June 25, 2013

Agile Failure Modes: IBM Innovate Attendees Weigh In

Here are the failure modes and challenges in Agile Transformations, submitted by attendees at IBM Innovate 2013 and organized into some common themes

What are the biggest failure modes in Agile transformations? We posed this question to attendees at the IBM Innovate conference in Orlando in early June, where agility at scale was a prominent topic. 

Agile Failure Modes

We already posted our own list of the top 8 failure modes in Agile Transformations (along with some success modes). Here are the failure modes, anti-patterns, and challenges submitted by attendees at IBM Innovate, organized into some common themes.

Commitment and buy-in for change

  • no executive sponsor - lack of commitment
  • lack of middle management support
  • management is the stumbling block
  • management understanding of agile
  • no consensus for change
  • because management says so
  • whats in it for me
  • lack of business buy-in
  • lack of understanding and ability to see the big picture
  • not associated with formal business process

Lack of common understanding and knowledge

  • Lack of Training
  • everybody has a different definition of agile
  • different people have different interpretations of agile

Overburdened teams

  • no retrospective because we are too busy - no time to reflect
  • we don't have time
  • don't get enough time to think through it
  • overburdened teams - expected to do other tasks

Lack of organizational change strategy

  • weak strategy
  • lack of a solid plan to transform from waterfall to agile
  • agile seems to have a marketing problem - people are not aware
  • silo’ed agile adoption
  • lack of process management
  • lack o communication / cooperation between necessary individuals and teams
  • agile mostly fails due to lack of collaboration among teams

Product Ownership / Product Management

  • not clear plan for all developers / product owner
  • lack of clear communication with product mgr
  • lack of a product owner
  • too many changes to requirements
  • business user, IT operations and development team are not at all aligned - mismatched requirements
  • lack of single ringable neck. Input from user has to come from multiple regions
  • Not having a prioritized common backlog
  • i'm in product development surely agile doesn't apply to me!

Culture and people

  • not recognizing cultural implications
  • a change in mindset and culture
  • its not a thing you do or a tool. its a cultural change from planning to actually doing
  • underestimating thee importance of culture
  • too comfortable with traditional waterfall
  • people culture
  • people delay change
  • difficult to train an old dog new tricks
  • they (people who use agile) are a kind of 'religion'
  • command and control management
  • management knows best always
  • the team talks to the manager not each other

Fragile / Scrum-but / Scrummerfall

  • agile has become scrummerfall
  • agile fails when we try to jerry rig existing practices into the agile
  • agile is not a 'light' version of what people are currently doing
  • lack of discipline in development teams (process discipline)
  • if you do stand ups then you must be agile
  • if i do what the book says i must be agile
  • practices without principles
  • when development team does not see instant results they revery back to 'old way' and just keep some elements of agile, like scrums
  • dimensioning of iterations (too long or too short)
  • neglecting technical excellence

Organizational roadblocks

  • we cannot get a dedicated team to work on one project
  • agile fails due to lack of governance
  • decision from management to not use agile
  • make my financial controller more agile on budget management
  • need more testers and lack of PO focus
  • we don't have enough testers
  • costs are unknown - timeframe must be clear
  • bureaucracy
  • i document because my current process says i should
  • improper and heavily customized usage models
  • Lack of Process Management
  • The absence of logical structure
  • Process template upgrade and merge
  • tools are older than agile
  • changes in roles
  • my development process is too heavy

What failure modes have you experienced? Leave us a comment.


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Brad Swanson

Brad Swanson started his software career at age ten on the Apple IIe and is now a Certified Scrum Trainer® and Coach with eighteen years of experience in management, project and program leadership, product management, and software development.
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Brad Swanson

Brad Swanson started his software career at age ten on the Apple IIe and is now a Certified Scrum Trainer® and Coach with eighteen years of experience in management, project and program leadership, product management, and software development.

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