Isn’t Agile meant to make everything easier, better, and faster?

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Agile is not only a new way of running a project, it is a new mindset.

In short, “Yes!” Agile is meant to make project management and solution development easier, better, and faster but this does not mean that Agile is perfect or that you can select the best bits in expectation of a perfect outcome. Agile, according to the AgileLion Institute, is a mindset and a way of doing things that enables us to quickly respond to change and deliver value in spite of uncertainty. This definition is rooted in the Agile Manifesto’s four core values.[1]

Why, then, do organizations find themselves in projects and programs that end up as a hybrid of project methods including, but not limited to: Agile/Scrum/Waterfall/SAFe/DAD methods? A major issue our clients cite over and over again is not with Agile methods or even the tools themselves, but rather with adoption and embedment within their organization.

After five years’ experience in Agile project delivery and development in the private and public sector, what are the three most common areas where organizations have issues with adopting Agile and what are some ways of overcoming them?

Agile

Top three common areas where Agile adoption can be difficult and how to overcome them

1.The perception that Agile means no planning and no project management.

  • THE PROBLEM:
    → Often, in organizations struggling to adopt Agile, the project’s business requirements are inputted into JIRA as a “backlog” and there is an assumption that, as an empowered Agile Scrum team, the work will be assigned and the Scrum Master or business analyst will control the backlog. Therefore, no planning or project management is required and, as a result of this a lack of RAID tracking, decision tracking and lack of tracking progress.
  • THE FIX:
    → The fourth core value of the Agile Manifesto is responding to change over following a plan. This does not mean “do not have a plan,” however, as part of an Agile project, the organization should embrace change to that plan.
    → There is in fact, arguably, more planning in an Agile project, when one considers backlog refinement, sprint planning, sprint kick off, demo to the business, etc. Therefore, in order to ensure governance, regular scrum drumbeat meetings with the team are required.

2. Agile projects do not have a clearly defined final product.

  • THE PROBLEM:
    → In the real world of strict budgets and deadlines, organizations believe that risk increases when details remain undefined from the outset. Asking finance departments to release thousands of pounds can be difficult when an Agile project cannot clearly define exactly what the final product will be.
  • THE FIX:
    → Agile promotes starting any project with a clear product vision that the Scrum team will then develop into the best product. This allows the team to respond to change using working software/working models of the product.
    → The benefit here is building a product that more accurately matches the organization’s vision and has been refined and reworked to realize possible unknown benefits.
    → If there is hesitation in providing funding to Agile projects, organizations can go as far as re-vamping their funding process to relay funding incrementally, in line with the phases of Agile delivery.

3. Agile must be supported from the top. Reporting to traditional waterfall structure hierarchy and project management styles will inevitably reduce adoption across the organization.

  • THE PROBLEM:
    → Often on Agile projects, Scrum teams are asked to provide sprint planning overviews and report into waterfall, traditional governance structures. Though this is not a problem at higher levels, the possible change in scope and direction of each sprint needs to be clearly communicated to the overarching powers.
  • THE FIX:
    → Ensuring that everyone understands why the organization wants to adopt Agile methods and what level of Agile adoption suits the organization. The best way to achieve this is through an Agile ways-of-working training-and-planning workshop so that each person in the organization is better aligned and more aware of Agile methods.
    → The organization needs to train everyone in Agile methods and ways of working and not just those who use the tools. The organization and its Scrum teams should kick off with an Agile ways of working workshop when embarking on any Agile project or change to increase adoption.

Key takeaways and conclusion

One key takeaway that will always make a difference when trying to increase Agile adoption is prioritizing change management within the project team and the organization. Agile is not only a new way of running a project, it is a new mindset.

Also, keep in mind that when a project starts to spiral out of control, in other words current Agile methods are not working, people tend to fall back to familiar or safe habits. Ironically, this is often when Agile methods work best. An Agile focus on quality first can aid in rapid benefit realization, whilst constant backlog refinement and reprioritization can bring focus to a project when Agile is embedded within an organization

[1] Agile Manifesto (Beck, K., Beedle, M., Bennekum, A., Cockburn, A., Cunningham, W., Fowler, M., Grenning, J., Highsmith, J., Hunt, A., Jeffries, R., Kern, J., Marick, B., Martin, R., Mellor, S., Schwaber, K., Sutherland, J. and Thomas, D. (2001). Manifesto for Agile Software Development. [online] Agilemanifesto.org. Available at: http://www.agilemanifesto.org/ [Accessed 29 Apr. 2015].)

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