Challenges In Agile Project Delivery | Inflectra

Challenges In Agile Project Delivery

February 15th, 2019 by inflectra

The blog is produced in conjunction with Journey Into Agile With Inflectra - A Free Webinar Course.

The earlier discussion of the five STAGE principles of application lifecycle management covered the reasons why agile may not be a cure-all. Just like physical exercise, it works only if individuals work at it as expected. In other words, failure to adopt good agile practices which promote the test-and-learn approach with its foundational principles of transparency, inspection, and adaptation, will prevent agile from becoming the solution.

The Role Of Strategic Thinking:

One of the foundational elements for agile’s success is strategic product ownership. But, what does strategic thinking imply? It involves the product owner’s attempts to research the changes in the marketplace. This research may employ SWOT analysis, where strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats are carefully evaluated. Then, the decision-making leads to evaluating, whether to organically develop or buy a commercial, off-the-shelf product. If the product owner role is not having the required competency to maintain a healthy backlog or shoulders the additional responsibility as a scrum master, then, the agile approaches are not set to succeed. This is due to the fact that the strategy is not broken down into the portfolio- and product-offerings creating the measurable organizational value. For more information on how the value from the strategy is mapped to progress checks in the daily standup, please check the webinar recording. 


Delivering Value:

Agile projects’ ability to deliver value through the rapid prototyping and adaptation depends on the team’s ability to self-organize and own their commitments. The failure to get adequate training and coaching impairs the team’s ability to self-organize. For instance, when a user story is discussed and committed, it is the team itself that comes up with the required tasks that need to be done. This approach differs in how some plan-driven project managers create and assign tasks to the team members. This team’s ownership to produce value without compromising quality and to operate within the iteration’s constraints is a fundamental shift in both the strategic and operational thinking.


Four Values Delivered From Agile Project Management:

Regardless of the framework applied, agile project management should drive four critical values. By adopting the principle of technical and commercial teams collaborating on a frequent basis and using working software as the primary measure of progress, agile projects should increase value to the customer and quality to the software. By eliminating waste and focusing on architecture and technical debt maintenance, agile projects should also reduce the cost of operations and reduce time to market.

This mindset of adapting to change is not easy. Frequently, people abuse agile approaches to welcoming change as late as possible. They think that scope can be modified at any point! Imagine how the team would feel adapting changes on Thursday when the delivery is due on Friday! If agile promotes working software as the primary measure of progress, how can requirements be allowed to change a few days before delivery? These interpretations are incorrect.


Causes of Agile Project Failure:

There are at least six patterns that can lead to an agile project’s failure:

  1. The lack of a strategic vision on the product being developed: If product owner doesn’t continuously groom the backlog and keep enough stories in a “Get Ready” state for sprint planning, then, agile will fail as the team can’t deliver continuous value, gets demotivated, and loses credibility in front of the leadership.
  2. Team’s lack of self-organization: If the team doesn’t progress to and remain in the norming and performing stages, then, the team seeks constant guidance on work to be committed. Slowly and steadily, the team’s ability to deliver value will diminish and the team will disintegrate.
  3. Management culture that impedes the team's ability to deliver: There are many ways this management culture can manifest. For instance, adding work to an individual team member outside of sprint commitments misaligns the priority.
  4. Fear of Failure: The team may be on "training wheels" when it comes to new technology. Or, the organization’s hierarchy itself may be an impediment to agile transformation. The roles of product owner or scrum master may be combined creating a conflict of interest. These are all examples of how the team may not have the courage to try experiments. When fear of failure exists, agile teams will become fragile.
  5. The team's inability to keep the dashboards accurate/updated: The metrics may be manipulated and the lack of transparency in the backlog size, velocity delivered, and technical debt maintenance will lead to disagreements disrupting agile project’s success.
  6. Functional Silos: When multiple agile teams exist, and their work product must be integrated, then, the continuous siloes around functional organization will continuously haunt value delivery. Combined with the lack of transparency, we will continue to create a perfect recipe for failure.


Four Ceremonies

While leadership across every step of agile transformation is critical in address these challenges, agile promotes four important ceremonies that the team can use to monitor and address these challenges. In fact, the agile coach, scrum master, product owner, or the agile project manager should understand the importance of these ceremonies to effectively use them to keep the agile projects continue to increase customer value, increase product quality, reduce the cost to operations, and reduce time-to-market!

Four ceremonies are: Sprint Planning, Daily Standup, Review, and Retrospective.

During the Sprint Planning, the team estimates and commits on the stories they can deliver based on the prioritized MVP stories in the product backlog. The progress on their commitment is supported by the daily standup. In the review at the end of the iteration, the team showcases the work completed for the agile team and other stakeholders. The agile team then conducts a retrospective on what they have learned, what could be improved, what needs to stop, etc. It should be noted here that the review sessions are product focused, whereas the retrospective is process-focused.

According to the 2018 state of the Agile Survey released by Version One, these four ceremonies continue to be rated higher. While 90% claim using a daily standup, only 85% claim doing the retrospective, and 80% claim doing the review. In order to maximize the benefit, agile projects should not compromise on these ceremonies. 


So, what are the challenges to upholding these four ceremonies? What are the prerequisites, who are the responsible owners, and what approaches can be tried to introduce fun while emphasizing the value of these ceremonies?

For more information on these areas, please review the webinar recording.

Dr. Sriram Rajagopalan is a project management guru with extensive software development and project management experience in many industries. Dr. Rajagopalan lead Inflectra's agile project management training course: Journey Into Agile With Inflectra - A Free Webinar Course

Four Ceremonies Of Better Agile Project Delivery