Why Agile Fails

Let’s face it, agile success stories are not in abundants. At Maykit, we often hear the sob stories, or worse “we are agile” rather… fragile.

We’d like to highlight three common failure points and throw a safety rope out to aid your onward journey.

Misconceptions – An easy way out.

Limited process and no documentation, it’s easy.

Alongside that you get a dose of anarchy.

As our Founder Helen reiterates in her article ‘Scrum Myths’, this lack in process and documentation belief is totally illogical and a statement that should be banished. The Agile mindset although a mindset change it also comes with a set of lightweight processes that are designed to enable teams and organisations to get products out the door iteratively allowing for faster feedback loops.

The processes that supports this gets enhanced and hardened by and for the team, not dictated.

In basic terms there’s:

EnglishAgile
The VisionThe Product
Business Needs & WantsAn ordered list of Backlog Items
TimeframesSprints
EstimationsPoints (Relative not Absolute)
Escalations for risksBlocker Removal
Acceptance CriteriaAligns with agreed ‘Definitely Done’ statement

Start with the fundamentals: The Product Vision! Answering these 3 questions: Why are we developing this product? What value does it bring? What’s the minimum we can release to test the market?

Timeframes! Get the team to agree a timeframe to make developments. This can be between 1-4 weeks, but remember the faster the feedback loop the faster realisation of ROI

Command and Control – You will do agile because that’s what our company is.

Yeah, we ‘do agile’ cycles in “magical company”, we made everyone follow the steps, and told the project managers they are now ScrumMasters and implemented 30 min daily’s as 15 mins ‘didn’t’ work for us.

If you haven’t experience all of these in one company you have surely have experienced one.

The first “rule of Agile” is don’t “control agile working” … Command and control is dated, whatever which way you look at it. It just doesn’t work, if it did, companies would be made up of one person, because what’s the point in having any more. To become great at what you do, you need experts with different experiences and backgrounds to guide, advise and bring their intelligence to the work in hand.

To recognise the areas of focus, answer these questions: We hire intelligent people? We trust their knowledge and experience? We want our products to thrive and reduce waste?

If you answered “no or mostly” to any one of these, there’s your starting point. Find the best in people, learn to trust your ability to let go and their ability to be empowered, to bring new ideas, new thinking, new experiences and drive valuable products to release.

Mindset limbo – Bringing your creature comforts with you.

This maybe you, your colleagues, the team or an organisation wide default. It’s safer to bring what you already know and mould new stuff around it than changing your mindset to adapt to new ways of thinking. But how practical is this?

If this sounds familiar, wherever you fall within the company, it’s important to voice this. Just because it’s been done like “this” for years doesn’t mean it’s the future.

To be clear, we need to use the past to inspect and adapt our future. We have to learn from our past in order to develop a better future. We need to remember what went right and wrong. Organisations have a habit of picking up ‘fads’, not adapting the old and thinking the future will be different.

For example:

  1. Timeboxing Gantt charts rather than building timeboxes to deliver potentially releasable products.
  2. 15 min daily’s with the ScrumMaster or Product Owner telling the team what to do.
  3. Siloed ‘teams’ with individuals only working on ‘their’ bit and not collaborating with one another and work items building up.
  4. Individuals just not willing to try something new, their creature comforts are all they want or need to know.

Recognise any of these?

Don’t be shy in admitting it, recognition is the first step to recovering addicts. Challenge the business and don’t follow the crowd. Be individualistic.

Ask these questions: What value are we adding to ‘timeboxing’ the entire project plan? Is there anyone that within the team that has knowledge in […] as it would be great to learn how to? How can we remove bottlenecks as a team?

And for those ‘non-conformists’ they are gold dust. The best way to learn is off your hardest stakeholder. Firstly, reach out! Yes it may seem scary at first but remember the human race is a social bunch, and nobody deliberately comes to work to do a ‘bad job’.

Questions to ask: How are you? How are you finding things in the project? As a […] do you feel empowered to speak up? Do you feel you have autonomy over the work items you are contributing too? If you could do anything you wanted, what would you do?

Key question being… How are you? Behaviors are driven by something, regardless of the whole story, you get to understand a little of what may be in the driver’s seat.


The first step taken on your Agile journey, is not to become agile (that is never the goal), but to take small steps to achieving logic. Start with the foundations, trust your teams intelligence and be transparent in communication.

At Maykit we are not purists, one size doesn’t fit all projects due to the vast scale of complexity. But what we do believe in is bringing value day to day life whether that’s at home , in our organisations or for our customers.


We have loads of things we want to write about, but how about our next topic is chosen by you! Your chance to challenge our thinking … Let us know in the comments…

Bye for now!

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