There is no single agreed route to becoming an Agile organisation, but bad experiences can usually be traced to a small number of familiar causes, whichever framework is being deployed. Here’s our rundown of five of the most common reasons that projects come unstuck.

1. Not following Agile principles

This may seem a blindingly obvious place to start, but it gets straight to the heart of why many organisations' experiments with Agile end unhappily. Agile is not just a different way of doing things – it requires a fundamental change in mindset too. Understanding the key concepts of Agile practice requires coaching and leadership and is crucial in fostering an effective and flexible working culture. In Scrum approaches, the Scrum Master is responsible for maintaining Agile principles across the team, nurturing continuous delivery and improvement, and supporting the team to be their best.

2. Overcommitting

Sprint and increment planning prioritises a parcel of work to be done and sets a short, time-boxed period to deliver it as working software. Part of the skill of Agile forecasting is judging how much can be achieved in a single sprint. Overloading a sprint (or the workflow of a Kanban board) can overburden teams, create inhibiting pressure and cause a lack of focus. Teams should always strive to keep their workflow as lean as possible, so the process of testing and iterating can run smoothly.

Overcommitting is often the result of wanting to impress skeptical management, which is why wise Agile heads are always good to have around. The aim should be to avoid peaks and troughs of activity and maintain a work level that could, in theory, be continued indefinitely.

3. Unclear goals and priorities

While Agile responds to change, rather than sticking to a rigid plan, this shouldn’t translate to a lack of clear goals. In fact, Agile can be described as a continual process of planning and execution. It is vital that at every stage there are clear, user-focused goals, understood by the team, and that actions are prioritised and decisions made according to these goals. Keeping user needs front and centre is essential to maintaining Agile goals, so guard against letting internal priorities and politics take precedence.

4. Lack of collaboration

Collaboration and open communication are the bedrock of successful Agile delivery. With its emphasis on cross-functional, self-organising teams, Agile should be empowering for team members and stakeholders alike. This depends on maintaining transparency and avoiding silos. From daily stand-up meetings to retrospectives, task boards to niko-niko calendars, CRC cards to pair programming, all Agile frameworks are brim-full of techniques that have been developed to ensure collective visibility and to increase team creativity. Letting these slide puts the brakes on Agile efficiency very quickly.  

5. Not adapting to change

Business agility means adapting to change rapidly to develop and deliver better products. A lack of flexibility is the arch enemy of agility, but the reality of flexibility – accepting changes of direction, reprioritisation, and ditching unsuccessful work – can take some getting used to.  Perhaps the most important part of embracing change is to build an environment where individuals are motivated, responsible and trusted, and decision making is fully empowered. This is why a dedicated Product Owner with authority and knowledge can be so crucial to successful Agile delivery. An Agile team with the courage to try, fail, and learn fast, is more likely to deliver exceptional solutions.