Project Management

Agile Adoption Is Up…So Why Do Teams Hate It?

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Categories: Agile

By Soma Bhattacharya

Sometimes I read an article where someone mentions that “agile is dead,” or that it doesn’t work anymore. I have to pause and think where this comes from. Honestly, I don’t know. What I do know is that agile never said it would work for everyone.

Most teams and organizations working in agile either step into it by accident or want to try the “trend” to figure out it works for them, then continue working with it. I reached out to my friends who are certified trainers in agile, and they mentioned that they are busier than ever. That world has opened up because trainings are now online, which means you don’t have to travel anymore to take classes or get certified. In addition, the 15th Annual State of Agile Report notes a growth in agile adoption from 37% in 2020 to 86% in 2021. So it looks like agile is still very much alive.

Certification or not, agile is always the most natural way of working. At least, that’s what I think. Why?

  1. You work in tight-knit teams, keep distractions limited and get the work done.
  2. You are transparent in your communication because the team is small and a safe place for anyone to open up.
  3. You plan but always adapt and adjust the work because you are flexible.
  4. You demonstrate the work, and the feedback is used to course correct

So, what’s not to like about it? Not everyone agrees; in reality, things can seem more challenging for some.

Here’s why teams don’t want to go agile:

  1. Lack of empowerment and support of teams: Decisions made by teams are later turned down by managers. I have been in situations where someone from the team pulled me aside and said, “All that planning was for nothing, we were just told ‘forget the process, and this is what you have to deliver by end of the month.’”
  2. Reluctance to plan for sprints and releases because everything will change later anyway: Being flexible and agile is often used as a workaround for a lack of getting your homework done before coming to the meetings.
  3. Forced to deliver even when things are out of team capacity: Burnout is real, and there’s a reason capacity planning is in place. So, going out of your way to enforce more doesn’t really help in the long term (think bad quality and reworks).
  4. The influencer of the team is always involved in estimations and decisions: Planning poker is barely implemented because one person makes the call. Whatever happened to coming to conclusions about the story points and the estimations? New team members are never encouraged to talk about their side of estimation…so yeah, no prizes for guessing why estimations never work.
  5. Why speak up when it’s already decided? Team culture always influences team behavior. So, imagine new members when they see that everything is decided. It tells them that it’s not required to speak up to air their opinions.
  6. The same old retrospectives…and no one does anything about it: A team stops doing retros because similar points keep coming up without any action items being attached to them; the solutions aren’t there, and the problems remain.
  7. The stand-ups literally never end: Teams have multiple discussions where more members join than are required—and it goes on for more than an hour. (Oh, by the way: Just because you do stand-ups doesn’t mean you’re agile.)
  8. I get appraised based on what I did, not how I worked as part of the team: Time is wasted. The appraisal system that rewards individuals and not teams is controversial. Imagine if team performance didn’t matter…what should you focus on?
  9. We might say we’re an agile team—but in reality, we don’t follow agile principles: Everyone calls us agile, but as a team we only do what we are told—and no, we are not self-organizing because no one empowered us to do that.
  10. Everyone uses agile as an excuse to not do the prep or work because everything will be done “just in time”: Instead of excuses, just make it work. Try, experiment, fail and rebuild your agile culture again.

I don’t know about your experiences, but from what I have seen, agile is usually welcomed by the teams—the problems creep in later, as it’s not something management buys into (and it’s not just me: the Annual State of Agile Report also mentions challenges in adoption like “not enough leadership participation” or “inadequate management support and sponsorship”).

I know those who are happy being agile are aligned at all levels and are working on being a better team every day. It’s all about individuals and interactions over processes and tools, right?

What have you heard from colleagues about why agile isn’t always embraced?

Posted by Soma Bhattacharya on: March 24, 2022 11:46 AM | Permalink

Comments (9)

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You touch on some very important points. I see lack of executive support as a major hurdle to agile teams.

Dear Soma
The topic that you brought to our reflection and debate was very interesting.

Thanks for sharing, for your opinions and for what you've heard from some people who work with an agile approach.

It seems that agile is in vogue... when it comes to implementation is that "the female pig twists the tail"

I have a doubt. Why does the blame always fall on the executives?

Hi Soma, Great article, you bring up very valid points, some of which I was not aware of. I agree with you that Agile is very likable on its four basic points you mention. However, Agile is only for projects in a few industrial sectors (software development predominantly), even though many Agile proponents think it is applicable in all sectors, which is not true.
I am a proponent of "predictive project management" rather than Agile "adaptive project management". As such, I have put a lot of thought in the battle between these two opposing approaches. In the following article, I explain why Agile will never be adopted on all projects and why it is currently in decline, see:
Thank you!

HI Soma, I also checked the 15th Annual State of Agile report and its survey was conducted between Feb and April of 2021, so the increase in adoption "from 37% in 2020 to 86% in 2021" is actually an increase in adoption from 2019 to 2020 (in terms of actual years). The increase you refer to is out of date and I expect to see a decline in Agile adoption from 2020 to 2021. I can't wait to see the 16th Annual State of Agile report.

Depends completely on the organization. Success of Agile framework relies on empowering, which if organization does not allow senior executive management, culture bottles down to the whole hierarchy. At some point, as part of project/industry, we need to think what eventually we are giving back. It is not just about completion of project or milestone or business deliveries that matter when it comes to creating value for industry. That is where success of Agile comes in to encourage experiments and adapt.

Thank You

Thanks Soma for sharing the knowledge. This helps a lot of org to face pitfalls of agile and plan their approach.

I know of a leading financial institution, which sets their annual target as to how many projects they will plan to execute in agile. They take it cautiously at the same time, are improving their approach year on year. Agile is alive, and screaming as well.

I find product owners want to take short-cuts. Although the scrummasters are very good at shutting that down, it is extra overhead for the team who are getting "pretty please" requests during a sprint that really should be added to the backlog and triaged later

Generally, I'm pro-Agile for the right kind of project. However I see two problems that I didn't see on the list. Agile assumes a dedicated, knowledgeable product owner (business person). Such a person may not always be available, and would seldom be dedicated. Agile also assumes mature technical people in the team. Such people are hard to come by, and self-management may not always happen - admittedly a good scrum master helps.

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