What are the most common challenges with agile and scrum based projects?
The most common challenges that I found in the majority of the companies are: silos of knowledge, managers with the famous “Command and Control attitude” and lack of Agile culture.
“Silos of knowledge”
One of the biggest challenges to deal with Agile in companies is related to Silos. The term Subject Matter Expert (SME) is overvalued concept if you have only one SME for each product or business domain in your company because those guys will be a bottleneck in the short term. In any Scrum project we have to work as a team and everybody has to know about all the products to avoid dependencies.
What can you do to eliminate silos?
If for instance you hire new developers whom of course don’t know how to deal with Legacy Code (most companies have one of more) those guys have to request the help of the SME. This situation is quite normal if you have two or more SME but if you have only one that has to help Business Analyst (or Product Owners or both of them) and assist to new guys that guy is a great impediment.
The best approach to eliminate this kind of silo is to use a controversial technique called “Pair Programming”. With this technique two developers share a keyboard where they are developing code. In this way the SME could fix a bug from a Legacy Code and the new guy started learning the code.
In fact, there is a company that use “pair” workers in each area in order to avoid silos. Menlo Innovations, a small software company in Ann Arbor, Michigan used the approach to work in pairs for everything that for me is awesome.
Managers who loves “Command and control”
Based on my experience of working with companies where managers use the famous approach of “Command and control” is because they don’t trust on their employees. Imagine the following situation: your company moved to use Scrum in IT. During the Spring Planning Scrum team members decided to work in five user stories for the next two weeks (assuming that period of time for the length of the Sprint). However, after a couple of days the manager decided to add a couple of bugs in production and other user story he considers necessary to do now. The message from team members is: our manager doesn’t trust in our capacity of planning. He though that we are lazy because of that he added more duties to us.
My recommendation for this issue is: managers have to become leaders. It means, they have to build a safety ecosystem where team members can excel. Furthermore, as a Leader you should push forward your employees to read, participate in workshops, create community of practices and the most important thing: all of this activities have to be done during the office time.
Lack of Agile Culture
If a company wants to adopt Agile the company has to build a culture to support the Agile principles. For instance, everybody has to pursue one common and big goal, the company goal. I realised that in many companies each business unit is concerned only in achieve his targets. Most of the time, the employees got their goals but as far as not worked as a team the goal of the business unit wasn’t reached it.
To avoid working in silos (each employee only concerned about the business unit metrics) you have to adopt the mantra: Collaborate, Collaborate and Collaborate.
Secondly, it is necessary to have a culture of transparency that improves the moral of employees. For instance, there are companies (unfortunately a few) in which employees know how much their coworkers earn or salaries are listed publically.
To sum it up, Agile is about mindset, but it is being corrupted by approaches which put more emphasis on tools and processes. The key to the mindset is the ability and willingness to learn. In a complex world, your only chance for survival is learning.
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