Agile Delivery is not a “Silver Bullet”!

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Agile Delivery is not a “Silver Bullet”!

Switching to agile delivery expecting instant results is akin to expecting a magician to make the elephant disappear. Of course, agile delivery is magical in the sense that it can help you identify the elephant in the room. Only hard and smart work, collaboration and the intent to solve complex problems with agility and flexibility will make the elephant in the room gradually fade away.
An Agile delivery approach is neither a “panacea” for all difficult problems nor a “silver bullet” for all complex challenges.
Instead –

  • Start believing and valuing its values, principles and practices
  • Understand the frameworks and the methods
  • Inculcate what is possible / applicable at work
  • Understand the domain and the context of the problem

From an implementation perspective be sensitive to the following:

1. Beware of actions that are executed for convenience rather than for improvement

2. Look out for signs that indicate hindrance to lean practices in Agile delivery

3. Watch out for Anti-patterns

From an approach / expectations perspective be practical about the following:

4. Agile delivery is not a mandate

5. Executing a project in Agile delivery needs few of the traditionally followed practices to be unlearned

6. First taste of success comes after a good amount of perseverance in Agile delivery

Let us study these 6 areas in detail

1. Beware of actions that are executed for convenience rather than for improvement

It is easy to lose the plot in an Agile delivery transition due to actions that add little or no value and are merely done to give an impression that things are working well. What are some of the possible signs?

  • Renaming Use Cases to User Stories
  • Clubbing two or more iterations into one for want of time
  • Equating Story Points to Person Days
  • Leadership / Management setting deadlines because of a dozen reasons
  • Preparing tens of reports because somebody asked
  • Leads, Managers etc. continuing with the traditional command-and-control approach
  • Associates expecting to be managed by the command-and-control approach
  • Doing a bare minimum 15 minute retrospective and not discussing possible improvements
  • Adding associates to a team to deliver more story points

The list can go on…

Enough customer representatives, marketing executives, leaders, architects, managers, leads, team members etc. have been a part of such instant Agile delivery transitions that are projected as “happening” by saying “doing agile” OR “we are agile” while in reality they are just using Agile delivery as a wrapper to their existing ways of working to suit their convenience & to satisfy some egos.

Tip: During a transition to Agile delivery, learn to differentiate between professional & flaccid / mechanical setups of Agile delivery, before it is too late.

2. Look out for signs that indicate hindrance to lean practices in Agile delivery

Clear signs that one will not achieve lean practices in Agile delivery:

  • Frequent context switching – Lot of valuable time and effort is lost
  • No room for Slack – Difficult to handle change and dealing with unknowns becomes difficult
  • Agreed documentation is seen as an overhead – Results in compromise on transparency and incomplete work
  • Patterns and Anti-patterns are treated alike – The purpose of Values and Principles is defeated
  • Technical debt is ignored – Emergent design and architecture are compromised and lead to poor quality deliverables
  • Embracing change is avoided – Rigid forecasts, poor customer collaboration and inability to incorporate early feedback
  • Agile delivery practices are deliberately designed to be lean.

Tip: Work towards addressing the shortcomings listed above. Strive towards lean practices.

3. Watch out for Anti-patterns

A deviation taken, a rule / guideline twisted, a stop-gap arrangement made and even an omission – done once and then repeated several times frequently to become a norm or a standard can be thought of as an anti-pattern.

While we consciously allow a select few anti-patterns to stick around, some of them get bigger and sometimes we don’t realize when they become patterns.

Once they get engrained, mostly no one bothers to touch them to correct, not even with a barge pole. And the next you hear is that they are teaching these new found patterns to others.

Anti-patterns lead to the following:

  • Give an impression of having made a positive impact to the ways of working
  • Hide the underlying problem for a while
  • Increase risk and lead to counter-productivity at work
  • Defeat the purpose of patterns and further diminish the realization of value

Tip: On the ground we can allow certain anti-patterns for a while, and the moment we realize that they have lived their shelf-life, we should phase them out!

4. Agile delivery is not a mandate

Agile delivery brings delight to the team, the management and the customers when used holistically.

At times, the usage of an agile approach gets limited to a “tick the box” process. This is a very mechanical way of doing Agile delivery, usually not known to last long.

Think about why Agility is required, see if the framework chosen is the right fit in the context and then apply it. Learn from what is being done. “Pivot and persevere” as applicable.

Tip: Set the context and get into the mind set of practicing agility!

5. Executing a project in Agile delivery needs few of the traditionally followed practices to be unlearned

Traditionally these are some of the practices followed in delivery:

  • Start by Leading / Pulling from the front. Continue to Lead / Pull / Push – Command and Control Style
  • Manage (Planning and Tracking) a Task Force / team of subordinates
  • Delegate work while continuing to own the decision making via reported status

If the team members are:

  • Not making mistakes OR are not allowed to
  • Not enabled to learn from mistakes OR are criticized for making mistakes
  • Not empowered to discuss and decide
  • Not interacting freely with the Subject Matter Experts and Customers chances are that there is micro-management at play.

It is quite possible that teams that have transitioned to Agile delivery might continue to adopt a Command and Control Style for various reasons including but not limited to:

  • Established habits
  • Lack of trust
  • Citing of lack of maturity in the team
  • Focus on schedule and costs instead of delivering business value
  • Traditional Management and Leadership styles and status reporting
  • Cargo Cult mentality

and some more…

As part of unlearning, focus on:

  • Leading from Behind – Inspire / Equip / Empower
  • Creating Practitioners – Educate and Guide
  • Giving Accountability – Help Deliver Value


  • The Product Owner (PO) / equivalent is accountable for the Product
  • The Scrum Master (SM) / equivalent is accountable for the Agile delivery approach
  • The Team is accountable for delivering the Product using an Agile delivery approach
  • The Management / Leadership enables, supports and provides guidance

Tip: Unlearning the traditional practices and drawing lines that should rarely (under exceptional circumstances only) be crossed will reduce / eliminate a lot of micro-managerial aspects in delivery and result in high performing teams.

6. First taste of success comes after a good amount of perseverance in Agile delivery

Organizations that start afresh with Agile delivery can try these approaches while choosing a team to get into Agile delivery:

  • The first team can be the one that will be working on a small product OR a fairly independent component without too many dependencies on other teams / components.
  • In the absence of a small product OR a fairly independent component, the first team can also be the one having considerable dependencies on other teams. In this case, other teams would deliver in bulk once in a couple of months or more (yet to practice agility). The first team would use those deliverables over the next few iterations in a phased manner.

Such an arrangement is necessary until the other teams get aligned to Agile delivery one by one.

Tip: Think big, start small. Get the Elements of Agility right. Practice Agility!

An Agile delivery approach along with many of its frameworks and methods can only do so much if the expectation is that it can work wonders just like that overnight. The people involved, the processes that the agile approach brings to you, the values and principles that you should imbibe and the practices that you inculcate will be instrumental in exploiting the complete potential that such agile delivery brings to the table.

Focus on the 6 areas discussed above from an implementation perspective and from an approach / expectations perspective. Be sensitive, be practical and be empathetic. A world of possibilities will then open up and that is when great things can be done with an Agile delivery approach.

As Patrons (Practitioners, Leaders) OR as Beneficiaries (Expecters, Recipients) while we value that “Agile delivery can do great things for us”, what we must value more is that “We can do great things with Agile delivery”!

Value Agile delivery for what it is and what it brings to the table. Believe, Understand, Inculcate!

About the Author

Chethan Kumar Baliga

Agile Delivery Leader | Helping teams SUCCEED in AGILE Transformation journeys | Weekly Posts – Agile Elements | PAL©, CSM©, SAFE©

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