When does agile fail - Agile challenges, problems, issues

It’s not a lie that here at Kanbanize, we are big fans of business agility. Every day, we read, write, research, and implement our new findings on Agile in our organization. We also give our best in our day-to-day work to practice what we preach. However, blindly preaching that a coin is one-sided, doesn’t wipe out the existence of the other side. 

Today, still many organizations are bureaucratic and slow. This leaves many customers, stakeholders, and employees unhappy. To solve all these problems, organizations see Agile as a magic cure. And after all, these days, “going agile” is the new norm, everyone is doing it, so why don’t we try it too, right?

We won’t be these blind preachers. Agile is far from a silver bullet. Simply adopting an Agile methodology without understanding what means to be Agile, won’t lead your organization to a successful transformation. In addition, such change has its challenges and issues, which, if not addressed correctly, will inevitably lead to another failed transformation and another blog post explaining, “Why Agile doesn’t work.”

In this article, I’ll address the major challenges an organization could face during an agile transformation and how failures could be avoided. 

Just don’t give up on Agile. It’s worth it.

Challenge #1: Company culture and people’s perceptions about the change process

It is hard to change the way people think and operate. The habits and beliefs of a big organization are naturally deep-rooted. Typically, people do fight against change, and when Agile transformation is used to challenge them, they come out with phrases like “that’s how we’ve always done things around here” or “that never works here.” 

Giving a room for a change implies that you’re admitting that whatever you’re doing currently might not be done the best way, or even worse, it may be challenging to a person’s established values. In this paper, the authors found out that the human-related perceptions about the change process have been the major transition challenges.

People find it very easy to retain their old methods and processes except in the case when they are vividly presented with solid “whys” they need to embrace the transition to Agile. Thus, your organization must communicate the needs for change to your people accurately.

Agile Challenges

Also, the management needs to address the desired result from this change. Whether you are looking to achieve a faster time to market or to increase the predictability of your process, your people will embrace more easily the change if they understand and believe in the desired result.

Some of the biggest problems with agile come from management due to their old-fashioned perception of doing things. 

Challenge #2: Buy-in and alignment on all levels

To go agile, all executives, middle-management, and senior management have to be aware that there will be some changes in project management practices. They must understand the benefits of the upcoming transformation, as well as the details of how this transformation will affect the operational aspects of the business. 

Further, they have to fully understand what is expected of them in order to support this new transition.

Many communication and cultural issues can be mitigated by merely aligning with every level of management before accepting an agile methodology. 

Challenge #3: Lack of team ownership

Agile aims to assist members in taking full responsibility for the ownership of their work as well as give up the habit of depending on what others tell them to do. Doing so effectively requires the project manager to encourage more communication among team members as well as more engagement with the project.

By increasing team member’s ownership of the process, they would be given the freedom to analyze and figure out how to come up with solutions by themselves whenever they encounter issues, instead of wasting valuable time waiting for approval after approval just for something to be done.

Agile ownership

Moreover, when members focus on ownership, their engagement, and sense of belonging to the vision that the business preaches with their product or service increases. Their work efficiency and productivity naturally increase too. At the end of the day, it’s the team members that do the work for the customers, so it’s only natural their voice to be heard.

Challenge #4: Lack of dedicated cross-functional teams

The language used in creating the Agile manifesto’s values and principles by referring to the agile team members as developers is the reason many people consider developers as the only ones required to be in an agile team. But the word developer, as used by the manifesto’s guidelines, means “product or service developer.” This entails whatever cross-functional role responsible for helping the team deliver the project.

Agile cross-functional teams work iteratively and incrementally, which maximizes opportunities for feedback, ensuring that a working product is always available. Even though cross-functional teams are not a new idea, many organizations are still struggling to absorb this concept.

Challenge #5: Poor communication

Communication plays a crucial role in Agile. Team members have to communicate well and efficiently for the project to work well. Doing that right requires that the company provides proper communication channels and, most notably, for distributed teams. 

Typically, in agile organizations, teams are co-located, and Agile will be more naturally adopted. Being present in the same office facilitates the immediate flow of information and feedback. Also, one benefit of having co-located teams is the availability of osmotic communication. It means that the information flows into the background hearing of the team members, making the cost of communication low and the feedback rate high.

Face to face communication in agile

However, in the case of distributed teams that involve team members meeting in multiple offices, it becomes quite challenging to communicate smoothly. Some other cases involve different teams meeting in different time zones, which is even harder. 

In both cases, to decrease the level of miscommunication between team members, it is crucial to hire people with excellent communication skills. For example, teams might be co-located but still have poor communication and poor flow of information.

Challenge #6: Difficulties when selecting the “right” Agile methodology

The Agile manifesto prescribes no particular methodology. To pick the ideal option, you need to consider the nature of the business, characteristics of the organization as well as the advantages and disadvantages of different agile approaches. After using a particular method well enough to gain experience in it, customizing it to suit organization and project type and situation will be a great idea. 

Avoiding cultural transition, management buy-in problems as well as engaging only one team in the company (for example – developers) is possible. These problems can also be mitigated by picking and customizing a methodology that suits the organization and project.

Although the availability and the popularity of the methodology are essential, organizational acceptance and project success relies on additional factors. Those factors include project characteristics, customer availability, and organization culture. 

The way an Agile methodology is suitable for the organization and projects should be the ground on which it is selected.

Challenge #7: The lack of an Agile Coach/Evangelist

The Agile coach/evangelist plays the role of a servant-leader who ensures the whole organization succeeds with the Agile transformation. Among the responsibilities of the Agile Coach is the ability to resolve team problems and also engage in attempts in limiting outside influence in the work the team handles.

Agile coaches with experience use several tools and techniques to educate the organization on how Agile practices work. Their role also involves supporting the team as well as identifying and resolving problems and conflicts. Additionally, an Agile coach handles issues like helping with finding out what causes interruptions or impediments for the flow of work.


“Going Agile” is more than just adopting an agile methodology for a single project. Before becoming agile, you and your organization must have a solid reason behind it. You need to evaluate how agile you need to be and the type of projects your organization will have to address.

Only after you have answered these questions, you can choose the “right” Agile framework or methodology. If your organization is not ready to fully commit to a particular Agile methodology, then try adopting individual agile practices in projects to reach a steady level of agility. 

However, whether you commit to a particular methodology or you start by implementing some of the Agile practices, there will be day-to-day operational problems. Thus, it is crucial to have your company’s management support and experienced team members, which can help the mitigation of any problems, issues, or challenges that may occur.

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