Why Agile Is Failing

November 12, 2013 | Author: PM Hut | Filed under: Agile Project Management

Why Agile Is Failing
By Cyrille Dupuydauby

Now that Agile is mainstream and that most, if not all, organizations are implementing agile methods, I hear more and more voices raising concerns and warning about how poorly those organizations perform afterward. Most often cited causes are management obstruction, poor discipline in the development team, local mutations of scrum and so on.

They are wrong, they got the root cause wrong plain and simple.

I let that notion sink in.

At that time, you are probably suspicious, maybe a bit angry. But at least I got your attention and I can get to the message:

It is not the organizations that fail Agile, it is Agile that fails organizations. I guess that most agilists are just pissed off now, but please, keep reading. I am a convinced XP practitioner, and I feel sorry for the mess I see around me, I am just trying to do my bit. The problem is that Agile is not yet enterprise friendly:

  1. Having happy customers is not the main goal of any commercial enterprise

    The main goal of a commercial enterprise is generating value for its shareholders. Of course, having happy customers is the proper approach for that.

  2. Money does not flow directly from the customer to the project team

    The typical structure will be that it will be the customer’s management that will pay the project team management. That represents a bunch of people that were not involved in the project, and who did not care about agile at all, as they were not involved in the project.

  3. Agile methods emphasis local objectives

    Due to fast iterations, decisions are taken locally to the project without any interference from top management.

    All those attributes make of Agile a sure path to project success, as measured in customer satisfaction. And it also generates stress by keeping the rest of the organization, especially top management at a safe distance from the project. Therefore, the organization reacts by trying to control Agile, making sure projects stay aligned with the enterprise strategy; or it remains hostile, or simply fails to provide adequate support. And it just kills any benefits.

The good news is that it can change. Agile can change to register itself in the enterprise strategy. Gojko Adzic’s Impact Mapping is a promising tool to integrate strategy and increase the relevance of projects by ensuring a shared and clear goal is established early on. On the other side of gap, Jurgen Appelo works on what he calls Management 3.0 which aims at bringing Agile in the management world, completely transforming how a team must be managed.

So, please read the work of those great guys, and raise your awareness about enterprise topics if you want to help Agile succeed.

And in the meantime, stay disciplined and keep up the good work.

Cyrille Dupuydauby is an IT Manager at SGCIB (Société Générale Corporate & Investment Banking). You can read more from Cyrille on his blog.

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6 people have left comments

Scrum is fractal and works and looks the same at the team, program, and portfolio level. Agile has been enterprise-ready since the early 90s, and has been implemented successfully in thousands of organizations with the enterprise in view.

The problem occurs when Scrum uncovers the dysfunction in the organization and places it on a lighted stage for all to see. 50% of Agile is about the transparency that it creates…the remaining 50% is what you do with the transparency once you have it.

Agile isn’t a silver bullet, and has never claimed to be. It is a way of creating self-organized, empowered, innovative teams - and the focus needs to remain on individuals and interactions. Scrum scales perfectly, and I encourage you to learn more from the organizations that are doing it successfully: DoD, State Farm, Microsoft, Yahoo!, Google, Toyota, NPR, Spotify, etc., etc.

Agile is an umbrella of numerous frameworks that are proven to be successful when adhering to the principles, values, and constraints within those frameworks — ignore those roles, ceremonies, artifacts, and best practices and it all falls down. It is an ecosystem of interdependent parts, and the processes should be followed, especially in the early stages of an agile transformation.

Mark wrote on November 18, 2013 - 11:10 am | Visit Link

The problem is not agile. The problem is a definition of “enterprise” for which the following is true:

Having happy customers is not the main goal of any commercial enterprise

Reread that again. If having happy customers is not the reason you’re in business, anything you do will be dysfunctional. Everything else — profits, shareholder value, employee happiness, market share — falls out of having happy customers.

And if you sacrifice happy customers in the interest of another goal, your business is committing slow suicide.

Charlton wrote on November 18, 2013 - 12:08 pm | Visit Link

The interesting part of your post for me is encapsulated in the statement ‘Agile is not yet enterprise friendly’. Surely the ‘enterprise’ exists to provide value to it’s clients/customers and in doing so return investment to it’s shareholders/partners?

You talk about the enterprise as if it’s needs are independent of the stakeholders (customers/shareholders). It’s this kind of ‘process for the sake of process’ thinking that causes the failure of Agile techniques, throttles continuous improvement and ultimately causes enterprises to fail.

If the project is not being driven by the needs of the stakeholders, why are you wasting time on it?

If Agile shines a spotlight on this kind of dysfunction in the organisation then it’s accomplished a major objective. The next step is to be brave and strong enough to fix it.

Chris wrote on November 21, 2013 - 8:26 am | Visit Link

Hey mark,

Some questions and viewpoints I’d like to share with you (disclaimers: trolls inside ;-)

Are the enterprises agile enough today? Certainly not!

Are the enterprises scalable? Probably not

Is Agile a silver bullet? C’mon! There is no such thing as silver bullet! ;-)

Is Scrum the same thing as Agile? I hope not. But looking at most of today’s Agile’s fairs and conferences… I’m afraid…

Is Scrum just eXtreme Programming (XP) without the technical practices that make it work? I think so.

Does SCRUM generates lots of business for consultants? It’s a fact.

Is Jeff Sutherland the next L.Ron Hubbard? Looking at : https://www.scrum.org/Assessments/Scrumorg-Certifications and http://scrum.jeffsutherland.com/2009/06/scrum-in-church.html …. what do you think? ;-)

Are Individuals and Interactions more valuable than Processes and Tools (like SCRUM)? Mos def!

Can we improve the way we are working nowadays? Cyrille and I think so… Wanna stay happy like you are, or try to improve the current situation? (i.e. a world full of FlaccidScrum: http://martinfowler.com/bliki/FlaccidScrum.html)

Thomas PIERRAIN wrote on December 26, 2013 - 4:55 am | Visit Link

Hi everyone
Sorry for the delayed answer, but as this is a copy of my article, I did not get any notification of comments.
Thanks to all for those comments, they give me an opportunity to refine some of my views.

Mark: Can you please give me some references to articles about an enterprise using scrum as a governance tool, please? So far, I only found articles about large scale project or programs. Yes, Scrum is fractal because it is very lightweight and only covers decision processes, but it does not cover the full governance topic (nor does it wants to).
Agile transformation is what interests me here…

Cyrille Dupuydauby wrote on December 26, 2013 - 8:56 am | Visit Link

Charlton: I stand by my comment! Note that I did not say nor imply that it was not an important objective. Happy customers is simply good business, but the major objective of an enterprise is either growth or profit.

But last time I checked, none of the Fortune 500 enterprise were dedicated mostly on hacvng happy customers.
If Apple want to make us happier, it would lower its margin, Google and Facebook would stop harvesting and selling our private bits.

Yes, it is about balance of those goals, but happy customer is never the first!

Cyrille Dupuydauby wrote on December 26, 2013 - 9:03 am | Visit Link

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