The most common mistakes people make with agile

28 January

When I am asked to coach teams in agile practices I am very interested as to why they want to go agile and what they think agile can do for them. A major misconception is that agile is going to be the silver bullet that makes everything better, faster, cheaper. The benefits of agile are many but it can fall prey to the following mistakes: 


Agile is just another methodology

A common misunderstanding people tend to have is that they think that they can implement an “agile methodology” without understanding the values and principles behind it. They try to DO agile instead of BE agile. The true benefit of agile lies in how we see value over product/project delivery and making continuous learning and feedback a must. This way of working is contrary to the traditional way people work and requires a significant change in mindset. 


No vision

While the input to most projects is a business case, very rarely in my experience, is there a collaborative visioning stage with stakeholder and team input. Also, very rarely has the team responsible for delivery been involved or exposed to the vision. In many projects, the business requirements specification kicks off the delivery with the scope being defined in full upfront. With no clear vision, business and execution teams work very hard to deliver low-value work that could easily have been deprioritised if they had used the vision as a filter. With the demand for faster delivery, it is vital that there is a clear vision to help teams make good decisions on what will add the most value in the shortest time because not everything is possible.


Poor upfront planning and no backlog refinement

Often teams start their iterations without the necessary kick off and planning. This lands up being a vicious cycle as the iteration planning meetings that should focus on defining the iteration goal, solutioning and task breakdown, rather focuses on defining the detail, writing acceptance criteria and estimation. How can teams realistically do a productive iteration planning session when the details of the stories still need to be defined? The result is that teams are continually having to sprint a marathon, they are tired and forecasting is challenging if not impossible. Backlog refinement should be done before the first iteration starts and on a regular basis during the iterations.


No visibility

Many agile teams use electronic tools, I know that for distributed teams this is necessary, but the problem with electronic tools is that they are hidden away and only reference when needed. Agile is about making the work we do visible and transparent, it needs to radiate information of progress, issues, status, always. This will require an investment of a few TV monitors for each location but if used effectively, it will be worth it!


Retrospectives don’t uncover core issues

Retrospectives can be frustrating for teams as nothing ever changes, it is key that, with good facilitation, the root cause of issues are uncovered so that measurable changes can be made that see improvements for the team. Even if teams are making the above mistakes, Retrospectives, done well, should uncover these for the team and supporting leaders to address.


Mistakes will be made, and that is okay. The benefits of agile will only be realised if there is first an understanding of the agile values and principles and there is a culture of continuous learning and feedback to identify and address these mistakes.


Post by Nicola Stephens