Agile is not always the silver bullet to your organisation’s transformation
As purists will tell you, the Agile Manifesto was published some 21 years ago to help combat the process heavy bureaucratic model of software development with a shift to a more flexible, dynamic model.
Starting out as a simple declaration of values, the Agile movement has grown into a methodology that has transformed the delivery of not just software product development, but departments all throughout the enterprise [i].
Many thousands of organisations, big and small can attest to the fact that their agile efforts have paid off in terms of speed, quality, and as a roadmap for growth and transformation. However, what is also striking is that statistics have painted a negative picture of Agile implementation, for example the CIO Findings Summit listed that over 53% of CIOs questioned regarded their agile development as “discredited “while three-quarters (75%) are no longer prepared to defend it [ii].
In this blog, we take a closer look at why implementing Agile (be it Agile, Scrum, Kanban, or any other flavour of methodology) has failed to deliver on its promises for many organisations, and why existing methodologies may be better suited for individual success.
1. Lack of Leadership endorsement
From our experience working across complex organisations, companies that have embraced Agile best have received strong support at senior management level from the outset of any transformation. These individuals have envisioned Agile as a strategic initiative and embodied the change in ways of working, cascading it throughout the wider organisation.
Leadership endorsement should holistically cover all aspects, from supporting funding of product development, to resourcing of key roles, to the tooling used to track progress and strategic reporting. When done successfully, this will typically result in teams who are motivated to self-organise, collaborate, and experiment to overcome obstacles.
When there isn’t senior endorsement present, true Agile business change cannot take place and it is common to see a misaligned approach driven out of pockets of the organisation, creating silos and confusion at both a Team and at a Value Stream level (iii).
2. Cultural adoption issues
Agile isn’t just a delivery methodology; it is a mindset. If the organisation retains a legacy top-down and command-control management ethos, the desired benefits of agile adoption will be significantly hindered. The biggest detractor for any organisation’s agile journey is that it only goes so far as to become “agile in name only”. What is meant by this is the scrum boards, Kanban and ceremonies are created, however the individuals working for it are thinking and acting in waterfall ways.
This is backed up by “The 10th State of Agile Report”, which recently stated the top causes of agile adoption failures revolve around the organisation’s culture being at odds with agile core values [iv].
3. Lack of tailored implementation
From our experience, we have witnessed many examples of organisations whose Agile strategy consisted solely of “lift and shift” from a previous company that was geared up to implement and deliver Agile successfully. These approaches often fail as they are pushing organisations to follow predefined practices without understanding their strengths, weaknesses, and what outcomes they are trying to achieve, meaning gaps can form. Training needs aren’t identified, role setup and structure aren’t considered, and tooling selection isn’t necessarily scrutinised.
It’s important to emphasise in the strongest terms that there is no one size fits all approach to Agile implementation and adoption. It is vital to tailor and customise an implementation to all aspects of the organisation, from its size to its operating model to its culture to allow the best chance of implementing sustainable change.
4. Industry compatibility
An Agile approach does not typically lend itself to certain highly regulated areas that have clear pre-determined requirements for productionisation. For example, nuclear power, healthcare and construction industries typically have clear product life cycle timelines and requirements typically do not change mid-way through delivery [v].
As a result, these industries would naturally not benefit from a “fail fast, learn fast” way of working. Complete products can only be delivered to the end user when they have been rigorously tested and signed off, and therefore, a traditional Waterfall would suit these examples better.
Quick wins are certainly a motivator for the Team and the wider organisation. However, the constant push for continuous delivery, continuous deployment and continuous integration with a multi-year evolving roadmap can make agile delivery turn into a continual race with no finish line.
If the delivery teams are not able to manage requirements and self-organise effectively, burnout can quickly manifest across the project Team, leading to lower morale, greater attrition, and impact on end delivery. This effect is exacerbated by the shift to remote working
It’s clear Agile is certainly not always a silver bullet to your organisation’s transformation. However, although there have been many reasons listed why Agile implementation has failed, for many enterprises it has led them onto pathway of successful delivery, and we believe it is still a worthwhile and necessary endeavor.
So, to summarise, if asked if Agile should be implemented: It depends on the organisation itself assessed against key factors:
- What is the appetite for change? Is the organisation well versed in change?
- Is Leadership fully endorsing the Agile transformation?
- Has the Leadership vision been translated onto the delivery Teams and Business?
- Is the product lifecycle clear with well-defined requirements?
Through interviews, workshops and maturity assessments with key stakeholders, the methodology can then be recommended with confidence, whether that be Agile, Waterfall or a hybrid solution.