization, but this is not what Early Adopters are looking for.

The Agile Majority is served by the low-price products, that do not significantly impact the current way of working and can promise small improvements. Products such as SAFe, PMI-Agile or Prince2Agile seems to be perfectly suited for this group, as they might remove some of the biggest problems and introduce a bit of flexibility into the organization. Large consulting companies also started serving these customers with their own products such as “Spotify Model” promoted by McKinsey. There’s a stronger competition on this market, but the skills and knowledge requirements are lower as well. Sooner or later this wave will reach the Late Majority group looking for low-cost products.

The Majority needs different sales and developers

One thing that really struck me in Moore’s book was that the chasm does not only separate customer types, but also companies that serve them.  Pioneers are the developers serving Early Adopters. They are interested in innovating, experimenting and pushing the edges of the product. They want to create new, big things and are not interested in product standardization, nor even documentation. After crossing the chasm these people can become a potential liability. The company needs to move to settlers, who are more willing to focus on infrastructure, standardization and modification of existing solutions.

Similar change needs to happen in sales. People serving the Early Adopters need to think big and be able to understand the needs of visionaries. They have to convince customers, that their product will give them a significant advantage. To do so, they have to understand the product and technology they sell, so that they can adapt it to visionaries needs. On the other hand, Early Majority are looking for a standardized product, so the product customization has to be stopped. The same salesmen, who were so successful in selling to Early Adopters, won’t be effective in serving the mainstream market and would push the company back into the chasm again.

What will happen to Agile Coaches?

The most interesting conclusion for me is that there are two different “Agile” markets out there. First consists of a few visionaries looking for a significant revolution of their organization. They’re willing to take a risk, and pay extra for the support from experienced Agile Coaches. These Coaches will continue discovering the new ways of working. They’ll search for new tools that will help their customers. We’ve seen it before with Agile community adapting ideas from Lean Start-ups, Beyond Budgeting or Sociocracy.

Second is a mainstream market where pragmatists are looking for evolutionary changes. They want a standardized solution that will not impact the existing structure or way of doing the business. This group is looking for standardized “Agile” products, that can be rolled out through the whole company without taking a risk. As the market is big, the number of “Agile Coaches” serving this market will be growing. Because it’s hard for them to compete on quality, they either compete by having a recognized brand (such as McKinsey) or on price. The low-cost product will make it harder for these Agile Coaches to learn as quickly as the market needs. However, some of they will do and will be potentially able to serve the first market.

The biggest challenge will have these companies that will try to serve both markets with the same coaches and salesmen. Not knowing this model, they won’t be able to understand, why things that work for one customer doesn’t work for another.

At ProCognita, we decided to work with visionaries. We want to help our customers in creating amazing companies that can delight their customers through extraordinary products and services. We’re ready to support them through the whole transformation. Let us know, if you’re one of them.