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4 reasons why Agile works and the most common excuse when it doesn’t

Having been a strong proponent of Agile and Agile-like methodologies for the past 20 years. I have not only seen the benefits that can be achieved by implementing Agile but have also attained them.

I have helped companies improve on-time delivery of projects. At DHL we went from 26% to 81% and at Henkel, we improve enhancement delivery (small 60 day projects) from 35% to 95%. These are just two of many improvements achieved. I have even applied Agile to other areas not just on-time delivery, but also Cost and Operational Performance Management and seen similar results.

Agile works, it is as simple as that.

Here are 4 reasons why it works and one excuse for when it doesn’t

Reason 1: Self Determination

With Agile it is the teams that decide what will be included within the scope of a release, based on priorities of the product owner, and also the date that this will be delivered.

This self determination helps to increase the level of the commitment from the teams as they are involved in the scoping and timings, and increased commitment leads to increased ownership, which drives success.

Reason 2: Clear Picture of Success

For each Sprint within Agile there is a clear definition of what success means. This definition is agreed, shared and understood by all. This means that you now have everyone pulling in the same direction, looking to achieve the same goal.

This clear definition along with a clear scope ensures that there are no misunderstandings of what is required. It also means that there is less frustration when the work is completed only to find that something else was expected.

I have lost count of the number of times I have seen projects fail because of confusion over the scope and also the expectations of what was to be delivered.

This not just damages this project/release but also leads to frustrations, demotivation, and disengagement.

Reason 3: Increased Confidence of Success

This is clearly linked to the self-determination because when teams are setting their own deadlines there is automatically an increased level of confidence in the outcome and confidence is a critical component of success.

In my experience teams are not afraid of hard work they are afraid of failure. And when you look at the stats around failure, one study showed that on projects that failed, 75% of the time, the teams involved knew it was going to fail on day 1.

Now this lack of confidence can become a self-fulfilling prophecy, but by the same thinking, a belief that the project will be successful can also become self-fulfilling.

When teams believe a project will fail, when it starts to fail they go into I told you so mode. However when they believe a project will succeed and it starts to fail they go into solution mode. Looking to find out what’s caused the issues and try to resolve them.

Teams in solution mode will always outperform teams in I told you so mode.

Reason 4: Supportive Management

Within Agile the role of management changes from one of directing to one of supporting the teams. Looking to clear roadblocks and any issues that the teams are facing which prevent progress.

All of which helps to increase the effectiveness of the teams.

Excuse: Immature Organisations

This is the number one alleged reason I hear as to why either why companies don’t feel ready to implement Agile or why they believe that AGILE failed.

But as I mention in the headline this is not a reason it’s just an excuse. It is true that it can take a while for teams to adapt to Agile and to get confidence in both the process and the management, but it will come if you persist.

But it is even truer that the leadership is immature and not willing, or not confident enough, to give up some of the that is power needed to make Agile a success.

Agile requires that much of the decision making is distributed to the right levels. It’s not just about having shortened development cycles with regular feedback loops. It is about giving teams that sense of self-determination .

I know that this can be hard, scary even, but this is crucial if you want to achieve the benefits of Agile and not just pay lip service to it. Then once you give that self-determination you need to support the teams through coaching and issue resolution.

If you can do that then your Agile implementation will be a success, if you can’t then you’re the real reason why Agile won’t or didn’t succeed.

An earlier version of this article was published on LinkedIn.

Gordon Tredgold

Gordon Tredgold is a leadership transformation expert ranked #25 in Global Gurus Top 30 leadership gurus for 2019. Over his 25-year career Gordon has led teams of 1000+ staff in Fortune 100 companies, delivered operational cost savings of $350m and transformed delivery (from <35% to 95 %) and service levels (from 57% to 99.7%). A critically-acclaimed author, Gordon's latest book, FAST: 4 Principles Every Business Needs to Drive Success and Achieve Results, was a finalist for Management Book of the year 2017. He is a regular contributor for Inc. Magazine, Entrepreneur, Forbes, Fortune and Business Insider and an international keynote speaker, recognised by Inc. Magazine as a top 100 leadership expert and speaker. Gordon works with organisations to transform culture, drive results-based leadership and rapidly accelerate organisational growth and performance.

This Post Has One Comment

  1. Steven Walden

    Thanks. As an Agile Practitioner I tend to agree and would love to see Agile more engaged with the stakeholder experience community (I deliberately use that word not just customer). However, as per Cynefin, many times waterfall is good and many times more upfront creative work is a requirement.

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