Prior to joining CGI, I worked in a variety of interim contract roles for ten leading organisations across the communications, energy, government, retail, B2B and travel sectors. The constant factors in each assignment were:
- We would partner with a leading consultancy / systems integrator
- We would be developing digital solutions using the Agile methodology
- We would always blame the supplier if it went wrong.
Dissecting those experiences through the benefit of time, I can see that, there were four main aspects that often led to failure.
- Agile in Isolation
We failed because we were working in an Agile vacuum, separated from those other areas of the organisation upon which we depended on to progress the agile development. This siloed approach led to endless conflicts in which the Agile teams were required to action changes in days, where the existing processes could only supply in weeks. Understanding both the internal and supplier set-ups is crucial to the successful exploitation of Agile, because if all the required parts are not moving in the same direction, and at the same speed, it will be immensely difficult to achieve your goals.
- Resource capabilities
I often observed occasions in which people with no Agile delivery experience were sent on a relatively light-touch Agile training course and then transitioned from a Project Manager to Scrum Master, or Product Manager to Product Owner etc. They would then be left to ‘sink or swim’ on an Agile delivery. It seems simplistic to say this but providing the right training and support to ensure that your Agile Team members have the required skills / experience is a hygiene factor in the successful application of Agile.
- The role of middle management
Some Agile failures I’ve been involved in can be traced back to a lack of buy-in at the middle management layer. The Senior leaders will announce the future vision is to adopt Agile and the team members will commence delivery. However more than once I saw the middle management layer were overlooked and pushed back against what they perceived to be a reduction in their sphere of influence over an organisation. They became a blocker the Agile teams had to overcome; in the way they operated their function in relation to the people in their area who were working in Agile. Examples included, not releasing resources, arranging non-Agile team commitments and objectives for their staff, endeavouring to control aspects of their functions involvement and effectively sticking to the old ways of running their area with no compromise for the needs of Agile. Again, it sounds basic but taking the time to ensure all stakeholders are bought into Agile will future proof aspects of your Agile delivery.
- Outcomes and timing
It is important to fully agree and understand which of Cost / Time / Scope are to be variable at the outset of the activity. One significant failure that I observed was when an Agile Team agreed to build a Digital Service to replace the paper-based HR annual appraisal process for an organisation. The scope of the service was fixed and the timing of when it was needed was fixed however the budget was variable to include however many resources were required to achieve the deliverable. Unfortunately, the team decided to self-organise priorities and work towards a timing they agreed between themselves without fully consulting other stakeholders. By the time the internal client (HR) was informed it was too late to deliver an MVP and the paper-based process had to be used again, with the shiny new digital service being made available 2-weeks after the annual appraisal window had closed. The use of Agile methodologies is no excuses for poor client communication.
Unfortunately, my experience is mirrored across many organisations and all too often, ambitious Agile projects fail to deliver real value due to legislative, cultural, investment or legacy system integration obstacles.
At CGI, we understand what the obstacles are and how to overcome them to deliver transformational business value.
Find out more about how the new Agile Digital Services team at CGI can help meet your needs.