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Default CategoryMar 02, 2016

Overcoming the Most Common Barriers to Agile Adoption

Justin Bell

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Agile really shouldn’t be a goal, but there are a lot of companies right now that are adopting Agile principles with the goal of improving speed to market, adaptability and ability to innovate.  For many traditional companies this can be a tremendous paradigm change that requires cultural, process and engineering changes to be effective.  I’ve outlined 10 common barriers that I see when trying to implement Agile and some of the tactics that can be used to overcome them.

Barrier #1 – Culture isn’t ready (e.g., not collaborative, functionally silo’d, seeks perfection up-front, etc.)

  • Executive buy-in and support is key

  • Strongly discourage non-collaborative or team-oriented behaviors (e.g., “I can’t start X until they complete Y”, etc.)

  • Setup dedicated, cross-functional Agile teams and make the teams responsible for certain outcome

Barrier #2 – Traditional project-based governance and staffing has trouble getting Agile traction

  • Shift to more of a “product focus” instead of “project focus” and assign a Product Owner

  • Create a cross-functional Agile team (e.g., Product Owner, Business Analyst, Dev, QA, etc.) and feed them work to do (backlog)

Barrier #3 – Attempting to scale at the start

  • It is difficult to change the mindset, culture and practices of a single team, let alone the whole organization

  • Start with pilot teams / projects, learn from these and expand from there

Barrier #4 – Resources are still organized in functional pools and there is a lack of clarity around who the actual resources are or lack of continuity from month-to-month

  • Agile teams function best when there is consistency in the resources so that they can adapt and learn together over time

  • Create Agile teams with dedicated (full-time whenever possible), cross-functional resources

Barrier #5 – Core team members spread across too many locations / time-zones makes getting started really complicated

  • Whenever possible, start with core team members being co-located or in near-same time-zones to encourage collaboration and the feeling of a cohesive team

  • As Agile becomes more of the norm it is possible to expand to broader, more geographically distributed teams (co-location is still most effective)

Barrier #6 – Product Owners are not identified, not empowered or don’t spend enough time with the core team

  • Every Agile team should have a clearly defined Product Owner that is responsible (and authorized) to manage the priorities for that team and make decisions on scope, functionality, user experience, etc.

  • Product Owners are responsible for working through governance or other functional leadership to gain approval / direction

Barrier #7 – Lack of understanding of the practices and principles involved with Agile

  • Conduct training for all stakeholders and the core teams

  • Coach teams through real delivery to refine understanding

Barrier #8 – Lack of Agile experience because everyone on the team is new to Agile

  • If a team consists of only resources that have no previous experience with Agile there is a high likelihood for misinterpretation of principles and fallback to old practices

  • When possible, seed a new Agile team with resources with some successful Agile experience

  • Agile coaches can also help

Barrier #9 – Lack of focus or attention to good Agile engineering practices (e.g., continuous integration, automated deployments, refactoring to reduce technical debt, code reviews or pairing, automated tests, etc.)

  • Train the team on the appropriate practices

  • Plan these activities into your sprints

  • Implement reviews or check points for these metrics

Barrier #10 – Physical workspace is not conducive to Agile (e.g., teams do not sit near each other / team room, not easy to obtain meeting spaces for impromptu working sessions, etc.)

  • Setup “team rooms” for Agile teams that encourage and almost enforce heavy collaboration and team work

  • Equip with necessary whiteboards, projectors for demos, etc.