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Being too Agile – Why Agile fails and how to avoid it

The software community is moving from linear development processes such as Waterfall to a more incremental approach. The Agile process is now accepted as the better alternative to traditional software development If done properly it can improve the quality, reduce the time, and mitigate risks.

Because Agile brings so many advantages to the companies, today many enterprises or small businesses are going through Agile transformation. It comes with the risk of incorrectly applying Agile. Unfortunately, it is easy to get it wrong and go overboard by becoming "too agile".

In this article, we discuss what are the problems with agile methods and why so many companies fail to implement Agile methodologies correctly.

Common reasons why agile fails

There might be multiple reasons why Agile projects fail. The management might not be ready to leave the standard management methodologies behind and welcome change. Management support might not be enough for the team to adapt to the new methodology, or team members might simply not want to follow Agile. Many companies fail to adopt it because they do not take their time to learn about it and give sufficient training to the team members.

In some cases, the overall company culture, collaboration, and communication levels are poor and incompatible with Agile. Usually, few reasons work together to set the team up for failure.

However, the most common mistake is going too agile too quickly without considering the team culture, team members, and management's readiness to adapt and starting transformation without mitigating risks that can follow.

1. Abandoning long-term planning

Agile development minimizes long-term planning in favor of short-term adaptiveness. This short-term focus increases the risk of neglecting best practices that are essential to long-term success.  The fact that agile development prefers flexibility and adaptiveness does not mean that planning is redundant. Agile methods are adaptive, not unplanned.

The team should not be short-sighted. Instead, it should pay attention to how the solution will perform in the long term. The project stakeholders should also understand the importance of implementing best practices and recommendations instead of pushing for early delivery at any cost. Completely removing long-term planning and losing sight is one of the main reasons why agile fails.

2. Constantly changing requirements

Agile welcomes change in the requirements even late in the development. The strength of agile development is that it can meet the changing market conditions and give the customer a competitive advantage.

Embracing change, however, does not mean that the scope is ever-changing. Many teams think that going Agile means accepting every change while not considering the whole picture and the effect of those changes on the overall project.

Changes are welcomed when needed, but to create a working system, there must be some constants. And each change comes with a price. For some agile projects, the requirements change so often that they never see the light of day.

3. Micromanagement

The lack of trust and inability to concede control over the team is why agile fails in large enterprises. One of the main principles from the Agile manifesto is that the most efficient and effective method of conveying information to and within a development team is a face-to-face conversation.  Unfortunately, this gets misunderstood often and leads to absurdly frequent meetings that reduce the actual development time. Although being informed is important, you should not forget another agile principle – that the team should be self-organized, and you should trust them to get the job done.

4. Lack of documentation

Many believe that agile projects do not require documentation. It is maybe the biggest misapprehension in the agile world.

While agile means efficiency, welcoming change, and flexibility to adapt to those changes, it does not mean that Agile is anti-documentation. A more accurate way to say it would be that Agile does not do the documentation for its sake.

Ideally, the documentation for an agile project should not be too detailed, but it should exist and be sufficient for the team to complete their tasks. The documentation should be iteratively refined as the project evolves and the team is gaining a greater understanding of the project’s scope and problems.

5. Transparency

Everyone can agree that transparency is important. Each agile team is supposed to provide full visibility of their work and time. However, if not managed properly transparency can be one reason why agile transformations fail

The issue is that it allows the daily fluctuations of each team member’s productivity to become visible. Such fluctuations are normal, but in many cases instead of looking at the big picture, the team is focusing on the small issue. This leads to people playing a game of appearing productive instead of doing their job.

The team is afraid to make mistakes, which as we know are a vital part of any development process. It induces needless anxiety in the team members and the end negatively affects their productivity.

Agile as any other methodology is just a set of guidelines to follow. It is not a silver bullet as you can fail spectacularly with it as you can do with any other traditional method. If you choose to ‘go agile, you have to make sure you implement it properly and not go to extremes.

How to overcome problems with agile methods?

While there are many reasons why agile transformation can fail, it does not mean that failure is inevitable. With the right steps and the right pace, you can successfully implement agile methodologies in your business be it a small company or a large enterprise. Here are few tips that will help you along the way:

Prioritize values

Think about the purpose of Agile transformation before you take the first steps toward it. Define your business values and focus on them, rather than focusing on methodologies, tools, or processes. Values should be the number one priority, otherwise, you will have the focus on the wrong things and it will lead you to failure. Keep in mind that Agile puts individuals and interactions first.

Choose the right pace

While going Agile might sound exciting, there is no need to rush. Companies cannot implement Agile methodology overnight. Start slowly and give team members space to adapt to the new methodology. It is a smart decision to start using Agile on one of the projects first. Once it is successful, you can use Agile methodology on other projects.

It will give your team time to adapt. You will also have more room for failures and learning to ensure that you mitigate all the risks and implement Agile correctly.

Use expertise and experience

Agile transformation requires time and knowledge of the processes. The chance of failing is high, especially if you do not have the expertise and experience it takes, to lead the successful transformation. To go Agile smoothly, you need the right people with the right expertise. It will help you mitigate risks and ensure a smooth transition. Hire people who have experience in your field and have worked with the companies like yours.

Establish strong leadership

As mentioned, one of the main reasons why agile projects fail is micromanagement and overall poor leadership. Agile transformation requires a leader more than a manager, and strong leadership can set you up for success. Micromanagement leads to stress, the inability to make decisions, and distrust. It is the recipe for disaster. Instead of micromanaging, be a leader that is fully engaged in processes but does not dictate every little thing. Give your team members space and understanding that you trust their work. It does not mean that you should leave them alone. Help them reach their (and the project's) goals with strong leadership.

Be open and adapt

Going Agile inherently has a degree of uncertainty in it. It does not matter if you are implementing Agile methodology in a single project, or leading a full Agile transformation, you need to be open to the changes. Going Agile means constantly inspecting the current situation, wins, and losses, and adapting to them to optimize processes. Sadly, you cannot anticipate that everything will go smoothly from the very beginning till the end. Be open to mistakes, but have an eye on them to detect and constantly improve.

Conclusion

Poor management, abandoning long-term planning, constantly changing requirements, not giving documentation much importance and lack of trust is the main reason why agile fails. While the process of Agile transformation will not be error-free and as smooth as you might want you, you can still mitigate the majority of the risks. Strong leadership and being open to changes will help you in the process.

Use the expertise and experience of people, who have been leading Agile transformations in companies like yours, choose the right pace, and concentrate on core values. It will help you ensure the success of using Agile methodology.

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