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3 Reasons You’re Missing the Point of Agile

Why the push for being on time will get you off track

Very few organizations need to be sold on Agile these days. It seems everyone has moved in that direction one way or another. The question is, are they going to Agile for the right reasons?

The data1, as well as my experience, suggests that despite already “doing Agile,” many organizations do not understand what Agile really is, or what it really intends to accomplish. I believe this common misunderstanding leads to misapplication, and organizations struggle as a result – or at least fail to achieve what they could have otherwise.

Your organization may be missing the whole point of Agile if it cites these three reasons for the transformation.

Faster Delivery

Some will say that Agile, or more specifically Scrum, allows you to do twice the work in half the time. For them, faster delivery equates to more outputs, which means more gets done in a shorter time period. The cited desire for more productivity, increased velocity, and reduced costs are an indication those respondents value more outputs.

When a team works in Sprints, it feels faster because the team can check off and show finished work sooner than the traditional big bang, all-or-nothing delivery we’re used to. Measuring status and progress feels better, too. Teams can still track percent complete (burn down), measure on time and on budget, and it gives management more oversight into how efficiently the team is producing. Traditional success measures using new and improved methods. Unfortunately, this is not the point of Agile.

On-Time Delivery

Related to faster delivery, organizations flock to the commercial promises of Agile for delivering projects on time and on budget. The desire to measure planned versus actual is an indication that “on time” is important. On-time delivery has always been the heart of project management, has it not – to deliver what you said you would deliver when you said you would deliver it? Unfortunately, this is not the point of Agile.

More Predictability

The next complimentary desire is for more predictability. Teams use backlogs of user stories, story point estimates, team velocity, and Sprints to calculate overall project size, duration, and predictability, and then measure burn to track progress against that plan.

It is easier to predict what a team will accomplish in a two-week Sprint, and measuring progress every two weeks helps the team “correct” productivity issues early to stay on schedule. Averaging a certain number of story points per Sprint keeps the team on track. Sounds great, but unfortunately, this is not the point of Agile.

It’s the Same Old Same Old

The need to know when something will be done and how much it will cost – this has always been the focus. Unfortunately, there is little correlation between being on time and on budget, and delivering the right things.

Project-minded vs. Product-minded

The problem has been the same since before Agile. Organizations are project-minded, not product-minded. Project-minded success is measured by outputs and schedules. Product-minded success is measured by value delivered and user satisfaction. The frameworks and methods changed, but for many, the measures of success haven’t.

Agile is About Cultural Transformation

Agile is really about better products – continuously finding better ways to discover and deliver the next right thing, sooner.

This requires a mindset and culture shift at all levels of the organization. This mindset shift then drives what you do, and how. As my mantra goes, “what you do matters; why you do it matters more.”

An Agile / product mindset embraces an empirical approach where you do something small, experience it, learn from it, and then adjust. It’s recognizing that we’re just working with assumptions that need validated. When you embrace an empirical approach in your product, you will uncover new things to develop that become more important than other work you expected to deliver. Therefore up-front plans change, thus the concept of “on time” changes. You may still have a timeline and a budget, but you’re focus becomes delivering the most value within those constraints so that the value delivered warrants continued investment.

Now What?

The values and principles of Agile are clearly more about ways to deliver better value than how to make teams produce more stuff in less time (not the same thing), although the latter can still happen.

It is this misalignment that is keeping organizations from achieving the benefits of Agile. Perhaps it is keeping you from finding success in Agile. Understanding where you fit on this spectrum is an important first step.

Maybe this blog has revealed some problems in your organization. Now what do you do? You can learn more about the misalignment and how to correct it in my book, Pursuing Timeless Agility: the Path to Lasting Agile Transformation; or you can tap into weekly insights that further the Agile/Lean mindset by joining my mailing list (see form on this page).

112th and 13th Annual State of Agile Report by VersionOne.

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