Why Agile Fails in Some Companies – Is There Any Solution? - PM 360 Consulting
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Why Agile Fails in Some Companies – Is There Any Solution?

Why Agile Fails in Some Companies – Is There Any Solution?

When it comes to today’s workplace, agility is a nice attribute to have. Being agile means you move quickly, change course easily, and you’re always ready to spring into action. But what about the term agile, as it pertains to project management? What does “Agile” mean in this context, and how does it apply to project management?


The term Agile applies to a specific approach to project management. So what does it mean? Do you know where the term even came from? The truth is Agile was originally a term associated with software development.

According to Capterra.com, the Agile Manifesto was created back in 2001, in the mountains of Utah. It was there – at a ski resort – that 17 software developers joined forces to create this new order of thinking for software development.

Their purpose was to simplify the software development process. They wanted to reduce inefficient practices like excessive meetings, heavy documentation, and strict adherence to processes.

The Effects of Agile

So that’s where the concept of Agile came from, but it didn’t get left behind in the cold and snowy mountains of Utah. No, Agile strapped on some skies and headed down the slopes taking the entire workplace, as we know it, with it. Today Agile is one of the biggest buzzwords in the industry and it’s changed the face of project management forever.

According to the Project Management Institute, more than 70 percent of organizations have incorporated some Agile approaches. Additionally, more than 25 percent of manufacturing firms use Agile exclusively. And based on research from Price WaterhouseCoopers, Agile projects are 28% more successful than traditional projects.

Here are some other impressive numbers regarding Agile. According to Targetprocess.com 

  • 46 percent of surveyed organizations use or have used an Agile or hybrid Agile approach over the last 12 months
  • 80 percent of federal IT projects were self-described as “Agile” or “iterative” in 2017
  • 85.9 percent of 101,592 international surveyed software developers use Agile in their work
  • Over a third (37 percent) of surveyed marketers report using some form of Agile to manage their work

So it’s clear that companies and enterprises are using Agile. But does the concept work? Are organizations that have moved to Agile really benefitting from the switch? That depends on the company.

Research from many sources indicates that Agile projects succeed to a much higher degree than traditional Waterfall projects. However, Agile projects are not fail-proof. In fact, according to research from the Standish Group, Agile projects are successful 42 percent of the time. While that’s less than half the time, Agile still outdoes Waterfall, which is successful 26 percent of the time.

Why Does Agile Fail?

So, while Agile is more successful than traditional project management there’s still room for improvement. So then, why does Agile fail, especially in large companies or enterprises? There are several reasons, but these are some of the most common.

Lack of Communication or Trust – as with any project, clear communication is vital. The same is true for Agile. There are often large teams within large enterprises. This means it can be difficult for leaders to communicate with all parties. Additionally, some parties might have a hard time participating with and communicating with others. That makes contributing difficult, which can lead to a breakdown in Agile. There must be excellent communication, as well as trust, which is often easier said than done in large enterprises.

Poor Leadership – when it comes to Agile project management, your leader is vital. But in some cases, instead of serving the team, some leaders try to dictate everything team members do. This micromanaging leads to distrust and a lack of success. Team members can’t achieve their goals with this kind of leadership. On the flip side, leaders can’t be aloof either. They need to be fully engaged and part of the team.

Overly Complex Requirements – many projects are very complex. That complexity can directly affect its success or failure. With Agile, the key is breaking down a complex project into smaller projects and then adapting them over time. Large enterprises with large teams often have a difficult time doing this, which leads to Agile failure.

Trying to Hold Onto Tradition – no one likes to change. It’s hard to give up our comfort zones. One of the biggest causes of Agile failure is trying to hold onto traditional ways of doing things. When you shift to Agile you have to commit to it. You can’t try to hold onto the old way of doing things. Trying to pick and choose certain legacy processes, or tools, and fitting them into Agile processes won’t work.

Inexperience With Agile – perhaps the biggest reason enterprises and large companies fail with Agile is a simple lack of experience. In fact, according to a study from VersionOne, the number one reason Agile projects fail (cited by 44 percent of respondents) is inexperience with implementing and integrating the Agile methodology. Implementing Agile can’t be done on a whim. It takes experience and understanding. Many large enterprises don’t have people experienced with Agile.

How To Overcome Agile failure

So, switching to Agile project management isn’t fail-proof, but it’s still more successful than traditional Waterfall project management processes. So can anything be done to help more companies successfully switch to Agile, especially large enterprises? The answer is yes.

Start Slowly – don’t try to switch to Agile quickly. Moving to Agile is a good idea, but you have to take your time, especially when it comes to adapting to the new culture. So start with small steps to try Agile out. As you have success with small programs you can begin to build on that success and continuing implementing Agile appropriately and successfully.

Get Someone With Experience – switching to Agile is not easy. You can’t just decide to do it one day and make the switch. In order to overcome Agile failure, especially in large enterprises, you must have the right people in place to lead the change. That means you need to hire people with Agile experience before you make the move. Agile experts will help make the transition a lot smoother.

Pick the Right Tools – switching to Agile also requires the right tools. You can’t just stick to whatever project management tools you’ve always been using and expect things to go the same. You must be willing to change tools and processes in order to fit your changing culture and objective.

Stick to the Code – Agile comes with its own language and it’s important to stick to the proper language and standards. For example, Agile calls quick, 15-minute meetings, “standups.” That literally means you don’t sit down, which help keep the meeting brief. So don’t hold an hour-long “sit-down” meeting and call it an Agile standup. Likewise, your leaders, or “Scrum Masters,” can’t micromanage team members. This is in stark contrast to the Agile philosophy. These contribute to Agile failure, but they aren’t really part of being Agile.

Focus on Values, Not Methodologies – you can’t start a switch to Agile by focusing on practices and methodologies. You have to define your business values before trying to implement your methodologies. Otherwise, you’ll end up building the wrong things. After all, according to the Agile Manifesto:

Individuals and interactions [come first] over processes and tools.

The Agile Manifesto is comprised of four foundational values and 12 supporting principles which lead the Agile approach to software development. Each Agile methodology applies the four values in different ways, but all of them rely on them to guide the development and delivery of high-quality, working software.

1. Individuals and Interactions Over Processes and Tools

2. Working Software Over Comprehensive Documentation

3. Customer Collaboration Over Contract Negotiation

4. Responding to Change Over Following a Plan

Agile Manifesto


Give These Agile Tips a Try

It’s true that larger enterprises have to manage bigger and more complex problems. They have more employees, subcontractors, projects, and business units. They also work with more processes and they typically have a stronger, more overriding culture that defines who they are and how they approach things. However, large enterprises must still deliver results in a business environment that’s constantly changing. So they have to be Agile. If your company is struggling with Agile, try some of these solutions and see if they can help you.


Article written by  Kent Livingston 23rd April 2019


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