The attendee indicated that his organization had embraced agile methods on a specific technology project but the issues and cost overruns they experienced stymied further attempts to adopt agile practices.
Further discussion of the specifics of this case study yielded some more lessons.
- Start simple and expand complexity progressively (also known as "success begets success") - in most organizations where agile methods have "stuck". A pilot was done using a small (though highly visible) project that satisfied the 3 C's of agile - collocation, collaboration & (open) communication.
- Leverage coaching assistance - It is very hard to manage your first agile project while simultaneously coaching the overall project organization (customer, stakeholders & team) through this process and philosophy change. If you happen to be the sole agile evangelist within your company, it may be worth justifying the costs of an outside coach to focus on the change aspects.
- Trust is mandatory - As with any other strategic change, commitment to the change means more than just focusing on the expected benefits while giving lip service to the costs. As I previously wrote in Trust - a critical success factor for successful agile projects, a lack of trust between key roles on agile projects can sometimes result in worse outcomes than on traditionally managed ones.
- Identify "appropriate usage" criteria for agile methods - Not all projects lend themselves to the use of agile approaches (just as not all projects can be successfully managed using waterfall approaches). Developing checklists or similar tools to help project managers decide whether a purely agile, a purely waterfall or a hybrid approach is best suited to their specific projects will help to reduce "square peg in round hole" situations.
- Don't get hung up on specific methodologies - unless the nature of your projects exactly fits a particular agile methodology, it is better to focus on adopting (and adapting) principles rather than to blindly follow an off-the-shelf set of implementation practices. Fanaticism towards any specific agile "religion" is hardly likely to reward you with converts.
Through committed executive sponsorship, appropriate staffing and a "walk before you run" implementation approach, you can reduce the likelihood that an agile initiative will go over the waterfall!
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