For a long time, I have been watching the agile project delivery model failing organizations. As proud as I am of TechBlocks and our team of intellectual professionals - even we have failed in achieving set objectives for one recent client. Lately, I have seen numerous articles marking the "death of agile" - the most common reason being how agile has failed to meet business objectives for so many enterprises.
This has compelled me to write about our experience of implementing agile and to share our successes, and more importantly our failures. The first thing that comes to mind when I read skeptics and critics of agile pronouncing its death - what happened to battery powered cars from the 19th century? There is a lot of fear mongering from people who are scared of losing their job or lack the ability to deliver. Let me explain…
The Success of Agile is Dependent upon its Environment
Most organizations treat agile as another process that needs to be implemented with right set of tools, technologies and governance. A lot of discussions revolve around things like how traditional project management techniques blend with agile methodologies. I have heard misinformed statements such as "agile will allow us to build things faster and at half the cost" from senior professionals and executives. These kinds of dangerous mindsets, propelled by vested short term interests from ill-informed members is likely to be disastrous.
Most organizations that have pronounced agile implementation as a huge success are actually overstating it by a wide margin. Most of them will show you JIRA dashboards, KANBAN charts/reports and SCRUM stand up meetings as the living breathing proof of successful agile implementation.
While these organizations have been busy implementing agile they forgot about the most important wheel of a three wheeled wagon: People, Process & Systems. Like any idea: it only has a chance of success if it is applied in the RIGHT environment. Here are the fundamental elements that make agile teams successful:
- They are focused on achieving business KPIs.
- All relevant groups work together with an extremely high level of cohesion.
- All relevant stakeholders from the groups (business & technology) share risks and rewards.
- Have a well-defined KPI or a proven baseline.
- They constantly strive to improve, meet KPIs and define better KPIs.
- They are comfortable starting with a MVP (minimum viable product).
- They challenge each idea to ensure that it is vetted well.
- They expect to face hurdles and be proven wrong only to adjust with each iteration. The goal is to learn, tweak and get better with each cycle.
The Culture of Continuous Improvement
In life "ATTITUDE" is everything. All the above characteristics are a "HALLMARK of CULTURE". If your organization does not have the culture and attitude to compliment what agile is meant to achieve (a culture of constant innovation and improvement), everything else that is put in place does not matter. It has failed before it started!
After a detailed post-mortem of our successes, failures and everything in between we inevitably always hear things from clients like:
- “Oh, I wish we could somehow get the other VP to buy in?”
- “We wish we could get the CEO/CIO to back this mandate and provide people that can help us.”
- “Why does this group see us as an adversary?”
By now it is very clear that organizations that intend to be agile need to eliminate the mindset of supporting the business or its systems. The word "Support" somehow invokes status-quo with a bunch of folks fixing issues and helping the system/processes that have been in place since eternity run smoothly. This mindset needs to be replaced with a culture of CI (continuous improvement).
I would love to see agile be dead, but for the right reasons. After all, as I said in my previous blog post Exotic Cars, Global Warming, Digital Transformation and Technology, “everything has an expiry date; even the best things in life and in nature come to an end.” I just hope when agile goes away it is replaced by something even better. The irony being that it will valiantly pave a path for the cause it gave birth to - "Continuous Improvement". Nature at its best!