10 Most Common Mistakes in Agile Adoption.

They did it again. Companies are making the same mistake during agile adoption over and over again. We’ve made some of these mistakes as well. If by any chance you see something familiar in the list below, read on and find out why it is a mistake.

1. Start With a Tool

It is not always bad to start with a tool. If you want to dig a pit, you most likely want to find a shovel first. You can dig manually, without a tool, but it will take enormous amount of time.

Agile development is something different. A tool will not provide immediate effect and will not solve most of the problems by the mere fact of its existence. Moreover, you will put effort into tool adoption, shading more important goal — agile adoption.

We encounter this mistake quite often. People come to TargetProcess web site, register for a trial, install the tool and try to use it. They start to ask questions and it’s getting clear that they have no experience in agile development neither agile process established. Sometimes they don’t know what a Burn Down Chart is and how to use it. Sometimes they know nothing about iterative development. It happens. The only piece of advice we can give is to get rid of the tool and dig deeper into agile domain: become familiar with basic concepts and try some process with simplest tools like whiteboard and sticky notes. Then decide whether you need a more sophisticated tool.

2. Start With a Process

Starting with a tool is obviously a bad idea. Most companies start with a process. It is a less serious, but a more common mistake. So you read about Scrum, it looks easy initially. You apply all Scrum practices and after some sprints see that development somewhat improved, but not as drastically as expected. Excitement goes away and process degrades.

What are the reasons? Why has it failed? Most likely people didn’t get the core values of agile development. Process is the mechanics, while values are the core of any agile adoption. The first thing any company should do before trying any process is to focus on agile values such as: communication, collaboration, feedback, trust and passion. It is nearly impossible to apply a good development process if you compromise any of these values. As an agile champion you should enforce these changes. Sometimes these are company-wide changes, sometimes team-wide changes, but still it is absolutely required to apply them.

The fastest way to adopt agile is to start with people and culture. I can’t stress this enough. And it is quite obvious! But why so many companies (including ours) have made this mistake? It is blazingly hard. You will have to change culture, and that will be met with a resistance. You will have to change people and most likely you’ll have to fire some of them. It is a hard and complex process, there are not so many people in the world who know exactly how to apply it. Most of us have no such experience and skills, so we fear this change. We try to start with something easier, something we know. We try to start with a process, with a tool, or with hiring an external consultant (which is good, but not enough). We should fearlessly start with the hardest but the right thing.

Agile manifesto is very deep indeed. If you read it carefully and set the principles as a cornerstone of agile adoption, you will success eventually.

3. Development Practices Are Enough

Extreme Programming is a very cool agile software development process. I think it includes Scrum. Many people may disagree, but in general if you do XP fully, you don’t need Scrum. Interestingly, that developers tend to apply technical practices like TDD, Continuous Integration and even Pair programming, but pay less attention to such things as communication, integral team, having customer on-site and retrospectives.

Why is it like that? Developers are techies, and techies like technical stuff, while often disrespect social stuff. Many of them are introverts, they don’t like meetings, they don’t like to chat with people extensively. They do like to communicate about technical things and do that with passion. However, communication with customer is not about Clojure or fancy lambda expressions, it is about business. It’s business problem domain, and it’s not that interesting for them.

Again, agile is more about people and less about technology. Many practices are focused on people. Pair programming makes for more communications between developers. Customer on-site makes for more communications with end user. Retrospectives boost communication about team, processes, etc. It is absolutely required to apply practices that focus on communication, adoption and fast feedback. It is absolutely required to pay more attention to people, improve their skills, improve technical excellence and shift mindset.

4. Scrum is Enough

Is it possible to adopt agile without technical practices at all? No, it is not. However, it is a less severe mistake than the previous one. If you apply Scrum right, you will inevitably decide to try some technical practices at a retrospective meeting.

The true mistake will be to rely on Scrum solely as a process that will solve all the problems. It can do that, but only if you are open-minded and willing to try various things: from pair programming to BDD. Best coaches believe that Scrum should be adopted in tight pack with XP technical practices. This is a good advice to follow.

5. CSM Knows Everything

Certified Scrum Master is not a demigod. Yes, he has some basic knowledge about Scrum, but in many cases that’s just it. He may have no hands-on experience neither strong theoretical background. He should not act as a PM and prescribe what to do and what not to do. Team should decide. The only real things SM should care about are teams impediments and meta-process. By meta-process I mean a set of rules/procedures that allow team to reflect and improve existing development process.

Common manifestation of this mistake is phrases like “I insist we should change iteration duration from 1 month to 2 weeks” or “I strongly believe we should keep doing code reviews”. It might be that he is right, but it does not matter, the language speaks for itself. There should be no “I” in SM phrases, there should be “We”. Otherwise agile adoption will fail. If SM doesn’t believe in team, the team as such will not gel and will degrade eventually.

6. CST Knows Everything

Certified Scrum Trainer is not a God. Yes, he knows a lot and has a decent experience. There is a high chance that he may be a capable person to help with agile adoption, but only help. He may know nothing about your domain, about your unique situation and about root problems of your organization. If you rely solely on CST and delegate agile adoption to him, it will fail.

Everything should start from the culture and people. It means everything should start with you. You should share agile values and support CST with all the passion and force you have to make agile adoption a success.

7. Functional Departments Should Survive

You are starting a new agile project. Design manager delegated one designer to the team, but refused to re-allocate his desk. QA Manager delegated several testers, but refused to re-allocate them. Developers sit together, but all the other team members are separated by walls. Sounds familiar? Most likely there is no cross-functional team there, and agile adoption will suffer.

There are absolutely no reasons to keep functional departments and functional teams. People should work together as a team whenever it’s possible. Definitely, when you have testers in US and developers in India, it is hardly possible. But it is just plain dumb to NOT have cross-functional team if everybody sits in the same building.

Cross-functional teams have so many positives, and no negatives. With cross-functional teams you improve communication, reduce functional competition, simplify problem solving, enable ad-hock process improvements and creativity. Again, there is NO reason to work with old traditional functional teams.

8. We Can Live Without Customer Feedback

Agile is mostly about fast feedback. Feedback from customers is the most important. If you build something with wrong methods, that’s bad. But if you build a wrong thing, that’s just terrible. Why? You will have to throw it away later. Regular (and fast!) feedback from customer is like a sailing direction in a bay with reefs. You constantly correct the course based on wind change and other factors. Customer is the most valuable team member and should be treated accordingly.

Extreme programming recommends to have customer on-site. While this is a great tip, it is rarely practical. Still, you have customer available remotely all the time to answer questions and communicate about a product. If you can’t have feedback in a reasonable amount of time, agile methods will not work. You may build a technically perfect product, but yield zero customer’s satisfaction in the end.

9. Self-organization is Easy

Scrum heavily advertises self-organization. Complexity theory has something to say about it as well. Self-organization is based on a set of (simple) rules, non-linearity and interactions between agents (in our case between people). As a Scrum Master you should just set some (widely known) rules, protect the team and expect the team to self-organize. Right? In reality it is not that simple and no, it will not work out. I’ve never seen self-organization working with just a set of rules.Self-organization in a software development team needs more, it needs leadership. I believe that self-organization can’t happen without leadership.

Pure self-organization assumes that a leader will emerge. That’s not happen frequently, in many cases team will stagnate and fluctuate around mediocrity without a leader. Leader sets a vision and pushes team to the right direction. Leader empowers confidence, passion and self-reflection. This leads to self-organization eventually.

What happens when leader leaves the team? In most cases it falls back or degrades slowly. This is a clear sign that self-organization was not there. True self-organized team will keep its values and progress without a leader.

10. False Goal (e.g. Customers asked us to be agile)

If you have a customer who insists on agile process for his project, you should praise Heaven for this gift. Use this chance as a turning point for agile adoption.

Unfortunately, many companies just try to “emulate” agile adoption with a desire to get this contract. They send some people to CSM courses, purchase an agile project management tool and apply Scrum superficially. They do all that without deep goals and culture change. They do all that without passion. They do all that with a false goal. Almost inevitably there will be the following symptoms:

  • Sprints fail. Always.
  • No commitment.
  • Scrum Master assigns people to user stories.
  • Testing phase in each sprint.
  • etc.

The result of “false goal” agile adoption is failure and a long-term disappointment with agile software development.

I encourage you to share another mistakes in agile adoption!

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