Why read this report
Today, organizations no longer become agile by choice or innovative tendencies, but rather for competitive survival. Twenty years after the birth of the agile manifesto, agile transformations remain a risky challenge for organizations, and many end up in a waterfall-agile hybrid, known as wagile. Contrary to traditional thinking, adopting a hybrid of the two methodologies is worse than just using one.
This guide will help you effectively address agile anti-patterns within your organization. It will identify indicators of agile anti-patterns that emerge as agile transformation progress. Then, it will look at effective ways of addressing these signs and symptoms from each layer of the organization and suggest solutions that can be applied to solve these persistent agile pitfalls.
By showing you how to address the agile anti-patterns in your organization, this guide will help you evolve from wagile to agile and enjoy the benefits that agile provides modern organizations.
How to move away from wagile
Wagile occurs when the agile methodology is laid on top of the waterfall methodology, and many technology leaders think this hybrid approach provides the best of both worlds. In reality, it provides chaos and confusion—which is the worst.
As agile transformations go, most organizations leave a lot to be desired. Transitioning from one methodology to another takes a lot of work, but the upfront investment will yield the results you were initially after. Wondering how wagile is holding you back and how you can recover from it? Here are the top indicators of wagile and how your team can fix them.
Wagile symptom 1: We still seem to be the only Agile team
Agile has the power to grow from the bottom up. If that doesn’t happen, you and your team might find yourselves as the only ones being agile while the rest of the organization sticks to waterfall processes and mindsets. This layers waterfall thinking and processes on your team when interfacing with the broader organization.
Management still wants a single project manager to be accountable
Your team works in small, incremental timeboxes and delivers in large, infrequent releases
You and your team have little to no direct interaction with the customer
These signs show themselves when agile is implemented on the team level but the organization’s transition to agile is lagging behind (or non-existent). There are a few things you can do to change this.
Fix 1: Show that agile is working
Aspire to be the change you want to see in the organization. Set good metrics for your team, track to them and make sure you broadcast the positive results as broadly as possible—through corporate newsletters, management briefings, communities of interest meetings, progress meetings and, of course, the big information radiators in and around your team area. As you share these victories, don’t focus on points, velocities or backlogs; focus on the value that was quickly delivered. (And side note: It’s even better if you can have your project sponsor share these victories for you.) Over time, the value of your team will become plenty clear, inspiring others to make the switch to agile.
Fix 2: Expand informally and incrementally
As a team, your formal influence in the organization might be limited, but never underestimate how much you can do informally. Work out an as-agile-as-possible cooperation model with other teams in the organization—ask a fresh person from finance if you can get creative with the ancient funding system or ask people from the acquisition team if there are contracts in place to enable incremental delivery of systems. You’ll be surprised at how many informal opportunities are available—and will serve as proof points for how agile can deliver value faster.
Fix 3: Gradually expand your agile team(s)
Take on larger and perhaps multiple products to include more people in your agile team. If your span of control gets too large, simply split into multiple teams and implement a lightweight agile scaling framework. This approach will give all team members a chance to practice agile, and you will become a positive example for the rest of the organization. Eventually, and only once the majority of your team has converted, build accountability into the structure. This will help people follow the process, particularly those who may be resistant to change.
Wagile symptom 2: Our process is stuck
Every methodology that’s not nurtured and re-aligned every once in a while will suffer from entropy. The same is true for your agile practices. Here’s how you can tell if your agile process is stuck.
Your standups turned into progress meetings
You and your team fail to improve on identified issues
Retrospectives focus only on the product and not the team
These signs usually indicate that your team considers the agile transformation “done”—that all techniques and frameworks are implemented and it’s time to go to work. This is arguably the fastest way to put your agile transformation to sleep, as embracing continuous improvement will be vital to your success over-time.
This is also a signal that you’re slipping back to waterfall. This is normal and should be expected. People are creatures of habit. Before the complete buy-in and/or when stress levels rise, people revert to what they know, even when they know the old way wasn’t the best way. The waterfall-agile hybrid is a trap.
Fix 1: Determine what level of agile you actually need
Various factors, such as whether your product is physical or digital, the stage your company finds itself in and the characteristics of your team, determine the level of agile that is actually feasible. There are great frameworks that help you tailor your agile. For example, not all teams are comfortable being included in the evaluation process of their peers. Find your appropriate level and don’t try to exceed it.
Fix 2: Make people, processes and product part of your retrospective
Even when an effective process like scrum is implemented, it needs to evolve and adapt over-time to stay effective for the team(s). Teams often fall into the trap of only evaluating their product during retrospectives, forgetting the process and personnel concerns. Make sure you include all three Ps (people, process, product) in your retrospectives. Create improvement actions that can be executed in the next iteration and, in the following retrospective, remember to verify that those actions were taken.
Fix 3: Create actionable metrics to assess changes
Next to coming up with changes to the process, you’ll also find it important to see if they have the desired effect. Do these changes actually improve the wellbeing of the team? When setting action items to improve your agile processes, you can make the results tangible by tracking the right metrics.
Wagile symptom 3: Management isn’t on board
With customers, legislators, supply-chain partners and other stakeholders demanding attention, there’s a possibility that agile is not the top priority for management. Performing as an agile team in an environment where agile is not actively supported by management can be difficult.
Budget for structural improvements and/or training is minimal or doesn’t exist
Decision-making power remains at the top instead of within the teams
The iron triangle (good, fast and cheap) are still the only metrics used
Priorities exist for a reason; organizations need to focus on big-impact initiatives. That’s exactly why agile needs to climb the ranks. Your organization wants value delivered faster, and agile can help. Here are a few ways to champion the impact agile can have.
Fix 1: Sell the concept to the business sponsors
IT supports the business. The business wants to provide requirements and walk away for six months to a year, and then expects everything to be delivered perfectly. With waterfall, after numerous delays, phase one is delivered and underwhelms the business. The promise of phase two never even gets started. The business gets frustrated and loses faith in IT, which gives IT a bad reputation. If you can convince the business to increase their participation in exchange for faster and more complete deliveries, they can then convince IT leadership to take a chance on agile.
Fix 2: Get outside help
Whether logical or not, for some reason, the promise of agile just sticks better when it comes from an outsider. When conveying the message, you might want to consider hiring an outside contractor to run a seminar or just provide management consultancy to the C-level.
Fix 3: Raise awareness and educate management
Although management is becoming more and more aware that they need agile in their organization for the sake of competitive survival, you may find yourself in an organization where agile is not yet a top priority for management. Education is key in this situation. Raise awareness on the benefits of agile by offering to pilot a small project using agile. Set goals based on the value of early releases and early feedback.
Organizations are always in transition, and this probably feels more real to you if you’re currently looking to move from wagile to agile. You might also feel like a lot of decisions regarding the successful transition to agile are outside of your control—but they’re not. Your influence reaches further than you think.
The benefits of agile don’t live in a wagile world. Now that you know how to spot the top symptoms of wagile and have a few tools for how to address them, take action. It’s a matter of organizational survival.
Kevin's mission is to close the gap between IT departments and the businesses they support by opening IT to change. His goal is not to change what IT does; it’s to change how IT does it by changing how IT thinks. Kevin's expertise is helping organizations of all sizes adopt and embrace agile methodologies for faster deliveries, reduced cost and increased customer satisfaction. He holds numerous degrees and certifications, and has more than 20 years of progressive experience in a wide range of technical areas, including software development, operations, project management and leadership.
Tommy van Schaik
Born and raised in the Netherlands, Tommy van Schaik found out early on that his natural habitat was between business and IT. Having earned a Bachelor in Business & IT and later a Master in Business Process Management & IT, he worked most his career for the Dutch Department of Defense. There he focused on project management, IT governance, business processes, IT architecture, requirement engineering and business rules. After a beautiful expat adventure in the United States, Tommy has now moved back to the Netherlands where he is employed as a project manager for the Dutch government.
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