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Welcome to Agile People Patterns

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In this series of posts, I will discuss common (and not so-common) problems faced by teams and their leadership trying to adopt Agile practices.

Adopting Agile is a lot harder than practicing Agile! If you have had the privilege of observing a mature Scrum team, you can see how effortlessly individuals come together so that the team rapidly delivers value. Work flows smoothly, with components being developed, dependencies resolved, designs agreed on and frequent deployments occurring with a only brief ad-hoc conversations needed to coordinate between team members.

The history of Agile adoption has followed a frustrating cycle. Leading-edge companies enthusiastically embrace the latest methodology and create early success stores. These in turn prompt more mainstream companies to jump on board, with various levels of success. As the interest in Agile broadens in scope, Agile projects multiply. Inevitably, these projects begin to encounter issues with culture, governance, organizational structure, and management values. Compromises are made, and the results suffer. The industry begins to gradually back off its initial enthusiasm, and people start looking for the next, greatest Agile method; one which promises to deliver the same or better results without the same problems.

And so it repeats … with Evo, Spiral Development, Crystal, XP, Agile UP, and now Scrum and Kanban. These are all fine methodologies, and each offers useful innovations that improve on predecessors. Ultimately it is the same set of adoption barriers that causes these initiatives to lose steam, not the merits of each methodology or the skills of the practitioners.

Why is it so much harder to adopt than practice Agile?

We’ll explore the answer in this series, but the short version is that there are many organizational, cultural and behavioral barriers present in every company; patterns that have been established and reinforced for many years.

Resistance
Agile performance comes primarily from a shift in behaviors at the individual, team and leadership levels. These in turn require a shift toward new values, some of which run counter to the values ingrained in most teams by decades of traditional management. This creates resistance, and unless you deal with the underlying values, you will get at best a superficial shift in behaviors.

Structure
Organizational structure also poses barriers to adopting Agile. Structures that have been optimized to support traditional management methods can really throw a wrench into an Agile team’s efforts to deliver quickly and frequently or bring disparate roles together into efficient co-located teams.

These barriers tend to show up in common patterns, reflecting the similar management philosophies and organizational structures that have existed for many years across industries.

This series of posts will focus on these Agile adoption patterns, and discuss solutions and techniques for navigating the barriers they pose. My aim is to enable Agile practitioners to recognize these more quickly, and respond more effectively to smooth the Agile adoption process.

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