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October 23, 2018

9 Signs You’re Struggling with Agile Adoption

6 mins read

Your team adopted Agile to get better—to accelerate delivery and improve performance—but now that you’ve been at it for a few months, it doesn’t feel like it’s fulfilling the promise. You’re following the practices. You’ve got the routine down. You expected to transform to a new way of working, but it’s starting to feel like Agile is just a set of handcuffs, not the solution you were looking for.

Don’t worry. It’s not just you. One third of Agile efforts fail; in larger companies with more complicated structures, failure rates are even higher. 63% of respondents to a major industry survey blamed clashes between their company’s culture and Agile for the failures. Although these statistics are alarming, Agile can still help you improve. The best way to do that is to identify problems early. Here are nine warning signs your Agile adoption is in trouble.

Symptom 1: People are Complaining

One of the most common warning signs that your Agile adoption is struggling is that your team members are complaining. They don’t feel Agile is working for them; it’s an added burden to write user stories or Kanban tickets. They grumble about being in too many meetings, and too much overhead. They don’t see how the daily standup can make their work better and the routine feels repetitive.

Symptom 2: You’re Working More but Producing Less

Agile is very good at focusing a team on getting work done. Tasks and user stories move across the board, everyone talks about what they’re doing every day, and you’re all very busy. But are you producing something of value? When a team’s ability to focus and deliver outstrips an organization’s ability to prioritize and direct work, there’s a surplus of creative energy. Agile promises to direct this energy toward real value, but often, it’s focused on a churning swirl of busy-ness instead. You’re working harder, but not actually getting more done. This is common; it’s why there are so many blogs about “why Agile is broken.”

Symptom 3: Your Roles Aren’t Clear

Agile often upsets established roles and hierarchies, creating uncertainty. Some team members will gravitate to new roles—like the Product Owner or Scrum Master—while others become more entrenched in old habits. This is a recipe for confusion. Gaps appear between the old roles and the new ones, and, in those gaps, misunderstandings and feelings of fear grow. Some team members will adopt the new responsibilities and align to Agile patterns. Others will continue to do things “the old way.” Frustration results and you find yourself trapped between wanting to encourage self-organization and dictating a specific way of working.

Symptom 4: Other Departments are Slowing You Down

Agile helps you move faster, but working with other departments and teams can be a headache. Your team wants to integrate and learn on a regular cycle; other groups want upfront plans and designs. They cannot adjust to your new approach. Rest assured, it’s all part of the process. When you try to move faster, you will generate friction. Sometimes, it seems like it’s easier to slow back down than it is to change other departments and you feel stuck in old ways of working.

Symptom 5: You Don’t Know How Your Work Connects to the Strategy

Sometimes, it feels like your move to Agile traded eighteen-month “death march” projects for two-week “death sprints.” Agile focuses a team on a narrow window of time. As the scope shrinks, our attention is pulled lower and lower. This allows us to deliver high-quality work on a regular cycle, but a team can quickly become disconnected from the organization’s overall strategy. Why are we working on this feature right now? How are customers going to use it? Where does it fit into the revenue model? If your team is asking these kinds of questions, they’re disconnected, and they’re not making the best decisions.

Symptom 6: You are Missing Deadlines and Lacking Results

Agile promises greater efficiency and more reliable deliveries. That doesn’t mean it’s easy to achieve. Standard Agile approaches to planning and scheduling like those used by most Scrum teams are overly optimistic. Target dates based on average velocity (or average delivery rate) and high-level estimates of the size of a backlog are often wildly inaccurate. As you learn more, you try to adjust—after all, the Agile Manifesto emphasizes “responding to change over following a plan”—but now dates slip, deadlines get missed and results are non-existent.

Stakeholders want project plans and commitments about scope and timing. Agile doesn’t provide those things, and, if your colleagues are accustomed to them, Agile will be blamed for taking them away. Stakeholders should be growing accustomed to a regular pattern of incremental deliveries, but if they’re not seeing them, they’ll complain about the lack of results.

Symptom 7: You Have More Roadblocks Than Before

One of Agile’s greatest strengths is that it makes problems more visible, so you can fix them. Unfortunately, it can be a painful process at first. You might realize your team doesn’t have the skills you need or the tools you’re using are out of date. Issues seem to be everywhere, and you might not have the authority to fix them. That can be demoralizing – and not just for you, but for your whole team.

Symptom 8: It Feels Like You Aren’t Moving Fast Enough

Agile is a new way of working; it’s a new mindset. Your team needs time to learn the concepts, make them their own, and become accustomed to the new approach. They need to go through a natural cycle of forming, storming, norming, and performing. As this occurs, progress will slow, and frustration may increase. Team members spend time and energy working together to determine how best to make Agile effective. When there is insufficient time and attention devoted to this process, the storming and norming periods will extend. As the pressures of daily work compete with the effort to adopt a new approach, the team feels less cohesive and slows down.

Symptom 9: You Don’t Know What to Tell Your Boss

This might be the most painful symptom of all – especially if you championed Agile adoption. Agile is supposed to make teams better, but if you’re experiencing these symptoms, you won’t have any real benefits that you can highlight. How do you explain to your boss, the vice-president, or the C-Suite how Agile is going? How do you begin to quantify the benefits Agile can bring? Right now, it feels like you’re working harder, not smarter. You don’t want to highlight that.

What’s Next?

If you’ve been nodding along and made it this far, you might feel like giving up. Don’t. All Agile teams experience these symptoms in some form. The best teams overcome them and implement strategies that bring success. In my next blog post, “9 Methods to Get More from Your Agile Adoption,” I’ll provide the prescription you need to treat these symptoms and overcome the challenges you’re facing right now.

So now you’ve had a chance to review the symptoms and you’re ready to get your Agile adoption back on track. Learn how to make Agile work for your organization’s needs and goals by downloading our eBook: “A Guide to Making Your Agile Adoption Work for You.”

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