Why Agile Fails

XPRS CATO! by jurvetson

In the past decade we’ve seen thousands of companies introducing agile methodologies. A lot of teams started introducing scrum, re-structuring the way they work, and … getting stuck after a couple of months. Why do most agile introductions come to a screeching halt? Why do so many teams either fall back into old habits or decide that “This scrum thing doesn’t work for us!”? Let’s take a look at what makes agile fail.

Agile is Brutal

When you introduce agile practices be ready to face brutal facts. The entire company has ignored smoldering problems far too long and now they’ll start to surface. Agile will begin casting bright spotlights on these weak spots in your development process. The rug that everyone has been sweeping under for the past decade is suddenly lifted and the dark, scurrying truths see the light of day. People don’t care much for harsh truths, and when they see you holding the spotlight they’ll probably tell you to turn the damn thing off! We’ve managed this long without your “help”. Why change everything now?

With blood in the water, your boss (and maybe even your CEO) will join the frenzy. “How can this be?”, they ask. “Why did no one notice this earlier?”. You don’t have an answer. You’re humiliated, and no one want’s to feel humiliated. So you blame all those issues on “Agile”, and you come to the conclusion that it’s the devil’s work. Turn off the light, lay down the rug – let peace and prosperity reign over the Kindgom of Ignorance once again.

Agile Creates Transparency

It’s very comfortable to cruise along as you please. No one really cares whether you improve anything. Yes, there is the ever present dissatisfaction that you’re too slow, but show me a development team that’s praised for their speed. And you’re used to the constant bug reports as your monthly releases break critical features. That’s what your maintenance team is there for, right? You’ve settled yourself down into it, like an old, favorite quilt – a bit moldy and worn, but familiar.

Now, “Agile” gets shoved down your team’s throat. You’re supposed to publicly display current tasks on a story wall, and give daily status updates on your “progress” (what in the hell is that?). Shiver. And, you should publicly commit to achieving some concrete goals today. Ugh. Who cares? Oh, everybody seems to care?! The peer pressure becomes unbearable and your newly empowered and self-organized team promptly revolts. They are fed up with this sadistic form of micro-management. Just let us go back to work. And, as quick as it came, it’s thrown out – agile fails.

Agile Demands Fixing Root Causes

Even if your team likes agile at first, it gets harder to maintain the feeling. In the beginning, everything is new and shiny. You’re reaping the low hanging fruit and gaining a lot of speed and quality improvements. But, after a couple of weeks, all the low hanging fruit are eaten. Now, you’ve got to start digging deeper to improve upon your newly found speed and quality. It’s time to attack those deeply buried root causes, which may be directly hard-wired into the DNA of your organization.Ouch.

As you can imagine, altering the DNA of a living, breathing organism is not a task for the faint of heart. It requires an incredible amount of skilled, senior leadership to help rewire the broken way all those departments currently work together. Sometimes, you think it would be easier to move the Colosseum to New York rather than getting these guys to change their minds and actually cooperate. And, so – after a few lackluster, unfocused quarters spent squabbling about whose fault it is – the great “Agile” experiment ends. You’ve solved some quick-wins locally within your team, but, without the buy-in of the rest of the company (those “outsiders”), you’re stuck. That’s a pity, but welcome to the club.

Considering all the forces working against your introduction of agile practices, it’s no wonder we see so many companies fail. You need to be ready to face the brutal facts, you need to value transparency, and you need to have the skills to influence people in other departments while convincing senior leadership to take a strong stand. No one said it would be easy. But the reward of successfully evolving your organization into an agile one means more success for your business and even more satisfaction for yourself. If you’re in the midst of such a struggle, let this article be a beacon of light in an otherwise dark and stormy sea of change.

4 thoughts on “Why Agile Fails

  1. Scott Ambler once said Agile projects will fail faster because systemic problems are highlighted earlier than on other project types. It’s more work with more reward, and there’s no hiding.


  2. Agile fails when developers are not well known to the Platform they are working with because it will take heck lot of time to resolve or to complete the task which is obviously creating piles of tasks in pending status.
    what do you say?


  3. Hey great article. I was a reading a similar article on scrumstudy.com on why scrum fails and found out that these are the reasons. For more info check out https://www.scrumstudy.com/blog/why-does-scrum-fail/
    1)Scrum is neither a Magic Wand nor a Silver Bullet
    2)Inappropriate application of Scrum can lead to its doom
    3)The problems highlighted by Scrum need to be solved
    4)Lack of a skilled and efficient project team
    5)Lack of an experienced and visionary Product Owner
    6)Lack of an experienced and skilled Scrum Master


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