Agile is seen by some as the magic bullet of project management. A framework through which all their project management woes will be cured. But let’s face it. Real life isn’t like that and, although agile is a great framework to use, there are times when even agile projects fail. This could be due to external factors, but sometimes internal stresses prove too much. You can’t control the external issues (fickle clients, changing economic climate, sudden unforeseen disasters), but by being aware of potential reasons for failure you can plan to avoid them occurring with these tips and tricks.
Agile is first and foremost a way of thinking about project delivery. Agile thinks about customers and products. Customers want particular features, and if those features aren’t yet implemented, they want to know when they can expect results. Agile expects you to work with your customers, to respond to their input and deliver working solutions rapidly.
What can you do?
Clearly, this type of approach cannot function if the rest of the company philosophy doesn’t support the necessary mindset. The whole organisation needs to embody agile values from the project management apprentice to project leaders, or at least not put unnecessary barriers in the way of teams that work within the agile framework.
Lack of Training
Agile teams grow together – having good people working together effectively is incredibly important in an agile environment. Agile considers that your human resources are more important to the project than the physical ones. The lack of a tool or expertise in a particular language is not as much of a barrier to success as the lack of good staff, working together effectively. And to ensure that everyone needs to be clear what their role is and what they are working on during the current iteration.
“Everyone” in this case really does mean everyone. Adopting an agile approach means changing company philosophy, which will never happen if the executive leadership are also untutored in how agile projects work. Around 30% of agile projects that fail do so because of insufficient training. This can range from no one having training, to only “key” team members receiving training, to everyone being given poor quality training.
Clearly in the case where no one really knows how an agile approach works the project is doomed from the start. But it is those situations where training is spread too thinly or quality is skimped on that are harder to guard against. Saving money on training now could waste far more if a project dies.
What can you do?
Ensure all teams working within the agile framework are fully trained and that they are given a solid foundation in the principles of agile project management. Further, ensure all management responsible for such teams is also given training in managing in an agile workplace.
Lack of Management Support
Agile relies a lot on support from management. Management need to trust that teams can organise their workload per iteration and avoid pushing top-down constraints or prioritising activities that don’t align with the expectations of the customer.
Management need to change their mindset to implement agile successfully in their organisations. It is tempting to jump onto the agile and related systems bandwagon, expecting that teams can be brought together to use them, without really changing the management structure to suit. It is not just project teams that need to be fully trained in agile methods – management need to assess their training needs and ensure that they fully understand how to support an agile project.
What can you do?
Ensure management knows enough about managing agile teams to be able to support them within the wider organisation. This could involve reviewing executives training requirements to ensure that they understand how to support agile projects.
To Sum Up
There is much to recommend using an agile approach to project management, especially in customer driven areas where being reactive to changing client priorities offers a better experience and a more satisfying end product.
However, agile is not some buzzword that can be picked up by a team, used until the next fashionable methodology comes along and discarded. In order for agile project management to be effective it needs to be adopted, or at least strongly supported, on an enterprise wide basis.
Training is another important factor in the success, or otherwise, of agile projects. All team members need to be offered comprehensive training in agile methodologies. It is a false economy to provide training to only a few team members and to expect them (either implicitly or explicitly) to pass on their new knowledge. Where training is required, high quality training providers need to be identified in order to provide the best and most comprehensive overview of how to maximise the effectiveness of the agile approach. It must be remembered that the cost of a failed project could far outweigh the initial costs of creating well-resourced agile teams.
What can you do?
In a nutshell, successful agile projects require:
- leadership from outside the team from sympathetic and strong executive management;
- high quality training and for ongoing training to be offered to all team members;
- cultural change within the organisation to allow agile teams to thrive;
- experienced and capable agile coaches.
If you want your agile projects to have the greatest chance of succeeding then it is imperative that those four issues are addressed as early as possible.