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7 simple ways to fail at agile

“7 simple ways to fail at agile” on CIO, October 25, 2017.

No new agile program aims for failure. Yet poor planning by an unprepared and ill-informed team that fixes its sights on unrealistic goals will usually doom a project from the very start.

Want to ensure that your agile initiative will collapse into a heap of twisted hopes and dreams? Well, here are seven simple steps to help you get started:

1. Plan loosely and chaotically

One of the great myths surrounding agile is that planning and structure aren’t essential. Yet that’s simply not true. “Agile is not an excuse for chaos or no management,” says Alan Zucker, founding principal of Project Management Essentials, a firm that provides project management and agile services.

2. Form an unstable, poorly selected team

Zucker believes that all agile teams should be self-sufficient. “In other words, they don’t need to rely on other specialty teams to complete their work,” he says. He recommends looking for team candidates who are generalists. “The new industry term is ‘T-shaped’ or ‘E-shaped’ resources,” Zucker says. “T-shaped resources have an area of expertise — or depth — but can work in other technical domains as well.” E-shaped resources, on the other hand, possess multiple specialties.

3. Communicate as cryptically and infrequently as possible

Agile teams with poor communication attributes are aren’t usually successful. “Agile prefers colocated teams where the flow of communication and information is continual,” Zucker says. “Agile wants regular communication with the product owner and within the team.”

4. Don’t fully understand the project’s scope or focus

Unlike most traditional projects, an agile initiative’s scope is not set in stone. “For agile projects, the product owner sets the vision and roadmap,” Zucker says. “The vision and roadmap guide the development process.”

The roadmap, Zucker explains, will be disaggregated into a series of incremental builds, each providing value to the customer. The items to be developed by the agile team are maintained in a product backlog, a prioritized list of things to be delivered. With each increment, the team pulls items from the top of the list to deliver to the customer.

5. Test poorly and haphazardly

…Many agile teams use test-driven development practices, in which test cases are written before the code. “They also use automated tools to maximize the number of tests that can be run on the code,” Zucker days. “Agile also expects close collaboration with the product owner, enabling the team to deliver exactly what was expected.”

6. Fail to win management and staff support

…Zucker concurs. “Employees need to know that management will ‘let go’ and allow them to be self-managing,” he says. “They also need to see that they can fail small and not be punished.”

7. Disregard customer feedback

…Another important point to remember is that the agile team will use — and rely on — customer feedback when it goes into its retrospective at the end of iteration. “In the retrospective, the team analyzes what went well in that build increment and what can be improved,” Zucker says. “Changes to the internal process are [then] implemented in the next build cycle.”