Top 10 reasons why Agile Adoptions Fail

A classic Hollywood adage is that it’s always easier to make a bad movie than a good one. That’s because every production has so many pieces, people and processes, and so many ways they all could go wrong. Enough elements going sideways and a whole project can end up being doomed, even if a few pieces are working as they should.

The same concept can be applied to Agile workplace projects, which, without support and commitment from all levels of an organization, can start to naturally unwind at multiple points. It may take a while for the figurative wheels to come off, but the longer things continue, the more challenging it can be to get everyone back on course.   

Keeping forward momentum and avoiding entropy, a cool scientific term for things falling apart, is vital. Ten common weak points that must be supported to keep the rest of the project intact include:

  1. Viewing Agile as a process, not a mindset. Some results-focused managers may require Agile to be regimented and mandatory. There is certainly a recommended framework, but every environment and workplace dynamic differs, so going ‘by the book’ with the same template and other elements may backfire. Even those who have had success with Agile methods at previous employers will likely experience different results due to different people and conditions. A better approach would be to look for ways to be creative and flexible.
  2. Lack of commitment/effort. Motivated employees will eagerly seek ways to improve an institution, or at least its processes. Others may be comfortable with their duties and workload, or believe they have too much on their plate to want to take on more tasks. Managers can take a risk making participation optional, which could potentially lead to many declining to be part. Likewise, making participation mandatory can quickly sour attitudes and interest.
  3. Succumbing to disillusionment. Agile doesn’t automatically guarantee success, so if the process slows or tangible results aren’t apparent, it’s easy to start to question a project’s usefulness and value. The failure can be compounded the longer the process goes on, and then be further amplified if other teams/projects share success stories.  
  4. Failure to account for human factors. A team that isn’t cohesive pre-Agile is still going to bring along resentment and personal disputes. Feelings of ill will may be enhanced the more the project moves along and change occurs, even if the change ultimately moves everything positively.
  5. Delegation to outside consultants. While it’s easy for managers to bring in experts to shake things up, they may not be familiar with the Agile method from an employee perspective, or be there from the beginning to observe how a project evolves.  
  6. Failure to stabilize. Being Agile involves looking ahead to future improvements, but it can’t do much about critical flaws in an organization, an unhappy culture or members moving around to different teams.
  7. Failure to identify the right problems/tampering with what works. Many companies are notorious for focusing on minor diversions, changing something that seems to be working, or arbitrarily taking resources away from one task for another. This may not necessarily cause entropy, but could change direction and affect confidence.
  8. Unhealthy introspection during Retrospectives. This important process is supposed to solicit ‘specific suggestions for improvement’ but in the wrong hands it can lead to extensive discussions about ‘everything that went horribly wrong’ along with a general airing of grievances.
  9. Unhealthy focus on speed and results vs. quality. Seeking efficiency doesn’t have to mean going at warp speed. Fast-tracking a new product or skipping steps/cutting corners to hit an arbitrary deadline may ultimately result in stressed team members along with a so-so response from the public.
  10. Making “Continuous Improvement” the responsibility of only a few people. Part of the Agile approach is to get a larger group involved. But if only a few take it upon themselves to think bigger, it can deliver a skewed version of consensus if not everyone is allowed to provide input. Those who aren’t included in this group will also feel left out, and could taint their involvement in future projects. This can also be a sign of a poor leader, who isn’t interested in trusting his or her people.