Three Common Pitfalls of Implementing Agile Methodology

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Three Common Pitfalls of Implementing Agile Methodology

By James Dobbs, Senior Project Manager, MTM Technologies, Inc.

Agile methodology is a powerful tool that can increase the success rate for project delivery, decrease delivery time, lower the rate of troubled projects, control budget overruns, and increase team morale. As a result, many organizations often hastily move projects onto Agile methodology which may not be best suited for it. This can cause massive negative impacts and destroy entire programs.

Here are three pitfalls to avoid when implementing Agile Methodology at your organization.

Determining when Agile is effective and when it is not.

One challenge an organization faces regarding Agile Project Management is determining when Agile is effective and when it is not. When properly applied to projects where it is well suited, Agile is an extremely valuable tool with myriad upsides and few to no downsides.

However, when Agile is misapplied to a project, the results can be disastrous. Every project should be reviewed on a case-by-case basis to determine if Agile methodology will be useful. You can do this by asking a series of questions about the project, including whether it is complex, if solutions are unknown, and whether the work is modular and can be conducted in rapid, iterative cycles. In these cases, Agile works best.

Here is a Q&A framework for determining whether Agile Methodology applies for your project:

Q: Is the problem to be solved simple or complex?
A: Complex projects are a better use case for Agile.

Q: Are the solutions initially known or unknown?
A: Agile works better when project solutions are unknown.

Q: Are requirements set in the beginning and unlikely to change?
A: The Agile methodology is better for projects with changing requirements.

Q: Are end users able to collaborate and give feedback?
A: Agile is better for projects in which end users can collaborate closely and provide feedback.

Q: Is the work modular, and can it be conducted in rapid iterative cycles?
A: If the work is incremental, Agile is a more favorable methodology.

Q: Are late changes manageable, or are late changes expensive/impossible?
A: Agile should only every be used when late changes are manageable.

Q: Are end users unable to start testing parts of the project before the whole project is complete?
A: Agile only functions properly when iterative testing can successfully inform development.

Q: Are mistakes during the project low-cost opportunities to learn and make improvements, or are mistakes catastrophic?
A: Agile should only be used when mistakes are low-cost opportunities for improvement.

Management must trust teams to set their own velocities for issues.

When a cross-functional team comes together to evaluate an issue that must be addressed, the team members determine their collective domain knowledge, experience, and the ability of all necessary parties to sync up and collaborate on all aspects of the issue. These factors create an inherently unique team dynamic to which past teams (or hypothetical ones) cannot be compared.

These become the factors that a team uses to determine the velocity of a project – it’s timeline. Collapsing or expanding that timeline can introduce chaos and undermine the Agile methodology.

Agile must be customized, but not too quickly.
I don’t recommend applying the Agile approach to customizing Agile itself. Only after using proven approaches, rules, and methodologies that have delivered success inside thousands of companies for hundreds of thousands of projects – and perfecting them – can an organization move to customizing Agile to fit their needs.

Agile must be iteratively improved. Once a team is ready to make changes, they should track not only the metrics they’re looking to improve, but also any effect on key performance indicators, including team morale.

If slowly and systematically optimized, an organization’s “homebrew” version of Agile can become more powerful than base Agile methodologies. When properly implemented with skilled cross-functional teams on appropriate projects, Agile methodology can set an organization and its teams up for unparalleled success.

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