Why Does Agile Fail?

We spend a lot of time discussing how and why Agile succeeds, and for good reason: in the right circumstances, with proper training and a supportive culture, Agile methodologies can do great things for teams and entire organizations.

But the facts can’t be ignored. Many “Agile” projects fail. It’s not uncommon for organizations that start an Agile transformation to adopt a “good enough” mentality and maintain a hybrid environment that proves difficult if not impossible to work with.

So, why does Agile fail?

This important question was asked at a recent Industry Analyst Panel Discussion held by Agile Alliance and the answers were spot on.

Incremental vs. Iterative

Tom Grant from Cutter Consortium notes that an organization “willing to embrace incremental development, but definitely not iterative development” can cause cultural issues. In other words, an organization can be willing to break their projects down into short bursts, but not willing to make changes along the way. They operate under the assumption that they’re going to get it right every time.

If there’s no room for iteration – constant improvement – then the organization is not truly Agile, and projects are likely to eventually fail.

Culture and a Definition of Done

Nathan Wilson of Gartner Research highlights the importance of a supportive culture and of the definition of done. “If you get these two things wrong,” he said, “it’s going to fail.” He has advised clients against going Agile based solely on indications that the leadership culture would not adequately support the transformation.

Falling Back on “What We’ve Always Done”

Melinda Ballou of IDC adds that the human tendency to rely on past experience and continue doing what they’ve always done is a significant cultural barrier to going Agile. This issue is especially problematic in industries and companies where budgets are strained and workers fear losing their jobs. Obviously, any sort of experimentation – including the changes required to go Agile and the iterative nature of the Agile development process – sounds frightening under those circumstances.

In a change-resistant environment, strong leadership combined with adequate training can tip the scales in favor of success.

Rushed Transitions and Insufficient Training

Chris Rommel of VDC Research Group notes the importance of context in a successful Agile transformation. He sees rushed transitions and insufficient training as the biggest contributing factors to a failed Agile transition, especially where that transition represents “a substantial culture shock” to the company and employees. Additionally, many Agile projects fail for the same reason non-Agile projects fail: “complexity of application, lack of resources, and poor planning.”

As Mr. Rommel notes, “training must be intermittent and continual, with real Agile coaches.” At cPrime, we couldn’t agree more. We’ve certainly seen the addition of a strategic training and coaching regimen turn around a floundering Agile transformation, and we’ve likewise seen Agile coaches and mentors successfully aid in adjusting a company culture that was standing in the way of successful Agile implementation.

If your company is dealing with Agile challenges like these, or any other issues with Agile that you’re having trouble identifying, let us help.