Organizations have been implementing Agile since late 90’s. One of the more recent and most reliable stats is from 2017 PMI Pulse on the Profession stating “71 percent of organizations report using agile approaches for their projects”. That same publication elaborates that only 21% of projects are done in Agile alone and another 20% in hybrid approaches that combine waterfall and Agile. So why not more? If this approach is more successful in managing successful projects (double success rate vs waterfall), why isn’t everyone using it? The answer is because not all organizations are able to realize benefits of Agile. In fact many are struggling.
The Big Picture
There are many problems reported in the annual State of Agile report but the biggest and most obvious ones organizational culture, resistance to change, and lack of executive buy-in. So lets unravel some of the common reasons when Agile is not bringing expected results. And please permit me to be very transparent on this topic. My intent is not to be disrespectful. I simply want to be honest and open so we can get to the root cause fast.
#1 You expected results without cultural change
Your expectations were incorrect. You organization perceived Agile to be a “faster way of working” like another execution process… a quick easy win to increase team productivity.
I am sorry you cannot achieve results by simply “doing Agile”. You have to “be Agile” first. You have to change your culture. You have to change the entire organization, not just execution teams. Fix this by embracing the mindset, not just the practice.
#2 You expected results while protecting your authority & control
You believed implementing Agile will only impact team dynamics. Your organization didn’t want to change how they manage, budget, structure, etc.
I am sorry you cannot achieve full results without giving teams control to self-manage. You need empower teams so you (manager / director) stop being a bottleneck and they can move quickly. Fix this by evolving management roles and get out of team’s way to get work done.
#3 You compromised & didn’t implement it completely
You believed you can implement some of the principles and not others. After-all, some of the Agile principles are “not compatible” with how your business operates.
I am sorry but Agile principles are not a menu to pick from based on your preference. They are a closely related set of dynamics backed by research and behavioural psychology. Removing one is like believing in principles behind high school math but denying algebra principles because those are too much work. Do them all or don’t do them at all. Fix this by properly embracing all principles
#4 You took a “read it and implement it” shortcut
You believed you simply need to send a few people to the two-day training and they can smoothly jump-start Agile in your organization (especially if you think of Agile as simply an execution process).
I am sorry but that’s an equivalent of expecting to drive a car well after reading a book about it. We’re are talking about mindset shifts and human dynamics. You can’t simply learn them. You need coaches and experts to come alongside to do this right. Fix this by hiring the right people (e.g. Agile coaches) to help you.
#5 You are not successful at scaling Agile pass a few teams
This one really needs its own article. Scaling Agile is hard yes. But not because there are no reliable ways to do it. Rather, because they clash with how the organization operates and the organization is not willing to change. This is not about adopting a hybrid or adaptive approach.
The biggest reason why scaled Agile implementations fail is because we misunderstand what they really are. Really, they are organizational transformations. That’s extremely difficult because it cuts across all layers financials / management / people / processes / technology / data and more.
I am sorry but to do this right, you need people with relevant skills and experience that can show you how to “integrate” Agile at scale in your current organizational context without compromising the very principles Agile is based on. Fix this by hiring proper Agile transformation experts like Enterprise Coaches and consultants.
There is one big way we Agile experts failed you
Unfortunately these is one important failure we Agile experts (generalizing here) need to own up to here… We did not provide clear realistic expectations of the scale of change required to achieve this Agile transformation.
Perhaps some of us forgot it as we passionately presented benefits of Agile. Perhaps we oversold it so you would commit to it without knowing the full cost. Perhaps we simply didn’t know the complexity of your organization. Whatever the reason, lack of executive buy-in indicates our failure in articulating the effort or commitment required. I believe as servant leaders we need to own this and fix it.
Though personally, I may not necessarily have done the above (we definitely double down on this one at VT), I completely acknowledge this is a problem in our industry.
And yes if you need help with this challenge, either through training on coaching / consulting, feel free to reach out to us. We’ll be happy to help.