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Agile project management: 10 challenges you’ll face
Clashes with finance. Legacy HR processes. Agile fever. How to handle these and other common agile project management problem areas
6. Agile burnout
This tends to happen when team members overcommit early on and there is a lack of pacing for the team. Developers overestimate their abilities as the start of a project and then work overtime trying to keep cycles on track. “In their zeal to meet commitments made to the team, members work late [and] into the morning, sleeping only one or two hours a night,” says Thomas Wise, former IT leader and assistant professor of project management at Harrisburg University of Science and Technology.
“They toil and struggle, making mistakes they would typically not make, and the project suffers due to delays and defects, aggravating what is already a tenuous professional situation. The team becomes aggravated and complaints begin, causing a rift between members.”
This situation can devolve further leading to errors, defections, and – ultimately – project failure. To avoid the problem, IT leaders should hire skilled facilitators (scrum masters) to ensure that agile teams appropriately estimate their capabilities.
7. Structural impediments
A variety of preexisting conditions can thwart the effective introduction of agile project management, from compliance organizations that fail to adapt to new ways of working to legacy systems that prevent quick iterations. “Starting small and starting quickly can surface these structural pain points, so enterprises can work on changing those roadblocks in time with their adoption of agile methodologies,” Frank says.
8. Agile fever
While agile may be a good fit for a variety of projects, there will continue to be a need for more predictive project management approaches. “What about the projects that cross teams, including outside partners that don’t do agile as we do?” says Levine.
“Once an organization gets ‘agile fever’, they think every project has to use an agile approach,” says Johanna Rothman of Rothman Consulting Group and author of From Chaos to Successful Distributed Agile Teams.
“If agile is misapplied to a project, the results can be disastrous,” says James Dobbs, senior project manager at MTM Technologies. “Every project should be reviewed on a case-by-case basis to determine if the agile methodology will be useful.”
Agile works best for complex or unknown solutions in cases where the work is modular and can be conducted in rapid iterations. IT leaders should tailor project delivery approaches to the unique characteristics of each project, says Townsend of PMI. “The organizations that embrace the full spectrum of competencies – from waterfall to agile to ‘next practices’ – are better enabled to deliver projects effectively and increase value.”
9. Lack of clarity around roles
Scrum processes prescribe few undifferentiated roles: scrum master, product owner, agile team member. “Teams are supposed to figure out the rest,” says Levine. “In practice, this approach sub-optimizes efficiency and smooth team functioning.”
IT leaders might consider formalizing some more specialized roles, such as testing manager to drive rigor and alignment for test plans, tools, and data; build master; or even a traditional project manager, advises Levine.
10. Pursuit of agile for agile’s sake
With the hype surrounding agile methods over the past ten years, many executives are led to believe that agile itself is a worthy goal, says Wise of Harrisburg University of Science and Technology. “In my experience as an IT leader in both the finance and telecom industries, the result may be a loss in productivity and customer satisfaction.” IT leaders should make sure there are clear business goals in place – faster time to market, increased customer satisfaction. “Otherwise, being agile is the key outcome,” Wise says.
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