Here's Why Your Agile Projects May Not Be Working | NTT DATA

Thu, 14 March 2024

Here's Why Your Agile Projects May Not Be Working

Hint: you need to rebuild your team culture.

If insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results, then Albert Einstein was entirely correct in saying, ‘You cannot solve problems with the same thinking that created them'.

In any professional environment, the ability to recognise when something is not working and change tact can often determine whether a project is successful. The term ‘Agile’ encapsulates a way of working that embraces failure and change as a central feature of any project. Although the concept of ‘Agile working’ has gained traction in recent years, many business leaders have not quite grasped the full picture of what it means to be ‘Agile’. It is not enough to simply ‘do’ Agile, your team must also ‘be’ Agile to achieve sustainable success.

This distinction was highlighted by McKinsey & in 2018 as the team conducted a series of research to find out what factors contribute to the success of an Agile project. According to McKinsey &, the combination of personality traits, both innate and acquired, and certain values that motivate people to work are the most significant factors that determine whether an Agile project is successful.

Because of this, McKinsey & concluded that for an Agile project to work, business leaders need to focus on selecting and developing the right Agile team members.

Here are some of the characteristics that research has shown to be commonly found across successful Agile team members:


Successful Agile characteristics

Ability to handle ambiguity

According to McKinsey &, teams that are able to handle ambiguous topics or instructions are more likely to achieve successful outcomes. Often, this ability to handle ambiguity stems from a goal or outcome-oriented focus. Being able to look at the overall, big picture instead of getting lost in the detail (or lack thereof) will determine the outcome of an Agile project. By prioritising fewer items when getting started on a new project, instead of trying to completely understand and plan for every single detail and risk, the project can be broken down into more manageable ‘sprints’. 

The ability to handle ambiguity in this way is linked to how agreeable an Agile team member is. Trust and straightforwardness, facets of agreeableness, were identified as being two of the most important factors of successful teams. Being agreeable by trusting the process of Agile working, even if the team encounters several bumps in the road, is the key to your Agile team’s success.


More focused on outcomes than processes

Being outcome-oriented requires a culture where team members are allowed, and even encouraged, to fail. Trying, failing, then finding alternative ways to complete a task or ‘sprint’ is the basis of the entire ‘Agile’ methodology. But to do this, your team members need to be able to stay calm if or when unexpected errors and issues arise. Low neuroticism, in other words, the ability to stay calm in the face of adversity, favours an entrepreneurial personality and willingness to try different tactics. McKinsey & took this finding one step further, arguing that successful Agile team members thrive when faced with an opportunity to confront the status quo and disregard tradition in the pursuit of continuous improvement.


Works and contributes as a team member

Building a successful Agile culture requires collaboration and synergy to be a defining characteristic of your team. To achieve this, Agile team members must value team success over individual success. Contributing principally as team members, rather than individuals, involves respect, transparency, understanding, and cohesion - values that take time and training to develop.

Although this level of cooperation may not appear to be conducive to different personalities within a team, McKinsey & found that both introverts and extroverts have valuable qualities to bring to the table. Extroverts are often capable of adapt to changing tasks more easily and are likely to be able to lead teams that need stimulating and engaging. Introverts, on the other hand, are often self-motivated when the group is assigned a task, and are likely to be creative and proactive, helping other members of the team shine as a result. Despite common opinion, when these individual strengths are harnessed correctly, the combination of these two personality types can set your Agile team up for success. 


Characteristics of Successful Product Owners

The key component of your Agile team is the product owner. This is the Agile team member primarily responsible for maximising the value delivered by the team. Being able to rally the team around the product vision is the principal job of the product owner. The intricate nature of this task begs the question: what characteristics make a successful product owner?

Product owners who experience success in completing Agile projects tend to be more extroverted and emotionally stable. When a product owner is less reactive to stress, a team is likely to feed off this resilience and be proactive in finding solutions to problems. 


How to recognise and develop these ideal characteristics

Building a team culture from the ground up which encourages team members to ‘be Agile’ rather than generically ‘do Agile’ starts with selecting the right people who exhibit these characteristics found by McKinsey &

Before you take on your next Agile project, here are some effective open questions and prompts to consider asking when recruiting team members:

  • Tell me about what motivates you.
  • Tell me about what you expect from others that you work with.
  • Do you have a customer-centric view of the world? Explain your view on this.
  • Are you proud of the work you've done? Tell me about it.


Would you like to learn more about how to make an Agile project work? Take a moment to get in touch and arrange a 45-minute consultation


Want to read more?

Take a look at NTT DATA’s previous blog posts on the Agile methodology:

6 Key Agile Learnings to Augment Your Methodology in 2024

Scrum of Scrums: How to Adopt it For Your Business

How Do We Implement Agile Ways of Working in Central Government?


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