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Common project challenges with working agile and how to overcome them

Since we’ve adopted an agile way of working, we’ve noticed a tangible difference in the quality of work we produce and the speed at which we’re able to produce it.

Agile project management is inherently flexible; it encourages experimentation, embraces change of direction, and champions the ability to adapt to an ever changing scenario.

Unlike waterfall (a linear way of working where a project’s end goal is defined), agile is based on iterative development. The scope and requirements of the project are laid down at the beginning, but these are subject to change and tasks are broken down on a modular level to make adaptation more feasible.

Working agile has benefited our team in two principal ways:

  1. maximum flexibility
  2. minimal constraints

They’ve been freed from the shackles of overbearing project management processes and been given the autonomy to create and innovate in a way that suits them best.

But this isn’t to say agile adoption has been all smooth sailing. A certain level of finesse and patience was required to iron out any teething problems when it was first introduced at 6B.

Below are some of the common challenges you’ll encounter when transitioning to agile and how best to overcome them…

Reluctance to embrace change

The most common challenge that every organisation will encounter when manoeuvring to an agile way of working is a reluctance to embrace change.

Humans are creatures of habit, and the habits we form allow us to perform tasks without solely focusing on them, which preserves time and energy.

Think about driving a car. When you first learnt to drive, it required your full concentration, but now it’s become second nature and you barely think about the actions you need to take to get from A to B.

At work, habits enable us to be more productive. Through repetition and routine we’ve developed set ways of doing things and we know how to complete tasks most efficiently.

Change poses a threat to the habits we’ve developed. It represents the unknown, a perceived lack of reward, or the loss of our voice within the organisation we work in.

To combat this reluctance, it’s imperative that you’re proactive in communicating the benefits of these changes, and equip your team with the tools they need to make agile work for them.

Try to focus on a specific pain point they currently have and demonstrate how working agile will help them resolve this problem. Then think about how you can make this transition easier for them.

Whether it’s allocating training resources or investing in new technology, give them the tools they’ll need to succeed and help them understand the reasoning behind proposed changes.

Be transparent with your team and you’ll be rewarded with willingness.

Lack of planning

No two people in your team are the same, and neither is the way they choose to work. Where a tightly-managed schedule may suffocate one person, it will act as a lifejacket for another, helping them stay afloat and on top of a demanding workload.

The simple truth is, that while some of your team will rejoice at the thought of less rigidness and less emphasis on process, it will frighten others.

Those in finance and account management are accustomed to having every minute and penny accounted for to the nth degree, so the prospect of losing that control may be alarming at first.

But what’s important to remember is that agile methodology doesn’t mean doing away with planning altogether – it means plans aren’t fixed.

Rather than one figure dictating the work schedule, agile encourages a collaborative effort when it comes to planning. It’s perfectly fine to draw up initial estimates and timeframes for projects, but developers and designers have just as much say in this process as those who act as the point of contact with clients.

Despite what it may sound like, planning is an integral part of working agile, but so is regularly reviewing and adapting those plans.

Achieving alignment

If everyone in your organisation isn’t pulling in the same direction when it comes to working agile then it’ll be destined to fail before it’s even started.

You can throw all the money and resources behind trying to make agile a success, but even one dissatisfied employee can see the whole operation collapsing like a house of cards.

But surely if everyone in senior management is aligned with the changes, then that’s enough, right? Not quite.

For agile adoption to be a success you need everyone to be aware of the changes that will come with agile and how it will impact their individual roles, from your most junior members of staff right the way up to the CEO.

To make your transition into working agile as seamless as possible, every department needs to be aligned with your organisation’s new business objectives and the processes you want to put in place to achieve them.

This means clearly communicating the benefits and proposed changes, but also listening to the concerns of your team. As with any new initiative your business hopes to introduce, your team’s voice needs to feel valued, as if they’re part of the process and not simply being dictated to.

By encouraging feedback from your team, not only will you alleviate any concerns that could derail implementation, but you’ll also gain a more rounded understanding of what your team wants from agile. It may even uncover a perspective you hadn’t considered.

Agile burnout

Avoiding burnout in the workplace is something high on the agenda of business leaders up and down the country.

It’s why we launched an unlimited holiday initiative last year, encouraging staff to take more than the standard 25 days (plus bank holidays) to refresh and recharge when required.

With remote working becoming more common, employees can fall victim to “always-on culture”, where they find it increasingly difficult to establish clear boundaries between their work and home life.

Agile burnout is a subset of workplace burnout, and those who work agile may be more susceptible to experiencing burnout in general.

Because agile teams work in a series of sprints, they’re under constant pressure to produce high quality work at regular intervals. If a team is working waterfall, they have an end goal in sight, so that means over a period of months they can account for slumps in concentration or effort.

In agile, disengaged employees put a whole project at risk of not hitting its objectives.

Although agile is concerned with maximising productivity and cutting waste where possible, it’s important not to view all downtime as wasted time.

Sometimes all an employee needs to become motivated and focused again is space from the project they’re working on – whether that’s for an hour or two, or for a couple of days. In the long run, it’ll pay dividends.

Instilling a sense of ownership

At its core, agile is about placing people over processes. It gives people the freedom and autonomy to work in a way that’s conducive to getting the best out of them.

However, with several members of your team favouring opposing ways of working, and often working independently, how do you create a sense of ownership? How do you ensure they don’t become isolated and objectives aren’t forgotten?

The answer lies in regular meetings.

Whether a meeting’s purpose is to make sure your team’s vision is aligned or to retrospectively assess progress, meetings are an opportunity to check-in with your team and create a sense of ownership. They ensure you remain on track to achieve your long-term objectives.

Once a sense of ownership has been created and individuals are aware of the role they have to play, you’ll benefit from a more engaged team who are actively invested in the success of a project.

Agile is inherently about creating functional, self-organising teams. Once individuals understand their role and recognise they have the freedom to troubleshoot and problem solve without seeking approval first, you’ll have a team that’s more productive and able to think on its feet in the face of adversity.

Are you eager to drive agile adoption in your business?

Before you can reap the benefits of working agile, you need to overcome the common challenges that this way of working will create. 6B have first-hand experience of navigating these challenges with our internal team and the clients we partner with, so we know what processes you need to put in place to ensure these challenges don’t hold you back.

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