4 Agile Pitfalls and How to Avoid Them

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Tuesday, September 3, 2019

Agile can deliver great results if managed correctly - but there are several pitfalls you need to avoid. Here are four key things to keep in mind.

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Agile management can offer a wide range of benefits to many key IT operations. For instance, in software development, it can help teams implement changes more quickly or change course to avoid any hurdles that emerge. Meanwhile, changing how organizations manage ongoing operations to keep up with a constantly-evolving environment can ensure that firms are well set to deal with unexpected developments the coming years may throw at them.

Focusing on agility can make the IT department more cost-effective and ensure it's better able to make a difference throughout an enterprise. In today's environment, IT is increasingly viewed as a driver of change rather than simply taking a back-office, supporting role - and agile management will be key to achieving this.

However, implementing such solutions is easier said than done. And in addition to the technical challenges that it poses when firms are looking to overhaul how they approach critical activities such as app development, there are also a range of cultural and management challenges to be overcome.

These can often be more likely to be responsible for any failures than mistakes in the technical execution of an agile strategy. Even if firms put in place the right processes and tools to deliver an agile environment, these will not be successful if the people using them aren't given the right direction and support they need to be effective.

Therefore, here are four key agile management pitfalls you need to avoid in order to ensure your IT team is able to deliver optimal results.

1. Your team don't have faith in each other

Communication issues are one of the biggest causes of failures for any IT project, and in an agile environment this will be exacerbated if individuals involved in a project aren't able to completely trust each other.

Any agile strategy will have a lot of people working on a lot of different things at the same time. In such environments, the occasional miscommunication is inevitable. But how these are handled when they do occur could be the difference between a successful project and one that fails. Therefore, it's vital to have regular reviews that identify where anything got lost in translation, what happened and what needs to be done to prevent a recurrence.

Leaders of these projects need to ensure everyone is invested in the strategy and those involved are all working toward the same goal. If people can't see this in their colleagues, it will quickly lead to a breakdown in trust, and this means more failures to communicate and different teams pulling in different directions. To avoid this, make sure everyone feels what they’re being asked to do is reasonable and they know who to talk to if they have any issues.

2. Your product owners don't have a clear vision

The product owner is ultimately responsible for the final outcome of the strategy, which may or may not be the same person who’s overseeing it daily. But regardless of their direct level of involvement, they need to have expertise in the domain, understand the needs of the business, and have a clear vision for how the technology will achieve success.

If the product owner lacks this, it’ll be easy for him or her to end up disrupting the process rather than supporting it. For example, if they’re preoccupied with requesting more additional features for a software program at a stage when the dev team should be focused on bug fixing, this can divide attention and lead to a lack of clarity about what individuals should be doing at any given time.

Constantly altering the requirements to fit a vague or inconsistent vision will also greatly frustrate people who may feel their efforts are going unappreciated. Instead, a good product owner needs to be user-focused, clearly manage expectations, and have a strong idea of what is and isn't possible.

3. Your scrum master isn't engaging in the right way

The Scrum Master - or whatever your particular brand of agile's equivalent is - will be the point person for all an agile project's key activities. But it's important they remember that agile is a collaborative approach, and their primary role is to be a facilitator for the team rather than a director.

Scrum Masters who take a dictatorial attitude and seek to micromanage all activities will undermine this approach and quickly earn the ire of other team members. However, in addition to damaging overall morale, it can also prevent the project from achieving its goals by adding confusion and moving the goalposts.

But on the other hand, it's also possible to go too far in the opposite direction. In this case, you can end up with a Scrum Master who's disengaged with the process, going through rote motions and not doing anything other than attending meetings and nodding along. This attitude will quickly spread to other members of the team, and will leave people confused as to what they should be doing.

A good Scrum Master instead needs to focus on removing obstacles in the path of the team. They should take on any issues or queries that arise and enable the technical team to do their work without distractions, while managing any interactions between the various groups involved - from business units to the dev team - to get the most out of them.

4. Your requirements are too complex or change too swiftly

Naturally, more complexity means more issues, but this shouldn’t be a major problem for an agile development. After all, the strategy is designed to be responsive and break up large tasks into smaller, more iterative processes.

However, sometimes ever-changing requirements can still prove overwhelming and lead to team members having to manage multiple issues simultaneously, or having to make changes that are much bigger than they’ve anticipated in a given sprint. For instance, if a major feature has its requirements changed late in the project, or a product owner rethinks what they want a certain function to do, this will put serious pressure on the dev team to make any adjustments and ensure they’re adequately tested, which can prove tricky when there are many moving parts in play.

To avoid this, it's vital to have an effective Scrum Master, or equivalent project manager, who can anticipate any changing requirements that’ll add complexity to a product, and work with business units and product leaders to manage expectations. If potential issues can be identified well in advance, plans can be made and resources brought in if needed to ensure any sprawling requirements or scope creep don’t overwhelm a team.

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