The Top 10 Principles and Practices for Managing Agile Failure

Mike Hansen

SVP, Products and Engineering at Sonatype



Dogma and religious zealotry stemming from a lack of understanding of the fundamental principles are the root of agile failure experiences. With the frequent blind thrusts into agile over the last 15 years, the examples of failed implementations are everywhere. Just because a bunch of people have lost their way, should we go back to big massive Gantt charts and a rigid project plan with rigid requirements?

Actions taken

The notion of software development agility (best paired with lean approaches) is a noble pursuit but there are some important principles that seem to be lost on many people:

  • Every situation is extraordinarily different. The people involved, the problems to solve and tolerances for risk are wide-ranging ingredients that morph over time. Be prepared to keep adapting your recipe to the ingredients you have to work with.
  • Software development requires discipline to do it well. You need experts. They are not cheap (individually).
  • Software development is complex and entropy is always trying to creep in. Realize that up front and be prepared to battle complexity mercilessly and control entropy losses.
  • Bet on small, as in, "two pizza" teams.
  • You can't possibly know everything upfront. Plans are worthless but planning is indispensable.
  • Always understand the most important problems to be solving. Ask "Why?" a lot. Filter out the noise.
  • Tackle the highest risk stuff first and try to uncover unknown risks early and only when you know the important problem to be solving.
  • Fail as fast as you possibly can with solid feedback loops to validate/invalidate thinking and guide the way forward.
  • Ship often, learn the important lessons, and adapt continuously.
  • Figure out a good way to measure the value you are delivering (there are so many ways) and make sure the team is focused on these metrics. Like so much here, this might have to evolve too.

Lessons learned

Even with these principles in mind, there is another critical ingredient: Effective leadership that adapts. Without that, these principles and practices invariably drift into irrelevance. Source: https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/reports-agiles-death-have-been-greatly-exaggerated-mike-hansen/

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Mike Hansen

SVP, Products and Engineering at Sonatype

Leadership DevelopmentCommunicationOrganizational StrategyDecision MakingCulture DevelopmentEngineering ManagementPerformance MetricsLeadership TrainingAgile, Scrum & Kanban

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