Tony, what are some the biggest challenges you’ve come across as organisations try to implement agile methods?
I’ve experienced eight different challenges that I will adress in turn.
One: Senior management attitude. For example, agile methodologies fix time, cost and quality. The variable is scope. But management can often attempt to fix what they are going to get and when – thus trying to fix scope as well. Other times they try to challenge on cost. At one client in two successive meetings I saw a senior manager put the squeeze on another project manager to cut costs. The PM accepted the reduction both times, at which the manager asked why he did not push back. The PM replied that they would just deliver less. So, agile reduces the scope for bully boy tactics. Essentially senior management need to be trained in their changed role in overseeing agile projects, which can be a challenge to a prevailing culture.
Two: it can be difficult to break down the old “silo” mentality as agile requires a multi-skilled team of both IT and business staff working closely together.
Three: There is a current trend where many organisations are introducing hot-desking. This means that a project team could end up spread across an office, having to hunt out their colleagues each day. This was introduced part way through one project. The tool we used to visualise the work could also produce a control chart of productivity. We thus had the evidence that productivity dropped after hot-desking was introduced. Agile teams should always be co-located.
Four: a key principle of Agile is openness. Teams are encouraged to surface issues or errors quickly so that they can be addressed. If there is a ‘blame’ culture within the organisation it will work against this and bring down effectiveness.
Five: not recognising how deep the transition to agile is and thinking that reading a few articles on the internet is all that is required. In reality, agile is as much a culture shift as it is a process shift. Everyone needs to be properly trained, they need expert support and also each team will take time to evolve the right ways of working for them. Don’t try and force one standard approach. Also don’t try and cherry pick from the methodology.
Six: leading on from the above, problems can arise when parts of the organisation are working in an Agile way and others not. These can be managed but potential issues need to be recognised.
Seven: Product Owners are frequently from the business and can tend to be feature driven. There also needs to be a focus on non-functional requirements and documenting and dealing with ‘technical debt’ as a project progresses, e.g. ensuring reliability, performance, usability, scalability as well as maintainability and security.
Eight: Don’t try to run before you can walk. Try agile out on a small scale and build up based on experience.
So, there are indeed a number of hurdles to overcome in the adoption of agile. How widespread would you say the use is of Agile within a Prince2 governance structure along the lines advocated in your article?
The simple answer is probably ‘not very’. The most widespread implementation of Agile is Scrum (using sprints or Kanban). Scrum is focused on getting stuff done in an incremental way based on a prioritised backlog of user stories generated by or on behalf of a Product Owner. It does not explicitly recognise the need for a governance structure or indeed a broader life cycle within which it’s processes operate. Indeed you tend to get a glazed or at best blank look from Scrum Masters if you suggest the need for these.
The good news is that others are thinking along the same lines and Prince2 training courses incorporating Agile have emerged over the last few months.
Further, in contrast to Scrum, the DSDM approach to Agile proposes a project lifecycle:
- Evolutionary Delivery
- Close out
The Foundation stage includes recognition of Business, Technical and Data architectures within which a programme or project should fit including ‘As Is’ and ‘To Be’ roadmaps, dependency maps etc. The Deployment stage includes the disciplines of Release Management to robustly deploy deliverables from multiple projects following a promotional model. Straight Scrum does not recognise these but will fit in the Evolutionary Delivery stage.
Yet again there are now DSDM Agile courses incorporating Scrum.
Hence I think the problem has been recognised and is being addressed, however there are a lot of Scrum Masters out there who just don’t know what they don’t know.
Thank you very much for these answers Tony. It will be interesting to follow this topic and how the frameworks you mention develop, as agile matures. Considering the issues facing organisations implementing agile today, there should be room for development and improvement.