12 Agile Adoption Failure Modes by Jean Tabaka

fail sign from failblog.org

another #signfail #epicfail by Brad P.

Last night at the BayAPLN, Jean Tabaka from Rally Software gave a presentation about the typical failure modes of Agile. This is distilled from her observations and being asked from people who have heard the hype, what are the real problems with adopting an Agile approach?

Which is your current favorite?

  1. Checkbook commitment doesn’t support organizational change management. CEOs create within the company their own personal family dysfunction.
  2. Culture doesn’t support change. Reward plan, and a static and prescriptive standard of work. Try to keep cross-organizational uniformity and use PMO as enforcers.
  3. Do not have retrospectives, or they are bad. Actions which come out get ignored or written off.
  4. In a race to finish features, the infrastructure gets worse and architecture becomes unstable. Distributed teams make this worse.
  5. Lack of collaboration in planning. Like having the whole team for release planning.
  6. None or too many Product Owners. Both cases look the same. Agile is yet another hat to wear and the person is already too busy. They check out and ask the team to just do Agile. Can’t get past the ‘this sucks’ phase of adoption if the business is not bought in.
  7. Bad Scrum Master which uses a command and control style with the team to look faster, yet in reality slows things down. Low morale lowers IQ. Take decisions away and it actually makes people stupider!
  8. No on-site evangelist. If the teams are distributed, need one at every site. Can’t reap the benefits of Agile or offshore without an on-site coach at each location.
  9. No solid team. Actually missed this one, inferred. Empowered teams amplify learning.
  10. Tsunami of technical debt if don’t pull tests forward.
  11. Traditional performance appraisals. Individual heroics rewarded, glad you’re not a team player!
  12. Revert to traditional. Change is hard. Hit the threshold where this sucks. Revert back to old ways of doing business.

Jean then challenged the group to choose the one issue they would like to see changed at their work and come up with an action plan right now to change it. In a month, retrospect on how well it went. Perhaps that would be an interesting open space subject in a couple of meetings for the BayAPLN?

It isn’t all bad. In writing this blog, I found that Rally has also started posting the top 10 characteristics of an Agile organization.

Update: Adding the video from Agile Australia mentioned by Mike Alber.

Day 1 – 9.45am – Jean Tabaka from Zoltan Deak on Vimeo.

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13 Responses to 12 Agile Adoption Failure Modes by Jean Tabaka

  1. Jean Tabaka says:

    Thanks Aaron! It was a great experience to spend time with the BayAPLN. Great crowd, good questions. WRT to the 12 failure modes, the sad news is that I keep thinking of others the really irk me. Complacency is one that is really getting to me lately. And from what I am learning about more and more from Kanban talks and reading, I am more and more irked about teams that allow all their committed items to remain WIP up to the 11th hour of the iteration timebox. What is up with that!? I had been annoyed by that before. Now I really believe it sets teams up for a failure mode. Kanban, not just a tool. It’s a lesson 🙂


  2. Aaron says:

    @Jean Tabaka

    I see that Ryan posted a blog and referenced this post, which I read again. Something as simple as counting to 12 must be beyond me, as I only have 11 fail modes! Could you help me determine what I am missing?

    Found it, it was the one about planning, fail number 5.

  3. Rod Claar says:

    The one that trumps them all is #3 No Retrospectives or bad ones. If a team is really doing retrospectives, all the others can be at least recognized as a problem, if not improved!

  4. Alan Dayley says:

    Very nice list. I’ve seen almost all of them. The trick is finding ways to overcome them. Still working on some!

  5. Mike Alber says:

    Related to this post,

    Agile Australia just posted a video of Jean delivering her “12 Agile Adoption Failure Modes” presentation at their October conference (though I must warn that a few parts can be hard to follow without seeing her slide deck).

    Figured some of you may want to give this a viewing.


  6. Mike Alber says:

    @Mike Alber

    naturally – I forgot to include the link 🙂

    Here it is:

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  8. Aaron says:

    @Mike Alber The video you mentioned is now embedded at the bottom of this post.


  9. Aric says:

    My absolute favorite is number 7…I have seen it time and time again, and yes, it does turn brilliant, creative people into mindless blobs…

  10. Bill Blackett says:

    i really enjoyed the video as well and wanted to share this link on use cases which is helpful.

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  12. Adrian Tawse says:

    In the end it is all down to people. Process is almost irrelevant, the right people in the right environment will create the right way of achieving the objective. The wrong people, or even the right people, but in the wrong evironment (being bossed by idiots) will achieve failure, and I have seen some of the most spectacular failures.

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