A Slippery Slope from Agile to Fragile: Treat Your Team with Respect


near 6 min of reading

„Great things in business are never done by one person, they’re done by a team of people.”

said Steve Jobs. Now imagine if he didn’t have such Agile approach. Would the iPhone ever exist?

Agile development, a set of methods and practices where solutions evolve thanks to the collaboration between cross-functional teams. It is also pictured to be a framework which helps to ‘get things done’ fast. On top of that, it helps to set a clear division of who is doing what, to spot blockers and plan ahead. And we’ve all heard of this. Most of us even know the definition of Agile by heart. In the last few decades, Agile has become the approach for modern product development. But despite its popularity, it is still misinterpreted quite often and its core values tend to get abused. This misinterpretation has become so common that it has developed a name for itself, frAgile. In other words, it is what your product and team become if you don’t follow the rules.

The thin line between Agile and frAgile

Working by the principles of Agile means you are flexible and you’re able to deliver your product the way the customer wants it and on time. By and large, Agile teaches u how to work smarter and how to eliminate all barriers to working efficiently. However, there are times when the attempt to follow Agile isn’t taken with enough care and the whole plan fails. Just like trying to keep balance when it’s your first time on ice skates.

With that said, I will step-by-step explain a few examples of how Agile can quickly and irreversably become something it should never be in the first place. Later on, I will list the tips on how to avoid stepping on that slippery slope. So let’s take a look at the examples:

Your technical debt is going through the roof

Just like projects, sprints are used to accomplish a goal. Quite often though, when the sprint is already running, new decisions and changes keep flowing in. As a result, your team keeps restarting work over and over again and works all the time. Does it sound familiar?

Unfortunately, if this situation continues, everyone gets used to it and it becomes the norm. It usually leads to a huge pile of technical debt you could ever imagine. Combine it with an endless list of defects caused by the lack of stability to nurture the code and you are doomed for failure.

You should always respond to change wisely. Despite the fact that the Agile methodology embraces changes and advocates flexibility, you shouldn’t overdo it. Especially not the changes that impact your sprint on a daily basis. Every bigger change ought to be consulted between sprints, and be based on the feedback received from users.

A big fish leaves the team and the project falls apart

Another, not so fortunate thing that can happen is a team member leave your team in the middle of a long-term, complex project that consists of more unstructured processes than meets the eye. With the job rotation in the contemporary world of IT, it happens all the time.

Once a Product Owner or a Team Leader is gone, none of the team members will be able to propoerly describe the system behavior and what should be delivered. As a result, deadlines will fail to be met and you will be chasing dreams about the quality of your product.

Find the balance between individuals and processes. And most importantly, never underestimate how your scope of work is documented and the team is managed. Otherwise, after an important team member is gone, the rest will be left in a difficult position. So prepare them for such events. Take your time to estimate what might hold back your team and what is absolutely necessary for the fast-paced of world-class engineering.

The project is nearly finished but your customer is nowhere near Agile

You would be surprised at how many companies out there are Agile… in their dreams. By appreciating the flexibility that Agile gives, they often confuse Agile working with flexible working and still work with the waterfall methodology in their minds. This can be spotted especially when someone overuses terms like sprint or scrum all the time. In reality, actions speak louder than words and one doesn’t have to show off their „rich” vocabulary.

Therefore, if you agree on a strict scope of delivery in your contract, you might regret it later on. We all know that the reason why IT is all about Agile is because plans tend to change. The only problems is that the list of features on the contract doesn’t. If the customer doesn’t fully understand the values of Agile, the business relationship can be put at risk.

Prioritize the collaboration with your client over contract negotiations. Focus on clear communication from the beginning and make sure that your client grasps the principles of Agile. Also, if along the way any unexpected changes to the established scope of work appear, make sure to carry them out in front of your client’s eyes.

Save me from drowning in frAgility

With all the above, here is how you can avoid messing up your work environment:

  • Prepare user stories before planning the sprint. You will thank yourself later. If written collaboratively as part of the product backlog grooming proces, it will leverage creativity and the team’s knowledge. Not only will it reduce overhead, but also accelerate the product delivery.
  • Be careful with changes during the sprint. Or simply – avoid abrupt changes. Thanks to this, your code base will have its necessary stability for performance.
  • Turn yourself into a true Agile evangelist. Face reality that not everyone understands the core values of the world’s most beloved methodology – not even your customers. So even if someone tells you that they use Agile, take it with a pinch of salt. Strong business partnerships are built upon expectations that are clear to both sides.

At Grape Up, we follow the principles behind the Agile Manifesto for software development. We believe that business people and developers must work together daily throughout the project. It helps us and our clients achieve mutual success on their way to becoming cloud-native enterprises.

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