January 26, 2008

Why Agile adoption fails?

Why some seem to succeed to produce quality software using lean methodologies and others don’t?

For starters there’s a giant lacuna between acknowledging that Agile is useful, fast, high quality, etc and been truly Agile. For Agile to work one must believe and *act* according to her beliefs!

I’ve noticed that teams fail to create software using lean approaches mainly because of their preconceived mindsets towards an apparently less predictable, although more precise, model.

Unfortunately no one can build software as if it was a house. In software construction you *can* have your own voltage, no gravity and wine instead of water running in the pipes. Therefore managers need to accept that will this level of freedom there is a proportional level of uncertainty that cannot be cleared upfront, regardless of the effort put into planning and estimating.

A forcefully preset release date on a spreadsheet means very little to software development. In the outset it only expresses a desire. Functionalities need to be sized, time must be derived for sizing and then, only then, a date estimated. Even after that, realize that that’s all it is, an estimated date.

Trying to re-estimate stories because they’re taking longer than expected is another contributing factor for disaster. Let velocity do the work of defining progress, story size cannot change speed.

Teams have a hard time accepting that there’s only so much that can be done to go faster in order to meet a deadline. Reducing complexity is one option, re-prioritizing and re-scoping too. Resizing your team can also have positive impact, but overtime not. By working long hours quality will inevitably be compromised and reducing quality is not an option in Agile.

Some say Agile is too informal, and even that it makes the office space look ugly with all of those cards on the walls! Software development has always been messy and Agile only exposes it so people can act upon it. Agile is formal, as formal as the organization using it wants it to be. And yes, there is planning too. I don’t have figures but with Agile there’s more planning effort than waterfall. The difference is that the planning is diluted in everyday work such as stand ups, technical huddles, iteration planning meetings, kick-offs, planning poker, etc..

Agile is highly dependent on talented developers. Roles such as team managers and architects have less or no impact in Agile teams. Traditional waterfall micro-management kills creativity and architects tend to do a lot of upfront design and create unacceptable resistance to design change over the course of stories. The devs need to be different too. Agile devs must be design savvy, have creativity and initiative.

Lastly, if all of this seems too daunting and you don’t want to take the risk of figuring out Agile heuristically, go and hire an Agile consultancy. Get people with experience to help you out in a few projects and inculcate the principles. This way the organization gains confidence, establishes a faster return of investment and creates enough in-house Agile champions to sustain the changing momentum throughout the company.

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