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Why Agile Fails: Sometimes It’s the People

You’ve read the books, analyzed the options, and gotten team agreement, yet you’re still having issues switching to agile business practices. What’s going wrong? Why are you unable to get over the hump? Recently, I came across a couple of articles tackling this very problem. Brad Buhl on the Credera Blog and James Shore both suggest some excellent reasons why sometimes agile fails. The common theme – sometimes it fails because of the people involved.

No Clear Product Owner

Despite your best efforts, if you do not have a clear Product Owner, you might as well forget about it. Generally speaking, a Product Manager’s job is to be the voice of the customer, while the Product Owner is the one who has the authority to prioritize requirements for development. The key here is making sure your Product Owner has decision making authority. It’s the Product Owner’s role which is “most needed in the Agile model”. It serves as the hub and it happens to be the most overlooked role in the agile lifecycle.

Talking the talk, but not walking the walk

Despite best efforts, if you fail to adopt every aspect of the method you’ll end up failing. “Agile” teams that fail to actively work in shared workspaces, emphasize high-bandwidth communication, don’t have on-site customers, or work in cross-functional teams aren’t really agile. They may be working in short cycles and may generally feel good about their work. These teams say they’re Agile, but they’re just planning (and re-planning) frequently. Essentially they “are having dessert every night and skipping their vegetables. By leaving out all the other stuff–the stuff that’s really agile—‘they’re setting themselves up for rotten teeth, an oversized waistline, and ultimate failure. They feel good now, but it won’t last.’”

In the end, agile is supposed to be as the name suggests…agile. With that in mind, it’s important to not get tied up into titles and organizational structure and instead focus on the ability to empower the decision making process through clear responsibility and accountability. Additionally, while it may be human nature to pick and choose the best bits of the methodology, it’s important to remember that agile only works when the whole method is adopted. So despite best intentions, sometimes it’s not the methodology that’s failing, it’s the people.

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