6 common mistakes in agile implementation

January 10, 2019

Author: Simi Singh


Agile is easy to understand but challenging to master. Have you rolled up your sleeves to implement Agile in your organisation, but during the implementation found yourself wondering what went wrong, where these frequent conflicts were coming from, and why deliverables are delayed even after such a process shift? If this sounds like you, then in all likelihood you are mismeasuring the success of your implementation, and you may have altogether misunderstood the basics of Agile.

It is crucial to understand that Agile requires a mindset shift from traditional ways of working to a people-focused setup. Avoiding this shift is a principle gateway leading you to Agile failure, which in turn results in reduced productivity.

In this post, we’ll take a look at six common mistakes that teams make in Agile implementation. I'll also explore how you can avoid them by being prepared and understanding the fine lines of these pitfalls.


1. Focusing on processes and not people

Agile is about empowering people so that they can be self-organised, motivated, and focused on delivering a valuable increment in the product. Essentially it means that providing decision-making power to the team is not a matter of choice but a requirement of the methodology. And by not empowering the teams, businesses misunderstand the core values that Agile incorporates.

One of the four principles in the Agile manifesto reads: “Individuals and Interactions over Processes and tools”

SCRUM, one of the most popular Agile frameworks, embraces Focus, Openness, Respect, Commitment and Courage as its core values. Can you make a guess which of these are possible without having the people-power? You guessed it right. None.

Foster individuals by providing them with openness so that they can focus. Create an environment for open collaboration and trust based on courage and respect.

2. Starting agile implementation without a plan

It’s common for organisations to get caught up in the trap of buzzwords without understanding the necessity and purpose of Agile. The business decides to launch headfirst into an agile transformation without a plan. Leading to haphazard and often partial implementation, derailing existing processes without onboarding the new ones, causing chaos for employees.

Bottom line: If you fail to plan, you plan to fail. As cliché as it sounds, it’s true. Do not start Agile implementation without having a well-defined action-plan.

3. Assuming that teams are agile experts

Assumptions come with their risks, and this one, in particular, is costly. If you do not have a plan as mentioned in the second point, in all likelihood, you will commit this too.

Living with the assumption that team members are well-versed with concepts and principles of Agile. As well as not training them prior to implementing Agile is a risk that may lead you to failure. Although people update themselves with the knowledge of the latest methodologies and best practices, translating this knowledge to implementation can be challenging without proper training or support. Leave no room for assumptions and ensure your teams are adequately trained in Agile principles.

4. Misusing agile for faster delivery

Agile Misconceptions

Being agile is different from agility. Using the literal meaning of agile as an excuse to modify its principles to deliver faster is a disaster. For companies that have operated in traditional models for years, change is uncomfortable. And due to a lack of knowledge or the pressure of delivering, leadership tends to emphasise on how delivering faster is important as we are following Agile.

In reality, Agile is about repeated iterations, inspecting each increment and adapting to any change in needs to deliver consistent value to the market. Increased speed and quantity of delivery may be byproducts of this process, but they are not the intent.

5. Lacking attention to the principles of agile

SCRUM is the most popular Agile framework. Its pillars are TransparencyInspection and Adaptation. Missing any of these can result in a failed implementation. Businesses must not forget these pillars at any cost, at any time, and should consistently look at incorporating these principles within their ways of working. Here are a few examples of how to question your practices and assess the impact of creating an Agile environment:

- Did you share the business goals with the team?

If not, you discarded transparency.

- Did you review the increment together with the team?

If not, you discarded inspection.

- Did you not want to change the technical approach because it’s yours, even though it failed?

If yes, you discarded adaptation.

Though the team may follow all ceremonies and have a well-groomed backlog. If the general practices are not aligned to the pillars, there is considerable risk productivity, and the ability of the team to deliver value will be impacted.

6. Micromanaging through ceremonies

This one is my favourite, as far as the flaws go.

Agile calls for a range of meetings known as ceremonies, where the team talks about their planned work, work completed, learnings, improvements, and so on. Each ceremony has a pre-defined agenda, and none of them is to track individual tasks. It’s important to clarify that businesses can schedule other meetings to track the status of tasks and discuss an individuals progress, but Agile does not specify doing so.

Each of the Agile ceremonies has a clear purpose, and it is essential that we stick to that purpose. They are intended to enable individuals to achieve the required outcomes for the product. It should not be used as a forum to assess individual capabilities or examine project timelines.

This does not mean that the team does not seek opportunities to enhance their skills. It’s just that it’s not part of agile. Agile focuses on bringing people together effectively and remove impediments, to deliver product outcomes consistently.

Companies can continue to follow the most efficient methods for project tracking and employee assessment without killing the purpose of Agile ceremonies. Which otherwise brings the team morale down and makes them less productive, ultimately negatively impacting the outcome.

Forbes interviewed 500+ senior executives globally and 82% of them believe that the ability to incorporate Agile approaches is important to implement strategic initiatives. (Source: Forbes Insights).

However, it is important to remember that Agile is designed to unveil hidden problems. If you continue to hide the issues and decide not to inspect and adapt, your transformation is bound to fail. By learning from these common mistakes, you can ensure you are approaching Agile transformation with the right mindset and increase your chances of success.



Author: Simi Singh, a Business Analyst at Arq Group

Agile Mindset