7 challenges for the business created by Agile project delivery

Introduction

This email is a follow up to my webinar on sharing techniques between project and change management – click here for the recording.

I started with the assumption that when talking about projects, we are talking about agile projects where change is delivered to the business via a continuous stream sprints rather than waterfall projects that only deliver once every activity has been completed, at the end of the project.

This is an important assumption to clarify, as Agile projects deliver much more change to those in the business, who then have to adapt their ways of working to incorporate new features and functions into how they get things done.

Top 4 issues

The main point I made in my webinar is that Agile produces challenges for those who are responsible for “business as usual” because as they are so busy servicing customers and getting the day job done, they have very little time for assimilating the impact of changes coming out of the project environment. In my webinar I listed 4 key issues that I see businesses routinely struggling with as they adopt Agile project management / Agile training courses. I got the nearly 400 participants who had dialled in live to the webinar to tell me if these were challenges they had experienced – the number who said yes are shown in percentages:

Business overwhelmed by volume of change 72%

If change is delivered sprint after sprint, it is easy for those in the business to feel overwhelmed by change and for a backlog of changes to build up as they struggle to change how they work as fast as the changes are delivered to them.

Change done to the business 59%

Those in the business feeling they are having change done to them because the Agile Delivery Plan is not created collaboratively between the project team and the business. Instead scheduling decisions are based on technical priorities not business priorities.

Not knowing what the business will get and when 62%

Re-prioritising of work based on technical difficulties and the results of testing means users don’t feel confident that they know what they are going to get and when they are going to get it, which makes it difficult to manage the expectations of colleagues, customers and suppliers.

Records of how work gets done is out of date 48%

Frequent changes emerging from each sprint makes it difficult to adopt the changes at the same pace but also to formally embed the changes in procedures, induction material and training material.

3 additional issues

In addition to the 4 issues I put forward, those on the webinar shared the problems that Agile project management is generating in their business. The top three issues were:

Change fatigue

Driven by the volume of change, those in the business become exhausted by the unremitting need to keep innovating how they do things. This constant pressure, with no periods of stability where everyone can take a breath and reflect on how much they have achieved causes stress and all the impacts associated with stress e.g. illness, refusal to take on more work, dissatisfaction with work and in extreme cases high levels of staff turnover.

Users being emotionally attached to their current ways of working

This is hardly a surprise, because current ways of working are often a comfortable habit. Just as turkeys don’t vote for Christmas, humans don’t seek out change, because change means having to unlearn our current habits and learn new ways of working. This all takes a heavy emotional toll as learning is connected with failure, and the need to keep practising until you can get things right.

Changes in conflict with each other

Not only is there a high volume of changes, but as they come from different Agile teams working in different parts of the business, these changes can be in conflict with each other. One change automates a process, another change makes the process redundant. This incremental approach, without “connecting the dots” causes distrust as users don’t know which are the “right” changes to make. In turn, this distrust leads to a refusal to change until things are clarified.

Conclusion

There aren’t any simple fixes for these difficulties, but the rest of the webinar looked at how we can address some of the difficulties by creating plans that integrate project delivery and the change management activities that the business need to undertake

Based in the UK? If you want to get involved in fixing these issues, join my AgilePM course on 17th December where I will be running a practical workshop on how to improve the situation.