Agile is emerged as a philosophy to run today’s digital organization with a set of principles to refine business culture and management discipline. However, Agile transformation is not an easy journey, Can Agile fail? What are the biggest problems facing people or companies when they decide to go Agile -not just doing Agile, but being agile? What are the pitfalls to fail you, and how can you learn from your or other’s mistakes and make a continuous improvement?
Agile doesn’t fail; people do: Agile is not a process you can implement but rather a change of culture. It sometimes fails because this is really difficult to nurture, and companies don’t realize benefits quickly enough. In the context of moving from traditional method to agile, failure always happens due to poor management. Regardless of the process, agile or not, to succeed in Agile, the entire organization has to be aligned. Agile is a way of delivery. The problem of failure is not knowing enough to assess what is actually better, and having a rigid process that’s developed by people outside the team, or it’s caused by a misunderstanding about Agile principles. Often Agile is used as a synonym for “unprofessionalism,” “we don’t do estimates, we are agile,” “there is no documentation, we are agile,” etc. Overall speaking, it is the lack of periodic health check in terms of team level, program level, and enterprise level adoption.
Too much focus on individual features vs. wholeness: One of the most common failure with Agile projects comes from the tendency to think in terms of individual features vs. wholeness, which leads to all kinds of problems. Look at agile efforts from the business side, misalignment is a common failure. The thread from features to products to portfolios to business and product roadmap stray to separate paths leaving a well managed individual agile product efforts out in the weeds in relation to the other elements. It’s so easy to lose sight of the big picture. People cherry pick easy steps or processes of Agile but lose the sight of ultimate business goals. Thus, they can’t reap the full benefits of agile. In a nutshell, the poor assessment of where you are and where you are going to, combined with a bad planning on how you are going to achieve your goals.
All failures should be learning experience, fail fast and fail forward: No one like failures, but often failure knocks our door before success. Some failures are good and some are bad. Regardless of if it’s good or bad, the outcome is not anticipated and expected. If you never fail, you are never taking any risks, or you are calling things successful that weren’t. Hence, one should not be paralyzed if there is a possible failure, and you should investigate it early and find out whether or not it can be addressed. There is no value in failure itself, be it fast or slow. The value is how you respond to failure, and how you respond is dependent upon what you learn from it. Only then can “failing fast” be utilized as a tactical advantage.
There are many pitfalls on the way. One of the most important fundamentals of Agile is the emphasis of producing “Learning” Teams - not only learning about the products you are developing but also learning how best to work as a team. The organizational leadership should embrace agile philosophy, building agile practices iteratively and becoming a learning organization, fail fast and fail forward.