Home » Agile Practices » Is Scrum Agile dead in India?

Is Scrum Agile dead in India?

To put things in perspective I am a Certifed Scrum Trainer and have been working with teams in India for three years.i am a developer that has been in this business for 18 years mostly in XP teams.

I was recently in a very interesting discussion with one of the handful of folks in India that I know of who actually understands the essence behind Agile. What we got talking was a very simple topic
Does a model like Scrum or Kanban which is widely popular elsewhere really applicable to Indian software industry.

Millions of developers code away daily in Indian organisations. More than sixty percent of Indian software industry is still service industry. By which I mean “Cheap outsourced fast software”

Put in a simpler way ” clean the mess and work on software western developers do not want to work on”. I have visited almost every large or medium service organisation in India in last three years. I am yet to see a highly motivated self directed high performance team.

I recently got into a very uncomfortable situation as a agile consultant, when the customer asked me – I want a American quality agile coach for whom I can spend 300k but for a Indian quality coach I can only pay 60 k. This is really top guy in a very big product company. Basically I was told that coaches in India suck .well most of them do ,but not every one of them.

Some of the most common fears that Indian management have to deal with

  • large fixed bid projects

Even to win a fixed bid project Indian companies have to guarantee that they will deliver all the features within a certain range.there are huge penalties for missing the cost deadline

  • thousands of new hires on a daily basis enter the system

a recent training coordinator explained to me how they filter through the low quality hires in the first six months of training
Most of the new hires have to go to a military style training program to unlearn whatever little they learnt in their engineering program’s. I saw the training Kanban board which has a day by day measure of where the new grads are in their learning curriculum. Nowhere in this new curriculum was the agile mindset.

  • after doing scrum we are stressed out

most of the customers from counties like US and UK are misusing the term commitment . Or this could be a misinterpretation of Indian managers
The teams are expected to commit whatever they finish in a sprint.

  • To manage a manager there is a manager

due to the sheer scale and volume of Indian organisations you get promoted to a manager from a developer even before you finish compiling the first program you ever wrote. There is a person to watch every person . For all these years the managers have been herding sheep. Where do they all go if you become agile.

  • affinity to westerers

it is sad but it is true. Indians take “athithi devo bava” way too seriously. Between a average Indian guy who naturally lies, does jugaad for everything and the white male who visits India more often to take pictures of poverty . Even if the Indian guy is speaking sense the people , crowd around the white guy who has no clue what problems Indian organisations speak . While it is a meritocratic society, if you look at the speakers for agile2013.in ,Indias largest agile conference where there are only a handful speakers from India.this goes to prove that this agile thing is not really working here. When I go around Indian organisations , I am often challenged by managers that they disagree on something because Craig said so or Pete said so. I hardly see Indian managers disagree with anything visitors have to say. I never hear them say Venkat said this or Mahesh said this.

  • we are like this only

Here are some things only happening in India – sticky notes in India do not stick in the wall,Indian software teams have to deal with a group called facilities . Many a times we would put up a Kanban board in the evening only to come back in the morning that the ruthless facilities people have cleaned up the entire board. Most Indian organisations have to deal with late night calls, so they end up coming very late, then they go to many unwanted manager meetings , then have lunch ,then tea and samosas ,then get ready to do athithi devo Bhavan after 6 pm. Where is the time to code in between all this.

Things from Scrum and agile that does not work well in India

1 Daily standup – it is very tough to do this hanging in a bus as U commute,or when stuck in traffic or as I stuff Some curry in a hurry as the customer only comes online after 9 pm

2. The concept of cross functional team – not possible in really large firms . The PDI index or power distance index for India is more that 70 percent. Hierarchy in a team in expected behaviour.so unless I am told what to do, I do not do anything .

3 servant leadership – the term servant has a very different meaning in the Indian culture.hence when I say in the CSM class,people tend to look at this concept strangely.

4 scrum master – this is a county of project managers .there is a manager for everything. It is probably the largest revenue generator for PMI. Where do all these PM,s go now.

5 CMMI baggage – most of the companies are at CMM level 5 and also have lots of internal audits and procedures .case in point in one agile product company in India, you have to leave your cell phone at the gate and are not generally needed to adhere to the strict code of conduct.

6. The nature of distributed agile makes life a huge stress factor on family life often called as offshore widows .

7 . product owners not here. This is huge issue as the PO is never in India and they have to stretch a lot on their side to actually work with a team

8. Managers are not authorised to push back or say no to odd ball customer requests .because hourly rate counts, they will do anything to keep a body billing. One of the early projects I did many many years ago was a code review projects, we got paid 1 dollar a line of code. So I was needed to at Least review 300 lines a day. Better still this was code I could not even compile.

As a disclaimer there are a handful of small to medium agile organisations that do an awesome job in India

.Also all names here are fictional and do not represent anyone that is real

I really think Indian companies should not blindly follow processes not made in India. They could take whatever has been the norm for years and then come up with something that Works in India

I highly encourage a debate that I would love to facilitate with whoever is interested to debate really find something that works for the business scenarios that are very unique to this region.


  1. Gaurav Singh says:


    I am still in the learning phase of agile, but I would like to add one more thing. A lot of companies just pick up any methodology of agile and try to follow it blindly. Ideally it is also important to understand what suits the company requirements well and how to make the DNA of organization agile as well. You cannot be following a particular agile methodology at one end and then doing a long conversation over emails with your peers and only killing time. This is just an example, a true culture of agile is one where everyone understands the importance of delivering the value faster. I have seen people following agile on one end and being bureaucratic at the other end. Hence many a times it does make sense to customize your own processes to deliver value faster instead of just picking up any agile methodology randomly and implementing it.

    Gaurav Singh

  2. sd55wp says:

    As a French manager of CSM, I completely agree. Deploying scrum in the French part of the team was quite easy, but it very hard to fight against PMI reflex in the Indian part. The lack of debate is particularly striking.

  3. Sanjay says:

    Sounds like you have issues with influence. Influential leaders drive change. Others whine about circumstances and point fingers at other individuals when they are unable to bring about the change they desire. You will benefit from introspection into what’s holding you back from exercising the level you desire. You also need to demonstrate ownership. In my experience, people who lack the courage to confront others around them with the courage of their convictions take the easy way out – going to blogs and whine. That’s why you need to introspect and find what’s holding you back before you worry about what’s holding back others.


  4. Vibhu,
    I don’t think agile is dead in India, rather I firmly and honestly believe that India will lead and go long with adoption of agile in near future. I don’t think issue the major issue is Scrum, Kanban or any other agile framework/method. It’s the issue of Trust and Commitment between Customer and Supplier. Most of the Customer who wants offshore companies to implement agile doesn’t have maturity at their own organisation to understand agile at heart. They start running before they learn to walk and later blames to offshore organisations, especially India based (it’s always easy to blame your supplier, isn’t it). Also, I think Indian organisations suited to adopt agile way of working if their Customer demands and commits to achieve that. After all we adopted and build this monster industry with waterfall industry because that’s what Customer was demanding, so if now Customer demand agile way of working and they are mature enough to understand it, Indian offshore organisation would put all their effort and to achieve their goal. I have personally being Customer and worked with Offshore Companies to setup agile teams (last one project was grown from 2 teams to 20 and still working) following agile principles and values and providing right environment to offshore organisations, where we focus more on Trust, Transparency and Commitment (both side) and created win-win situation rather than offloading risks to offshore organisations only.

    I am more than happy to participate in a debate (although I am based in London) or forum on this topic as it’s close to my heart.


  5. Renjith V says:

    I loved this article. So true.

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