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Why Agile fails

05 Aug 2014

| Author: James Blackstock

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Why Agile fails

A couple of years ago I had an interesting role fixing a scaled Agile project, which had gone horribly wrong.

In the short term, I decided to kill Agile in the group. Now to many, this sounds rather extreme and please understand I am a huge Agile proponent! The problem was that Agile had become the excuse, and not the solution, to many problems facing the team.

Scrum masters, product owners and developers became so absorbed with doing their own thing and following their own process that they forgot that their key stakeholders also happen to pay all the bills. Project and programme managers were viewed as outsiders, as was anyone not sitting with the team on a daily basis.

They called them 'chickens' (which didn't help matters) and told senior people to come see demos, which were often too technical and didn't inspire confidence around the bigger picture. Architecture lived in someone's head rather than on paper. The most worrisome aspect to the senior management was the lack of clarity in a manner they expect to see.

"What date will we deliver?"
"Don't know..."
"Will we get everything?"
"Don't know..." etc...

We had to kill Agile in order to let it rise organically and prove its value again. We embedded more experienced people in the project to give management the right level of assurance they required and the information they needed. We refocused around governance, ownership and escalation channels to ensure decision-making was accurate, swift and well-communicated where necessary.

We didn't completely remove every facet of the Agile delivery process but we set targets and pushed towards them to help set a pace. We let management decide what some of the impediments were and dealt with them accordingly.

Additionally, we focused on identifying the real leaders in the team and empowered them to lead. We looked for people prepared to make the tough calls. This specifically meant weeding out developers who weren't up to the task so we could replace them. The harsh reality of high-performing teams is that not everyone can handle it. Weeding out people who slow the whole team down is essential and often the biggest weakness in Agile implementations.

Most importantly, we delivered BIG, successfully and consistently after that. Ultimately, we converted management through successful execution and Agile is alive and well in the company to this day.

The simple lesson here? Trust has to earned. If you haven't earned it yet, be sympathetic to the needs of those seeking verification!

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