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Common Challenges Faced By First-Time Agile Organizations

Finally, you have decided to implement Agile. After a lot of deliberation on whether Agile is right for your organization, and fighting the demons of doubt you have taken the plunge. Maybe you have hired or decided to hire an Agile coach, sent your employees for Agile training, or hired a consultant to rewrite your operations manual. Now you are gearing up to reap the benefits of Agile. But somewhere in a corner of your mind, there is a nagging skeptic asking you whether your organization is ready for Agile. And truly, implementing Agile for the first time can prove to be a herculean task. But as they say, well begun is half done, or the forewarned is forearmed. So gathering information about things that could go wrong or challenges you could face while implementing Agile for the first time may make the difference between failure and success. So here are some things that you need to look out for as an organization implementing Agile for the first time.Expectations from Agile: This is the most common and often the biggest challenge while implementing Agile. It is very important to know what are the expectations from Agile or why has your organization decided to implement Agile. Agile is a project management methodology, and more importantly, it is a philosophy that prioritizes delivery over paperwork. However, one thing that Agile is not, is a cure-all remedy for all maladies. If there are deep-rooted problems in the organization which cannot be helped by Agile then implementing Agile might lead to more frustration. For example, if your organization is struggling to recruit or retain quality developers, or if your sales team is used to making excessive promises to close the deals, then Agile might not be the answer you are looking for. And it may be better to put the house in order before inviting Agile in.Resistance to change: As with anything new, the inertia of established routine is the biggest hurdle. People develop certain habits and practices around their way of work. This is a natural phenomenon which makes work easier and customized to people’s pace and ability. For example, a program manager may be used to conduct an hour-long meeting every day with team members from all teams present. This gives him a confidence of being in control of the projects and peace of mind that there are no unpleasant surprises around the corner. If this manager is told that he has to do away with this practice and rely on the daily standups or Kanban boards for overview, it may not be the most welcome suggestion. Here it is important that the employees are not just given a training in Agile methodologies but also an understanding of the Agile philosophy. Employees need to be explained why the organization has chosen to implement Agile and their fears and anxieties addressed.Residue from old methodologies: Similar to resistance to change but not quite the same. They say old habits die hard. And sometimes people may truly understand the importance of adopting Agile and genuinely try to implement it. But the spirit of old processes stays with them. So the retrospective is used to track the status of the tasks, instead of looking for challenges and learnings. Sometimes, teams may take ages to create product backlog and move into construction iterations because they are waiting for the requirements to finalize (remember, Agile is geared to handle changing customer requirements). Or sometimes, design documents are added as deliverables instead of treating them as artifacts and sprints are planned around design documents due to poor understanding of Agile.Too much focus on ceremonies and artifacts: When organizations implement Agile, the first thing they do is train some of their employees in Agile, that is one of the many methodologies in Agile. Most often it could be Scrum, Kanban or Lean. But it is important to understand that Scrum, Kanban, Lean or any other methodology are just a part of Agile. A way to implement Agile. And while ceremonies and artifacts are important in each of the methodologies, they do not define Agile. Just like knowing the rules of tennis won’t make you a better tennis player or knowing how to operate a vehicle, does not make you a better driver, knowing the ceremonies and artifacts of a certain methodologies does not make you a better Agilist. The real danger is of the core philosophy of Agile, of giving more value to delivery over processes and documentation, can be easily forgotten in the enthusiasm of implementing Agile. And a new methodology just replaces the old methodology without any gain in efficiency.Evaluating Agile implementation: Another challenge faced by organizations implementing Agile for the first time is evaluating the success of their Agile implementation. It is required to define parameters of success for Agile implementation and most often, very erroneously, companies choose form over content in this matter. Thus companies measure how many teams have moved to Agile, or how many projects are following the new methodology. They evaluate whether all ceremonies are being followed correctly and measure the number of stand-ups or retrospectives held. However, it would be ideal if companies rather evaluated how the implementation of Agile has helped them achieve the original goals of Agile implementation. For example, maybe reduction in the number of delayed deliveries or reduced customer escalations.Customers’ understanding of Agile: It is, without doubt, a necessary step in the implementation of Agile to let the customers know about the organizational changes taking place. And while the seamless transition is every organization’s dream, there are bound to be some hassles and slip-ups, as the teams adjust not just to a new routine but to a new mindset altogether. But more important than forewarning customers about the possible teething problems, is knowing whether customers understand what the implementation of Agile means to them. Do they still expect you to provide work plans and Gantt charts? Do they think Agile means a free pass to change the requirements as many times and as often as they wish? While Agile is geared towards adapting to changing customer requirements, financial and contractual constraints should be kept in mind and Agile has a very specific way of handling fixed cost contracts with a prioritization or elimination of story points. It is important to not just train the employees but also the customers in this process.While implementing Agile may be a step forward, it involves a lot of work and emotions and passions run high as people and processes collide. Hiring an Agile coach may help you maneuver these challenges but not without an effort from the entire organization, from the executives and senior management to the rookie programmers. As with any good harvest, the yield from Agile depends on the efforts that go into implementation.

Common Challenges Faced By First-Time Agile Organizations

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Common Challenges Faced By First-Time Agile Organizations

Finally, you have decided to implement Agile. After a lot of deliberation on whether Agile is right for your organization, and fighting the demons of doubt you have taken the plunge. Maybe you have hired or decided to hire an Agile coach, sent your employees for Agile training, or hired a consultant to rewrite your operations manual. Now you are gearing up to reap the benefits of Agile. But somewhere in a corner of your mind, there is a nagging skeptic asking you whether your organization is ready for Agile. And truly, implementing Agile for the first time can prove to be a herculean task. But as they say, well begun is half done, or the forewarned is forearmed. So gathering information about things that could go wrong or challenges you could face while implementing Agile for the first time may make the difference between failure and success. So here are some things that you need to look out for as an organization implementing Agile for the first time.

Challenges faced in agile implementation

Expectations from Agile: This is the most common and often the biggest challenge while implementing Agile. It is very important to know what are the expectations from Agile or why has your organization decided to implement Agile. Agile is a project management methodology, and more importantly, it is a philosophy that prioritizes delivery over paperwork. However, one thing that Agile is not, is a cure-all remedy for all maladies. If there are deep-rooted problems in the organization which cannot be helped by Agile then implementing Agile might lead to more frustration. For example, if your organization is struggling to recruit or retain quality developers, or if your sales team is used to making excessive promises to close the deals, then Agile might not be the answer you are looking for. And it may be better to put the house in order before inviting Agile in.

Resistance to change: As with anything new, the inertia of established routine is the biggest hurdle. People develop certain habits and practices around their way of work. This is a natural phenomenon which makes work easier and customized to people’s pace and ability. For example, a program manager may be used to conduct an hour-long meeting every day with team members from all teams present. This gives him a confidence of being in control of the projects and peace of mind that there are no unpleasant surprises around the corner. If this manager is told that he has to do away with this practice and rely on the daily standups or Kanban boards for overview, it may not be the most welcome suggestion. Here it is important that the employees are not just given a training in Agile methodologies but also an understanding of the Agile philosophy. Employees need to be explained why the organization has chosen to implement Agile and their fears and anxieties addressed.

Residue from old methodologies: Similar to resistance to change but not quite the same. They say old habits die hard. And sometimes people may truly understand the importance of adopting Agile and genuinely try to implement it. But the spirit of old processes stays with them. So the retrospective is used to track the status of the tasks, instead of looking for challenges and learnings. Sometimes, teams may take ages to create product backlog and move into construction iterations because they are waiting for the requirements to finalize (remember, Agile is geared to handle changing customer requirements). Or sometimes, design documents are added as deliverables instead of treating them as artifacts and sprints are planned around design documents due to poor understanding of Agile.

Too much focus on ceremonies and artifacts: When organizations implement Agile, the first thing they do is train some of their employees in Agile, that is one of the many methodologies in Agile. Most often it could be Scrum, Kanban or Lean. But it is important to understand that Scrum, Kanban, Lean or any other methodology are just a part of Agile. A way to implement Agile. And while ceremonies and artifacts are important in each of the methodologies, they do not define Agile. Just like knowing the rules of tennis won’t make you a better tennis player or knowing how to operate a vehicle, does not make you a better driver, knowing the ceremonies and artifacts of a certain methodologies does not make you a better Agilist. The real danger is of the core philosophy of Agile, of giving more value to delivery over processes and documentation, can be easily forgotten in the enthusiasm of implementing Agile. And a new methodology just replaces the old methodology without any gain in efficiency.

Evaluating Agile implementation: Another challenge faced by organizations implementing Agile for the first time is evaluating the success of their Agile implementation. It is required to define parameters of success for Agile implementation and most often, very erroneously, companies choose form over content in this matter. Thus companies measure how many teams have moved to Agile, or how many projects are following the new methodology. They evaluate whether all ceremonies are being followed correctly and measure the number of stand-ups or retrospectives held. However, it would be ideal if companies rather evaluated how the implementation of Agile has helped them achieve the original goals of Agile implementation. For example, maybe reduction in the number of delayed deliveries or reduced customer escalations.

Customers’ understanding of Agile: It is, without doubt, a necessary step in the implementation of Agile to let the customers know about the organizational changes taking place. And while the seamless transition is every organization’s dream, there are bound to be some hassles and slip-ups, as the teams adjust not just to a new routine but to a new mindset altogether. But more important than forewarning customers about the possible teething problems, is knowing whether customers understand what the implementation of Agile means to them. Do they still expect you to provide work plans and Gantt charts? Do they think Agile means a free pass to change the requirements as many times and as often as they wish? While Agile is geared towards adapting to changing customer requirements, financial and contractual constraints should be kept in mind and Agile has a very specific way of handling fixed cost contracts with a prioritization or elimination of story points. It is important to not just train the employees but also the customers in this process.

While implementing Agile may be a step forward, it involves a lot of work and emotions and passions run high as people and processes collide. Hiring an Agile coach may help you maneuver these challenges but not without an effort from the entire organization, from the executives and senior management to the rookie programmers. As with any good harvest, the yield from Agile depends on the efforts that go into implementation.

Parag

Parag Tipnis

Blog Author

Parag Tipnis, is a certified Project Management Professional (PMP) and Certified Scrum Master (CSM). Parag Tipnis has a MBA in IT and Systems and over 13 years of experience in helping large and small organizations in their project objectives.

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