Agile Ideas That Address Problems When They're Still Small

Gil Broza is on a mission to make software development more effective, humane and responsible. He helps people pick up where Scrum left off, especially on the technical, human and thinking sides of agile. His new book "The Agile Mind-Set" helps practitioners go beyond process and adopt a true agile approach to work. He is also the author of "The Human Side of Agile", the definitive practical book on leading agile teams to greatness; host of the popular virtual trainings Individuals and Interactions and Packing List for Your Agile Journey; and co-leader (with Johanna Rothman) of the annual Influential Agile Leader event. Any given day, you can find him coaching, consulting, training, speaking, facilitating and writing. Get Gil's popular 20-session mini-program, Something Happened on the Way to Agile, free at

On projects, problems seem to be inevitable. How do you deal with them? The standard, familiar answers include:

  • Think ahead
  • Anticipate
  • Take preventive measures
  • Rely on experienced people
  • Have backup plans
  • Supervise workers and track their actions
  • Measure and monitor progress
  • Escalate needs up the chain of command

These responses are useful to some extent, but they are not always effective. You’ve probably been involved in projects that had big problems despite good people, careful planning and close supervision. How can you do better?

The agile approach is useful for many reasons, one of which is rarely cited: It helps us notice and address small problems before they become big problems. Interestingly, you can get this benefit from just a handful of agile ideas without having to go all-in on agile. Let’s review common types of problems, and see how those agile ideas help…

1. Product fit: Even when you take your time to gather requirements and produce designs, the results may misalign with customer expectations. Agile practitioners obsess about feedback: They constantly check with their consumers to see if what they’ve produced leads to its intended purpose and outcome. This frequent checking helps catch incorrect assumptions before acting on them has big consequences.

2. Quality of construction: Quality is often …

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If a woman has to choose between catching a fly ball and saving an infant's life, she will choose to save the infant's life without even considering if there is a man on base.

- Dave Barry