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Why Do Agile Projects Fail?

written by: Ronda Bowen • edited by: Michele McDonough • updated: 5/19/2011

This article lists and explains the top 12 reasons Agile projects fail. Learn the reasons and avoid them in your next project.

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    Agile project management methods have been gaining in popularity. With Scrum (a specific type of Agile methodology aimed towards software engineers) and Agile project management gaining popularity, they are also bound to fail for a multitude of reasons. What follows is twelve of the most common reasons Agile projects fail - and tips on avoiding these popular pitfalls.

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    1. An Unreliable Team

    picture This isn't only a problem for Agile projects, which rely on all team members being involved in meetings, but it is also a problem for project management in general. If you have a project team and only half of the members or stakeholders show up for important planning meetings, your project will fail, it's as simple as that. Make sure that your team is dependable and efficient to avoid this very common reason for project failure.

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    2. Weak Leaders

    When choosing a ScrumMaster in Agile project management, you want to be sure you are choosing someone who is a strong leader. After all, we are not all meant to be leaders, some of us are meant to be followers. Be sure that the person you choose to be the ScrumMaster (or leader) is truly capable of leading, overseeing, and performing any follow-through that must be undertaken.

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    3. Poor Stakeholder Communication

    Again, this is a pitfall of Agile that is not exclusive to Agile's methodology. Poor communication between stakeholders is a common downfall of any project. Unfortunately, some stakeholders may not be very clear in what they expect from team members. One way around poor stakeholder communication is to form a solid communication plan for your project.

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    4. Requirements and Specifications are Incomplete or Too Abstract

    A fourth reason that Agile projects (and again, projects in general) fail is that the project has not been thoroughly defined. Agile attempts to decompose a project in terms of the most important actions and deliverables first, and then to track anything that might come up during the sprint (the time the team actively works on the project in the Scrum methodology). To avoid having a project with incomplete requirements, or an abstract scope, take the time to carefully decompose your project into the action items that must be undertaken for project success.

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    5. The Retrospective is Not Being Effectively Implemented

    Agile projects depend on retrospectives being performed so that you can discuss with team members what was learned, how the team is performing, and how your team can improve. If you are not holding proper retrospective meetings, your team may falter for it. Not only will it be more difficult to place where everyone is, but if a team member struggles while another can help them out, you are missing out on an important opportunity for collaborative project success. Make sure to hold retrospective meetings on a regular basis.

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    6. Your Team is Too Focused on "Success" and Not Focused Enough on "Learning"

    Many experts agree that what is commonly perceived as failure is really an opportunity to learn. Don't be so focused on project success that you miss out on opportunities for you and your team to learn. Instead, be open to the possibilities that mistakes offer. The software doesn't work like you expected? Don't see it as a sign of failure but rather see it as a signpost in the school of life. Be open to one another's suggestions and experiences.

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    7. Team Members and Stakeholders Try to Hide

    If you are working with team members who attempt to avoid work, who FaceBook instead of program, or who take extended lunches, your Agile project will fail. This is because for Agile to be successful, it depends on constant communication on all levels. Team members and stakeholders cannot have opaque processes, they cannot hide their progress (or lack thereof) and they cannot depend on the organization to pick up the slack. If team members are not fully accountable for their actions, the project will fail.

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    8. Agile Lacks a Cohesive Set of "Best Practices"

    Unfortunately, setting aside Scrum, Agile does not have the set of "Best Practices" literature that Six Sigma or PMBOK type project management strategies boast. Because of this, methodologies between two different departments can vary widely. Do your team a favor and be explicit in the expectations for your department. When something doesn't work, scratch it off the list. When something does work, add it to the list.

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    9. Agile Lacks a Cohesive Set of Metrics

    picture Other methods like Six Sigma and Lean have a definitive set of metrics for determining quality in your project. Because Agile does not have a cohesive set of metrics, it is absolutely necessary to ensure that you do use some form of metrics with Agile for your project to ensure quality. Without a clear system, it will be difficult to determine and improve the quality of your processes and products.

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    10. Inefficient Use of Time

    It is impossible to have a successful project without successful time management skills. If you spend too much time planning the project, your project will sink, if you don't give yourself enough time to plan, the project will sink. If you underestimate the time needed to complete a project, the project will sink. Do yourself a favor and make sure that, especially with Agile methods, you are not biting off more than can be completed in a sprint.

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    11. Scope Creep

    Another reason for failure, common to all types of projects is no stranger to Agile methods. While scope creep is less of a threat to Agile methods (especially Scrum) it does happen. Imagine for a moment that on the Sprint Backlog are all kinds of additions to the scope for the next sprint. This can make projects disorganized and overwhelm programmers. To avoid this, take the time to carefully construct a scope statement before undertaking the project - and stick to it! If you are only creating a time tracker, do that. Don't add extras to it once the scope has been stated!

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    12. Not Relying on Experts to Learn and Implement Agile Techniques

    One final common way Agile projects fail is due to haste in implementing Agile techniques. Many teams face difficulties because they are not aware of the organization of the Agile methodology. In order to avoid this, take time to learn and train all team members in the Agile project management methodology. You won't regret the investment of your time and money into this process.