Agile Implementation in the Real World: A Look at 3 Outcomes

When it comes to project management, it may seem like it’s “all Agile all the time.” Because right now it is. Agile is “the” buzz in project management. Even the Wall Street Journal recently jumped on the bandwagon. But, let’s be honest, Agile is not the answer to every question, nor the solution to every problem. Outside of the full-on “Agile is the silver bullet” approach, we see real-world Agile implementations that look quite different than the by-the-numbers textbook approach you may think is the only way to go.

Agile implementation in the real world takes many forms. And guess what? That’s OK, because the real world is where we live and work. In the real world, no implementation of anything complex is ever “perfect.” In this blog we’ll look at the 3 Agile implementation outcomes we see most often, the most common situations we help clients work through and work with to drive the best results. At the end of the day, our Spinnaker team of experts helps clients leverage Agile in the way that makes the most sense for their business — whether it’s “pure Agile” or not.

Will one of these outcomes match up with what Agile implementation looks like in your organization?

Agile Implementation Variables

First, a quick primer on Agile. Agile focuses effort and resources on people building things that are delivered quickly to solve the highest priority problems in a rapid, test-and-learn fashion that quickly provides feedback. As a result, Agile adds value and accelerates innovation. Project management elements like documentation, process, and structure are still important with Agile, but the #1 priority is value delivery. To learn more about Agile’s four key values and 12 principles, check out Scrum Alliance’s page on the Agile Manifesto.

With Agile, collaborative decisions come out of the team, rather than being driven by a top-down bureaucracy — a major shift in how businesses traditionally have been run. To be successful, Agile’s short-cycle, iterative framework requires cross-functional, dedicated teams supported by executive sponsorship and top-to-bottom behavior shifts — including pushing accountability for success down into the teams, versus up to the executive level where it has resided for decades. The rigidity of things like chain of command and job descriptions fall away, empowering teams to advance when and how they’re ready, dramatically impacting the pace of change.

Now let’s talk about Agile implementation. In a perfect world, Agile implementation would be smooth sailing no matter the business and no matter the environment. But we all know there’s no such thing as a perfect world. Truth is, every business is different, and every environment is different.

There’s a long list of variables from process to people to technology that impact Agile implementation in the real world, including:

  • Culture: whether it’s already collaborative — or not, and willingness to adapt to change
    • Leadership: level of engagement and willingness to integrate Agile principles
    • People: wide range of roles, experience, and available skill sets
    • Geography: teams can be centralized or spread across time zones
    • Buy-In: extent to which everyone is on board
    • Implementation Target: business, operations, or technology
    • Complexity: what’s involved to produce a deliverable, including dependencies

When you consider all the variables at play, it’s no wonder Agile implementation is more complicated and nuanced than as concepted, when the methodology was introduced almost 20 years ago within the software space. Even though Agile is at its core an evolution of what we’ve always done naturally — strive for continuous improvement and quickly learn from failure — it just doesn’t work as an off-the-shelf solution across the board. Just as it would be difficult to build a house using the Agile approach, because there are certain steps that have to take place in a certain order for the next one to occur (like completing the foundation before you start on the framing), you can’t always apply Agile as it was originally designed. So you adapt. And that’s where Spinnaker can help.

Agile Implementation in the Real World: 3 Outcomes

Here are the 3 outcomes we see most often with clients whose Agile implementation differs from the promise of pure Agile:

  1. INCOMPLETE AGILE IMPLEMENTATION

This organization gave Agile implementation a good old-fashioned college try, but didn’t quite get there. The environment is split between Agile — with its iterations, increments and ceremonies — and serial project management waterfall methods. Bottom line: The organization is not fully leveraging iterative practices to their maximum benefit. And in some cases, this is warranted.

  1. NON-SCALABLE AGILE IMPLEMENTATION

This organization gets an “A” for Agile implementation on select small teams, but doesn’t make the grade when expanding it throughout the organization. Companies are often challenged to deliver large initiatives leveraging Agile and SAFE. Scaling Agile introduces a host of additional functions such as release trains, portfolio management, and Lean in the mix that drive more learning curves and skillsets.

  1. UNSUPPORTED AGILE IMPLEMENTATION

This organization talks the talk but doesn’t walk the walk. While the C-suite and middle management say they support Agile implementation, their actions tell a different story, resulting in leadership barriers to Agile implementation. They continue to act and react as they did before Agile — directing and redirecting priorities without regard to the Agile process. This, in turn, breaks the entire Agile cycle. In its 13th Annual State of Agile ReportTM, CollabNet VersionOne reported organizational culture “at odds with Agile values,” resistance to change, and inadequate management support as the top 3 challenges to adopting and scaling Agile.

Do any of these sound familiar? If so, the good news is: You’re not alone!

Stay tuned to the next blog in Spinnaker’s Agile series. We’ll take a deeper dive into the 3 outcomes and discuss ways to address them. At Spinnaker, we’re not interested in forcing a methodology, we’re focused on adapting practices for your unique business environment, to leverage advantages, create opportunities, and drive results.

Can’t wait till the next Agile blog comes out? Connect with us today to tell us more about how we can help.

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