Solving 6 Major Challenges of Implementing Agile

Implementing agile often means throwing out the rulebook when it comes to how teams work, how projects are organized, and even what the office floor plan looks like. This can be a difficult transition, but it's nothing to fear if you can anticipate the challenges and plan accordingly. Here are six of the greatest challenges teams face when implementing agile, along with some tips on how to avoid them.

Agile project management is turning heads everywhere, partly because of how radically different it is from traditional project management. Implementing agile often means throwing out the rulebook when it comes to how teams work, how projects are organized, and even what the office floor plan looks like.

With this level of change, it’s bound to ruffle some feathers with teams accustomed to traditional practices.

However, the challenges you may encounter when transitioning to agile development are nothing to fear if you can anticipate them and plan accordingly. Here are six of the greatest challenges teams face when implementing agile, along with some tips on how to avoid them.

Unqualified staff

Agile is significantly different from traditional project management methods like waterfall, so one of the greatest challenges right out of the gate is working with staff who are not used to the new methods. This is not the fault of the staff themselves—you can’t expect them to all be experts in the newest project management developments—but the fact remains that they will need competent leadership with experience in the new method.

Another challenge is finding competent, educated leadership for guiding everyone into this novel way of working. Many teams find it difficult to implement agile because those in the leadership positions have not received adequate training.

The ScrumMaster is essential to agile; it’s the position who puts the management principles into practice. If this person is not fully qualified to teach agile—if, for example, their expertise comes solely from reading some tutorial blogs, not actual practice—then they’re not going to be in a good position to educate the team.

Cultural resistance

Even if you do find ScrumMasters or agile coaches qualified to lead, you can’t always be sure your staff will be amenable to the new process. Anyone used to working in one method for a long period of time is going to have difficulty adapting to this new methodology, and often this difficulty can manifest as unwillingness to try out new practices, no matter how promising they may sound—or how much they may be necessary.

Sometimes, however, your team might have a point. Staff cling to their previous practices when they can’t see new processes fitting into their current work environment. You may need to think of changes to the work environment that make agile a more obvious fit.

If you want your staff to be agile, you must make them see the benefits of the new process over the existing one. You must explain how this development style is more efficient in the long run, while promoting relationships and communication among the teams and different departments and giving your staff experience that will look good on their resumes. Explaining the reasons you are all beginning to use this new process will help people realize this is more than just an upheaval and forcing everyone to learn a new skill; it will help boost your team’s productivity, morale, and motivation for the long term.

One of the habits the new ScrumMaster has to leave behind is micromanagement. This tendency can lend itself quite easily to traditional project management, but it is poison to agile. The ScrumMaster’s job is like a film editor or a stage manager: when they’re doing their job the best, they are barely noticed. The ScrumMaster must focus on removing impediments to productive work rather than controlling the work of each team member. Fighting this instinct is often one of the most difficult aspects of implementing agile.

Isolated teams

This brings us to another impediment to agile: diffuse and isolated teams. Agile is a highly communicative practice, so if your teams are isolated from one another, you might struggle to implement it effectively.

This isolation is most commonly physical, where teams are split across floors, cubicles, buildings, or even countries. Agile depends on regular full-team meetings to analyze products and build on feedback, so finding a way to enable this is essential.

You may have to invest in technological solutions, especially if your team is divided by state or international borders. Virtual conferencing over the phone or, better yet, video can make sure lines of communication are free and open. If this isn’t possible, find some way of collaborating with online tools, and encourage team members to regularly update everyone on their actions and progress. You could have a daily email to keep everyone in sync, or better yet a daily standup.

Fighting with finance

One department that often finds it difficult to work with an agile methodology is finance. Agile depends on flexibility, so budgets and plans are rarely sorted out in explicit detail at the beginning of the project. Financial departments, on the other hand, are happiest when all the numbers are neatly ordered ahead of time.

Keeping communication open can be a solution to this challenge. Make sure all departments are aware of what stage the team is currently working in and what the progression of the project is likely to be each day, week, and month. At least then they are as prepared as you are when it comes to fluctuations in costs. You can usually give the finance department an idea of the scale of your costs at each given stage, or an estimated budget.

Scaling too fast

This is a tricky one. You never want to discourage ambition, but when it comes to implementing a brand-new software development methodology, there is such a thing as going too big, too quickly.

Problems begin to arise when agile is implemented across a whole company all at once because all staff are suddenly stalled by having to navigate a new system, and the company loses productivity on a large scale.

Start with implementing agile on one or two projects, or within a couple of teams at most. By slowly introducing the system, you have time to discover any unforeseen issues. At a small scale, they are easier to resolve, and other teams can pick up the slack from any lost productivity.

Suddenly beginning to use agile across your business can confuse teams and actually be counterproductive, so be sure to train your staff on using the agile process before they begin to work with it.

Being the hare instead of the tortoise

Probably the biggest risk of implementing such a vigorously different work style is that staff burns out early during the project. This can happen to team members of all levels, from the ScrumMaster who is so excited they rush ahead, to the team members who are tired from struggling to keep up—especially if this is everyone’s first time using the methodology.

Going too fast, too quickly can also lead to inflated promises and unreasonable, unattainable goals. These end up having to be supported by long nights and overtime, which will only turn off your team to this supposedly life-saving new way of working.

It’s important to take it slow and steady when implementing agile. It’s an iterative process that can run for years if treated well, so nothing is gained from trying to push it on staff all at once. Take your time and acclimate yourselves to this new methodology, and you will find benefits rolling in soon enough.

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