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Why do Agile Adoptions Fail?

Although agilists focus much of their energy on helping their agile projects succeed, it is helpful to periodically stop and consider what causes some agile projects and agile adoptions to fail. Armed with this knowledge, perhaps one can avoid these same pitfalls.

Jean Tabaka lists 11 Ways Agile Adoptions Fail

Agile methodologies have been taking some heat for when they appear to have failed to deliver expected benefits to an organization. In my travels as an agile coach, what I have found to be the case is that agile practices don't fail, rather the variations on agile adoption fail. Here are my top eleven failure modes. See which ones look painfully familiar to you

She lists her top 11, and describes each:

  1. Ineffective use of the retrospective
  2. Inability to get everyone in the planning meetings
  3. Failure to pay attention to the infrastructure required
  4. Bad ScrumMasters
  5. Product Owner is Consistently Unavailable or There are Too Many Owners Who Disagree
  6. Reverting to Form
  7. Obtaining Only "Checkbook Commitments" from Executive Management
  8. Teams Lacking Authority and Decision-Making Ability
  9. Not Having an Onsite Evangelist for Remote Locations
  10. A Culture that Does Not Support Learning
  11. Denial is Embraced Instead of the Brutal Truth

Are some (or all of these) familiar from your experiences with agile software development? Would you add to this list?

Tom Hume describes the Why Agile Teams Fail event, summarizing the message as, "if it doesn't work, you aren't doing it right, or your people aren't any cop". QA Strategies itemizes some challenges in agile adoption, from fear of micromanagement to overzealous teams. Kevin Brady thinks agile methods don't account for human psychology:

  • People will always put their own interests ahead of the interests of the group.
  • People are self-interested
  • Commercial production decisions are based on rational expectations.
  • Karl Popper's "First law of collective action". You can never get more than 5 people to agree on anything.

Eric D. Brown agrees that it's about the people, goes a different direction: "It isn't the process or methodology used... it is the people involved that will help a project succeed. Of course, processes help, but without good people and an organization that helps those people succeed, any project management methodology will most likely fail."

For more information, listen to the podcast interview with Jean Tabaka or tell us at InfoQ's agile community what you think causes agile adoptions to fail, and how you deal these issues.

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