Recently I’ve been spending time consulting with colleagues about Agile adoption. Our focus is really driven by adoption of a specific work- and issue-tracking tool, and the tool is built to support certain Agile practices.
In our discussions, it’s clear there’s a lot of overlap between confusion about the mechanics of this particular tool, and about Agile practices. Sometimes the tool gets the blame for what’s really an Agile issue and other times the reverse happens.
Often the Agile discussion is framed as a comparison with traditional waterfall project management. One of my colleagues argued that compared to waterfall, Agile should be simple and easy. I agree with the simple part, but not the easy part. In other words, Agile is simple but not easy.
Words like “simple” and “easy” are often used interchangeably, but they’re really quite distinct. Agile (and in this case I mostly mean Scrum) is a simple methodology in the sense that a good explainer can walk a team through the mechanics of sprints, backlogs, burndown and so on pretty quickly.
Agile is NOT easy for most organizations to adopt and sustain, however. I have observed that really adopting Agile may require substantial cultural adjustments within an organization. Some of the really challenging adoption areas I have directly observed include:
- Activating the Business Owner role to vigorously groom the product backlog—this is often entirely absent from “bottom-up” Scrum adoption.
- Hard discussions about what “done” means. When is the deliverable really done? This often leads to accumulation of technical debt.
- Lots of disagreement about what should be formerly tracked and visible, and what should be left informal. The big issues here that I observe include resource capacity per sprint, and completed/remaining work per task.
These are relatively simple issues to talk about, but they are not easy issues to work through the current-state culture of any complex organization (and my definition of a complex organization is 1+n, where n=at least one person).
Those of us in project management roles are sometimes also cast in the role of cultural change agent. Agile gives us a great toolbox of capabilities, but the greatest challenge of Agile adoption may very well be cultural and not technical.