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We fail Agile, Agile doesn’t fail us

January 10, 2023

Agile is a buzzword in today’s business world, and one that is  mostly abused in terms of its understanding and usage. As a concept and fundamentals, lean agile methodology is quite simple to understand, but when it comes to implementation, it is an uphill battle. Failure in using agile methodology can be understood in this scenario: 

 

Suresh and Rajat are friends, and both are certified in Agile.They are excited about exploring and implementing principles learned in the real world to bring meaningful results to the projects they work on. 

They both just got new roles at different organizations.

Suresh got the responsibility to work in a project where he got involved from the very initial stage of MSA preparation. In the MSA, one of the clauses was to deliver the project in Agile Methodology. Suresh was thrilled that  both sides were ready to adopt an Agile way of working.

Rajat too got involved in client project delivery soon after joining the new organization, and the company where he joined also propagated the principle and implementation of Agile principles among employees.

A year later, they met each other other over a cup of coffee. Rajat found that Suresh was very upset and disturbed and, on the contrary, Suresh found Rajat was very happy and more confident. 

During the conversation, both friends came to realize some key factors that define whether an agile project is a success or failure.

The cases: 

  1. Suresh’s project started with a lot of promises but almost after 12 months, they were still struggling to release User Stories in production. The overall program was bleeding in terms of cost and schedule. Team members were getting frustrated. 
  2. Rajat’s project started with no big promise but with a lot of hopes of meeting clients’ expectations and solving the pain area of customers. One year down, Rajat’s project was getting rave appreciation and ratings from clients, and team members were happy. The organization was increasing its footprint with client accounts each passing day.

Areas of success and failure:

  • Agile Delivery Mindset:

In the case of Suresh project, though the customer had a MSA signed to deliver the project in Agile, in reality, they never had the mindset to deliver projects in Agile way; rather they were following traditional ways of executing projects. The customer was determined to dictate how the project should progress rather than providing autonomy to the project team.

In Rajat’s case, the organization he belonged to also promoted an Agile culture among employees. Rather than a fearful culture of delivery, they were promoting a SAFE culture of delivery which helped the team to perform rather than being pressurized for delivery and penalized for any failure.

Most of the team members in Rajat’s account were implementing the principle of separating problems from persons in real-time. 

The term ‘Escalation’ was never treated as a negative word; rather the culture was such that any escalation was taken as an opportunity to look back, learn, implement, and  grow as a team.

  • Respect for one another

Mutual respect always breeds good results and increased productivity. Savvy clients view their vendor as a vital partner in success, rather than an executor. This mindset shift was a key differentiator of success between Rajat and Suresh’s projects; one always treated the delivery team with respect and as an equal partner with optimized tools like JIRA, and the other experienced depleted morale due to irrational demands and undue pressure.

 

  • Sustainable Delivery

Having full autonomy to execute a project within the bounds of the statement of work is a hallmark of sustainable delivery. For Rajat’s team, members always felt a sense of belonging and ownership, which contributed to the success of the projects. The client was pushing toward the same goal and had the team’s welfare in mind when embracing Agile principles in practice. 

The reality for Suresh’s team was the opposite.

In the case of Suresh, the case was reversed. The team was demotivated as they sensed the mistrust which ultimately led to burnt out.The impact was visible in non-productivity and a bleeding project which was dragging on with the expectation of some miracle to happen.

Lessons Learned:

The discussion brought forward quite a good point of lesson learned for all agilists: 

  1. Truly embrace an Agile mindset. For a successful Agile delivery of a project, an Agile mindset and commitment is necessary from both client and vendor partners. If one lacks in understanding and implementing the principles of Agile during project execution, project failure is inevitable in the long run.
  2. Prioritize project team satisfaction. Agile delivery is not only about customer satisfaction. Customer satisfaction is the imperative and ultimate goal of any Agile delivery team but it’s about project team’s satisfaction too as in turn a satisfied project team contributes to the success and satisfaction of the client. Good clients understand that this is a simple and practical part of the equation.
  3. Human emotion matters. Agile is beyond matrices like burn down charts – it’s about human relationships that promote psychological safety of team members, mutual respect and trust for each other, and sustainability.

The time is now for Agile teams and clients to retrospect and take the steps needed. After all, We fail Agile, Agile doesn’t fail us.

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