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4/7/2014
09:06 AM
Erik Weber
Erik Weber
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4 Signs You're Doing Agile Development Wrong

If you're not getting what you want from Agile, these signs might explain why.

Agility is the ability for development teams to respond quickly, deliver value sooner, and change your product along with changing customer needs and market opportunities. Implementations of agility vary widely, but we see a common problem: Most organizations, at least initially, get mired in the details of various Agile techniques. They start implementing a new framework, such as Scrum, and soon they're spending a lot of time and energy discussing the intricacies of pair programming, test-driven-development, or the mechanics of a Sprint Review. We lose the forest for the trees. 

Here are four warning signs that you're taking your eye off of the big picture and are at risk of not getting what you need out of "this Agile thing":

 1. Failure to "get done"
If it takes you longer than a few weeks to turn an idea into a ready-for-production feature, you are not Agile -- full stop. You have to be producing completed, working, tested, potentially releasable product every few weeks.

[Has the original intent of Agile been lost? Read The Corruption Of Agile Development.]

No need to read any more of these warnings, because getting to "done" every few weeks is the basic building block of Agile teams. Without this capability it is very expensive and likely just not possible to respond quickly to changing customer needs.

The biggest culprit causing this problem is, "We use Agile techniques for development, and then do all the testing at the end." While I'm sure that improves your development practices, this still misses the mark of being Agile. Agile teams should include testing and everything else that has to be done in order to make the product shippable as often as possible. Agile drives all the risk of product development into each short iteration, and allows for an empirical process.

(Image: JimG, Cambridgeincolor.com)
(Image: JimG, Cambridgeincolor.com)

 2. Failure to launch
If you haven't actually released your software to production -- and on to customers -- for three or more months, you are missing the big picture.

Once the organization masters getting to "done," the next challenge is convincing folks actually to release the product to customers earlier than they've typically wanted to. The "we must have all the features" mindset is pervasive among traditional product managers and executives, and it's a trap. Waiting until all the features are complete compounds market risk at a high rate.

Look at it this way: If getting to "done" limits the product development risk to each iteration, then actually releasing to customers early and often limits the market risk overall. If you release a version of your product often, you can test the market often and make changes as needed. 

I once worked on a project involving over a dozen teams and hundreds of people creating a cloud-based data-gathering and control system for efficient energy use in buildings. We were able to get to "done" every few weeks, and were doing a great job producing exactly what was asked of us. However, the business decided not to release the product for over a year, and by the time it did, it discovered there wasn't really that big of a market for the product. What a shame -- we could have discovered that after only a few weeks.

 3. Scope stagnation
If the features you set out to build are the exact ones you end up building, you're not getting all that you can out of Agile.

It's hard to get honest feedback on the product, and it's hard to hear it. This is exactly the point. Agility accepts that we can't possibly know everything up front, and so the best way to create the most valuable end product is to get that product into users' hands as quickly and as often as possible, and then listen to them. Gather market data, get individual feedback, and change up the features in the product. This is what Agility is all about.

I distinctly remember a project building a mobile app where the end users gave us excellent feedback. Every few weeks we got to "done," showed them our product, and released it to them if they wanted. However, their feedback for new and different features clashed with what management thought we ought to be building, so we never had the support to change the scope of the project. We had the users telling us exactly what they wanted -- this should be project management nirvana -- but it was blocked by locked-in scope.

 4. Unhappy developers 
If the people in product development are unhappy, something's wrong with your Agile process -- and it's probably one of the three points above. 

Getting to "done," releasing something to users so we can actually see it in use, and building products that customers love are hugely motivating for people who love to develop products. The many short feedback loops built into a highly functioning Agile product development environment feed this motivation and keep employees engaged in their work and happy. 

If people aren't happy with the state of agility in the organization, something just isn't quite right. Happiness is both a goal and a symptom of a modern Agile business. Grow a culture where the people doing the work are central to the organization, and carefully feed this system to keep people happy. Happy people build great products.

Can the trendy tech strategy of DevOps really bring peace between developers and IT operations -- and deliver faster, more reliable app creation and delivery? Also in the DevOps Challenge issue of InformationWeek: Execs charting digital business strategies can't afford to take Internet connectivity for granted.

Erik Weber is a Professional Scrum Trainer and the Director of Centare's Agile Practice. For the last 10 years, Erik has been a developer, tester, and project manager, in both waterfall and Agile environments of varying success. As a business and executive coach, Erik enjoys ... View Full Bio

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Justin Hunter
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Justin Hunter,
User Rank: Apprentice
7/17/2014 | 3:35:13 PM
Re: Agile or...
I have seen a dozen if not more large orgnaizations and they claim to be agile but in reality they are a hybrid of what they want to create. Most of these companies need to understand the basics first. Good blog here about agile framework. 
drice01
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drice01,
User Rank: Apprentice
4/29/2014 | 3:27:02 PM
Re: Agile or...
My guess is that they are probably not going to get done whether they call it agile or whatever approach they had previously.  Yes, they may deliver on-time and on-budget maybe... but was it really done, did it include the highest value features, was there positive market feedback and impact.  I think not.

 

Agile is the only way to deliver high quality features to market that people will actually use and enjoy.  As many referenced, it requires more than a high performing scrum team.  It requires an organization who understands there is huge business value through investing in a more modern approach to business.  People first, then process and then tools.
jagibbons
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jagibbons,
User Rank: Ninja
4/14/2014 | 8:58:16 PM
Re: Agile Executive Pitch Template
Agreed, 2h74webere. The very notion is a "body of knowledge" is contrary to the Agile Manifesto.
jagibbons
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jagibbons,
User Rank: Ninja
4/14/2014 | 8:57:18 PM
Re: Pointed portrayal of agile development
You are right Charlie, in that the feedback loop is critical for the agile framework to succeed. Without continual communication, agile isn't anything more than waterfall with new terms applied to it.
2h74webere
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2h74webere,
User Rank: Strategist
4/11/2014 | 12:08:10 PM
Re: Agile Executive Pitch Template
I have yet to meet a single respected person in the agile community that approves of SCRUMSTUDY or PMSTUDY.  
PDXJ
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PDXJ,
User Rank: Apprentice
4/11/2014 | 11:12:08 AM
Re: Agile Management?
This post reflects much of the thinking I have on agile in my software development company, except in our case, management failed to consider our existing products, including their complexity and detailed inter-relationships between each other, as well as customer needs prior to mandating our shift to agile. They simply wanted our monumental software releases to be developed and delivered faster. And, aside from hiring some highly compensated consultants to come in for a week or so, we've been left to figure it out for ourselves...and I believe we're doing it wrong.

While I don't fault agile itself, the implementation of it in our company (a Fortune 500 software company, you probably have heard of) is going on 2 years now, and it has been ugly. Despite the egotistical proclamations of management today, it isn't working well. Some groups stealthily cling to tenets of waterfall (disguised by agile terminology), not because they are 'clinging to old practices' but because of the needs of our customer base and their desire to release software that works. We've had pushback from some large customers on releasing software to them bit by bit. As agile developed features get turned on, it breaks other software they have. I've yet to hear a coherant explanation how adopting agile is benefiting our customers. We are also highly date-driven here as well, both to satisfy our customers as well as our own leadership.

The problem for us is, we're an old locomotive of a company. We have several 25-30 year old software products full of legacy code, that have deep and extremely complicated inter-connections with each other. There are very few people in the company that truly understand how they all work together. Many of those experts were let go so newly minted, young 'agile saavy' developers could be hired. Going 'Agile' here has increased the number of bugs, the number of support cases and the increasing dissatisfaction among the workforce and customer base. Management egos, however, will not allow us to alter agile to make it work for us.

Silos are worse than ever, with the software development teams heads-down working on software to meet some un-bending magical agile release cadences. Inter-organizational communication is close to non-existant, with the custome support, install and training organizations scrambling for bits of information about upcoming releases. As a result, we've had some spectacular failures inside our organization, as well as with customers.

Engaged, educated management is critical, I've learned, to making agile work in an organization. I'm not seeing it here. In the best interest of our customers, I hope egos can be put aside and voices could be heard admitting that 'strict' agile (isn't that a contradiction anyway) may need to be modified for our products and customers.

 
ElizabethT568
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ElizabethT568,
User Rank: Apprentice
4/11/2014 | 7:45:25 AM
Re: Agile Executive Pitch Template
Hi Abbey,

U r right but notonly Scrum ,PMP also carries imp in case pf Project Managemment.I would say that a PMP Certification is highly respected within both IT & non-IT communities where strong project management skills are required. If you plan on a long term career as a project manager, then yes, even with your level of experience, I would suggest getting your PMP. You can prepare yourself for the exam in one of the <a href="http://www.pmstudy.com/">PMP training</a>providers like www.pmstudy.com/. You can do minimal prep-work to get 40 PMI® Contact Hours and apply to PMI for PMP Exam before the class begins.
PeeterP975
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PeeterP975,
User Rank: Apprentice
4/11/2014 | 6:40:55 AM
Re: Agile Executive Pitch Template
Hi Erik ,


Love the artcle written by you.Wonderfull descriptipon.As a project manager, I use Scrum in my projects. The Guide to Scrum Body of Knowledge by SCRUMstudy provided a complete reference for the Scrum project I am working with. It is a very good book and extremely readable. I really liked sections on risk and quality. The tools mentioned in the processes were very helpful. I highly recommend this book if you are planning to implement Scrum in your organization. You can go through the first chapter available on

http://www.scrumstudy.com

 
Charlie Babcock
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Charlie Babcock,
User Rank: Author
4/8/2014 | 6:33:39 PM
Pointed portrayal of agile development
Nice pointed commentary, Erik. I am reminded throughout how the true benefit of agile development is its ability to enforce a feedback loop, a reality check, with the customer. without it, software can't fit the needs of the business or matching the evolving reality outside the business. At the heart of agile is the belief that we don't know everything we need to know at the start of a big project, no matter how carefully we've attempted to define it. 
2h74webere
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2h74webere,
User Rank: Strategist
4/8/2014 | 5:08:03 PM
Re: Agile Management?
 

Small Batches are key.  Everytime we release and react, we are resetting the "risk counter" back to zero.  As a business owner, I'd much rather have a series of releases that include only a few features and allow the teams to react to the feedback, versus havine one big-bang release.  Long-cycle development is quite literally putting all your eggs in one basket.  
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