Nearly a third of Agile projects experience some degree of failure. Why? The forces of scale, globalisation, and cost reduction – along with the need for greater transparency – are testing their limits. We face a pressing need to augment the principles of the Agile Manifesto in practice, relearning some of the lessons either discarded by the original manifesto or mitigating anti-patterns that have developed since its inception.
I’ve worked with many clients to put these Agile principles into action, seeing first-hand the need for a comprehensive understanding of Agile’s practical applications. In the article below, I’ve laid out six top tips for getting the most out of your methodology in 2023.
Be Prepared to Distribute Agile
According to a 2017 survey of 300 CIOs, which I’ll reference throughout, the geographical distribution of Agile teams contributed to 32% of project failures . However, it has become necessary to use distributed and cross-border Agile teams due to local skill shortages and high costs. Nowhere is this better evidence than in the case of a global cosmetics company I worked with who needed to scale up their delivery capabilities, but at a lower cost than their existing in-house teams. They achieved this by harnessing our outsourced development teams while keeping delivery management and control within their preferred locations.
Be Prepared to Scale Agile
Scaling Agile across multiple teams has become a critical aspect of project success, with 95% of CIOs having experience in scaled Agile environments. I worked with a major airline company that had realised it was locked into a commitment it would be unable to keep. It had promised to deliver capabilities that were unfeasible at the required timescale – without scaling up the existing team into a scaled Agile delivery.
This airline brought in one of our Release Train Engineers (RTEs) to realise the benefits of frameworks such as SAFe, whilst keeping the focus on delivery. This saved the crucial time that would have been taken by a wholesale scaled Agile transformation at that point. Executing Agile delivery at scale effectively means experienced delivery experts leading the charge and applying a Scaled Agile methodology such as SAFe.
Be Prepared to Transition
A lack of documentation plays a significant role in 44% of failed Agile projects. I can’t overstate the importance of comprehensive documentation and seamless handovers in modern Agile contexts. For example, we were asked to expand a public sector body’s existing focus on reference architecture to a repeatable and consistent service architecture. To do this, we decided to build on their existing knowledge of the organisation's systems and use Information Technology Infrastructure Library (ITIL) best practices.
Early and regular engagement with support teams is key to project success, regardless of methodology. Don’t fall into the ‘Agile doesn’t require documentation’ antipattern.
Protect the CIO
The average life expectancy of a CIO is just 14 months, a shockingly low figure, and we see the impact of that in the success rate of Agile projects. In our fast-paced digital economy, consistent and robust CIO tenures lead to successful Agile project implementations.
We’ve seen how a large insurance company scaled to pivot resources to focus on strategic priorities, recognising the need to embed Agile ways of working. It brought in our scaled Agile expertise, working closely with the leadership to bring about a SAFe transformation and support in creating and nurturing communities of practice.
Protecting the Agile Sponsor is important, but to make these projects a success, organisations also need a robust Agile transformation strategy and Agile Target Operating Model in place.
Bring Back Planning
The absence of adequate upfront planning led to project failure in 34% of Agile cases. Reintroducing enough planning in Agile projects is crucial to address strategic goals and assess progress. A public sector body brought us in to assess its systems portfolio and identify architectural patterns that would form the basis of a reference architecture.
This project required careful planning: organising the systems into their organisational, functional, and technical groupings. It also meant planning ahead to establish relevant system contacts and raise pre-awareness of the reference architecture process. Them, we began engaging the client with assessment workshops.
Executing Agile delivery at scale effectively doesn’t happen by magic. You need to apply a Scaled Agile methodology, such as SAFe, and make sure you have experienced delivery experts to lead it.
Bring Back Architecture
It’s clear that Agile, when used at scale, requires effective strategy, architecture, and oversight. In fact, 68% of CIOs agreed that 'Agile teams require more Architects'. Our work with the aforementioned public sector body highlighted the challenges you face when you lack a reference architecture. Architecture in Agile requires a different mindset, emphasising continuous engagement between Solution Architecture and delivery teams.
As globalisation and the need for cost transformation drive pressure up the corporate ladder, organisations across the world are looking for ways to make their Agile projects a success. NTT DATA has a three-step approach we use to help our clients: creating strategic intent, adapting the organisation, and delivering value at pace. Our structured agile delivery teams have gone into firms across a wide range of industries to accelerate product and digital service development.
Ready to level up your Agile game in 2023? See how we can help you by getting in touch and arranging a 45-minute consultation.