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10 Most Common Mistakes in Agile Adoption. Part I

They did it again. Companies are making the same mistake during agile adoption over and over again. We’ve made some of these mistakes as well. If by any chance you see something familiar in the list below, read on and find out why it is a mistake.

wrong-way

1. Start With a Tool

It is not always bad to start with a tool. If you want to dig a pit, you most likely want to find a shovel first. You can dig manually, without a tool, but it will take enormous amount of time.

Agile development is something different. A tool will not provide immediate effect and will not solve most of the problems by the mere fact of its existence. Moreover, you will put effort into tool adoption, shading more important goal — agile adoption.

We encounter this mistake quite often. People come to TargetProcess web site, register for a trial, install the tool and try to use it. They start to ask questions and it’s getting clear that they have no experience in agile development neither agile process established. Sometimes they don’t know what a Burn Down Chart is and how to use it. Sometimes they know nothing about iterative development. It happens. The only piece of advice we can give is to get rid of the tool and dig deeper into agile domain: become familiar with basic concepts and try some process with simplest tools like whiteboard and sticky notes. Then decide whether you need a more sophisticated tool.

2. Start With a Process

Starting with a tool is obviously a bad idea. Most companies start with a process. It is a less serious, but a more common mistake. So you read about Scrum, it looks easy initially. You apply all Scrum practices and after some sprints see that development somewhat improved, but not as drastically as expected. Excitement goes away and process degrades.

What are the reasons? Why has it failed? Most likely people didn’t get the core values of agile development. Process is the mechanics, while values are the core of any agile adoption. The first thing any company should do before trying any process is to focus on agile values such as: communication, collaboration, feedback, trust and passion. It is nearly impossible to apply a good development process if you compromise any of these values. As an agile champion you should enforce these changes. Sometimes these are company-wide changes, sometimes team-wide changes, but still it is absolutely required to apply them.

The fastest way to adopt agile is to start with people and culture. I can’t stress this enough. And it is quite obvious! But why so many companies (including ours) have made this mistake? It is blazingly hard. You will have to change culture, and that will be met with a resistance. You will have to change people and most likely you’ll have to fire some of them. It is a hard and complex process, there are not so many people in the world who know exactly how to apply it. Most of us have no such experience and skills, so we fear this change. We try to start with something easier, something we know. We try to start with a process, with a tool, or with hiring an external consultant (which is good, but not enough). We should fearlessly start with the hardest but the right thing.

Agile manifesto is very deep indeed. If you read it carefully and set the principles as a cornerstone of agile adoption, you will success eventually.

3. Development Practices Are Enough

Extreme Programming is a very cool agile software development process. I think it includes Scrum. Many people may disagree, but in general if you do XP fully, you don’t need Scrum. Interestingly, that developers tend to apply technical practices like TDD, Continuous Integration and even Pair programming, but pay less attention to such things as communication, integral team, having customer on-site and retrospectives.

Why is it like that? Developers are techies, and techies like technical stuff, while often disrespect social stuff. Many of them are introverts, they don’t like meetings, they don’t like to chat with people extensively. They do like to communicate about technical things and do that with passion. However, communication with customer is not about Clojure or fancy lambda expressions, it is about business. It’s business problem domain, and it’s not that interesting for them.

Again, agile is more about people and less about technology. Many practices are focused on people. Pair programming makes for more communications between developers. Customer on-site makes for more communications with end user. Retrospectives boost communication about team, processes, etc. It is absolutely required to apply practices that focus on communication, adoption and fast feedback. It is absolutely required to pay more attention to people, improve their skills, improve technical excellence and shift mindset.

4. Scrum is Enough

Is it possible to adopt agile without technical practices at all? No, it is not. However, it is a less severe mistake than the previous one. If you apply Scrum right, you will inevitably decide to try some technical practices at a retrospective meeting.

The true mistake will be to rely on Scrum solely as a process that will solve all the problems. It can do that, but only if you are open-minded and willing to try various things: from pair programming to BDD. Best coaches believe that Scrum should be adopted in tight pack with XP technical practices. This is a good advice to follow.

5. CSM Knows Everything

Certified Scrum Master is not a demigod. Yes, he has some basic knowledge about Scrum, but in many cases that’s just it. He may have no hands-on experience neither strong theoretical background. He should not act as a PM and prescribe what to do and what not to do. Team should decide. The only real things SM should care about are teams impediments and meta-process. By meta-process I mean a set of rules/procedures that allow team to reflect and improve existing development process.

Common manifestation of this mistake is phrases like “I insist we should change iteration duration from 1 month to 2 weeks” or “I strongly believe we should keep doing code reviews”. It might be that he is right, but it does not matter, the language speaks for itself. There should be no “I” in SM phrases, there should be “We”. Otherwise agile adoption will fail. If SM doesn’t believe in team, the team as such will not gel and will degrade eventually.

Read Part II for last 5 mistakes.

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