Friday, March 16, 2012

Why Scrum Projects Fail?... and how to solve it?

Having discussed about the importance of project management processes in Agile Scrum in my previous blog, let us now look at the reasons why Scrum projects fail and then we shall look at the approach to solve these problems to help achieve successful Agile Scrum projects.
Re-iterating some key points on Agile Scrum… We now know that Agile is primarily a methodology to help develop relatively new complex software projects where the requirements are constantly evolving/ changing or getting added. This is achieved through an incremental, iterative and collaborative approach where quality is continuously added at every single step rather than at the end, with total user involvement to ensure the product developed at every stage is potentially shippable.
The key point in the Agile Manifesto is that “Our highest priority is to satisfy the customer through early and continuous delivery of valuable software.” And this preemptively defines what is meant by success in an Agile Scrum framework.
So, when we talk of the following key points in the Agile Manifesto:
Individuals and Interactions over processes and tools,
Working software over comprehensive documentation,
Customer Collaboration over contract negotiation,
Respond to change over following the plan
The success of a scrum project depends on the mindset as well, apart from the project management processes and skills.
This has a lot to do with the right mindset that contributes to scrum success and the lack of it that contributes to failure. So, when we come to think of what hinders success in scrum projects, we are primarily dealing with the problem areas around 5 key points.
i.e., Reflection, Emotions, culture, Collaboration and Adaption
No single cause makes the scrum project succeed or fail, it is a combination of these factors that make or break a scrum project. So, let us briefly deal with each of them one by one.
Emotions
Humans are primarily emotional…. We have an emotional baggage in everything that we do. The idea is to cultivate positive emotions to succeed. The same applies to Agile Scum projects as well. So, when Agile is mostly about mindset and how we approach to it, it is important that we first look at emotions, for this one area has a direct impact on the scrum projects especially when sprints are executed within a collocated scrum team consisting of at least a scrum master, designer, developer, tester and a product owner.
Emotional Symptoms that have a direct impact on the scrum project’s success or failure are
Discipline – The discipline needed for a waterfall model and scrum project is entirely different. E.g., adding extra resources or cost or time at the fag end of the project because of some delays in the beginning of the project is an absolute no no in a scrum project. It takes time for the team to deal with this kind of situation and inculcate a different set of discipline to deliver story points in every sprint to provide a potentially shippable product at the end of every sprint and demo it to the customer.
Apathy – This can happen within a team due to a number of reasons. The very fact that a team doesn’t have conventional designations and all are equal in a scrum team can lead to discrimination within the senior and junior team members causing apathy. Also, it can be related to knowledge issues where the team is ignorant or has not really understood the very purpose of agile.  Another cause of this could be the team’s prior comfort levels.
Culture
Culture surprisingly can have a major impact on the success or failure of Scrum projects. The symptoms here are micromanagement, finger-pointing, detailed reporting, and Scrum Master being made accountable for the Scrum Team. The root causes for these normally lie with the way the organization has been working in the past and the culture that has already been set-up prior to implementing Agile Scrum. These result in a hierarchical thinking mindset as in waterfall, the team believing in command and control mechanism and a scrum team formed of say members from different departments with varying compensation packages.  
Reflection
If there is no reflection on what we are doing on a day to day basis and no learning on what we have done so far with no inclination to learn something new daily, we observe symptoms such as :
Same process being followed in Sprint n as was in Sprint 1, no hands-on customer demo after every sprint, daily stand-up being monotonous and a formality, no code-reviews, and tests not run before check-In, misleading metrics.
The root causes for these are wrong value definition right from the beginning, Missing Commitment, Non-Learning, and going back to the comfort zone.
Adaption
This is again, key to Agile Scrum projects where one needs to adapt and change as one moves along in the project. While no planning is carelessness, adapting and changing the plan as one moves through every sprint is extremely crucial. The symptoms one can observe due to lack of adaption are: Sprint retrospective meetings are done without actions being implemented for the next sprint, plans not being updated due to the changes happening in the project. The Root Causes could be to do an ineffective Scrum Master, No Empowerment to the team, Invisible Product Owner or having a proxy of the proxy of the proxy product owner, too frequent changes causing team to hesitate to adapt.
Collaboration
The whole Agile Scrum framework works on collaboration. If there is no collaboration, it can impact the scrum team’s working and can thereby impact the Scrum project. Collaboration again is key to a Scrum project success. The Symptoms here are: Only BA talking to customer instead of the whole team interacting with the customer at the end of each sprint, there is no proper team planning, the proxy product owner starts deciding for the customer and so on. The root causes here are Segregation, Separation or differences within the scrum team inhibiting collaboration in the right spirit, Hard-coded Communication Paths, Push-System where tasks are assigned instead of a pull system where the scrum team members pick up story points daily, There is No Shared Responsibility, There are too much of Turf Wars or Politics.
Solution to these to make Agile Scrum Projects Succeed:
First and foremost, it is important for the organization to appoint a Scrum coach who has lots of experience in training and coaching the scrum teams at an organization wide spectrum. He needs to be a strong leader to help influence the organization to take the right steps towards Agile Scrum. This would help the organization bring in right changes in the culture, philosophy and goals that would align well with implementation of Agile Scrum. Having said that, the Agile coach would also help influence the HR, PMO and other functional departments to bring in the right work culture. This could mean planning out the right career paths, reviewing compensation packages, bringing in the culture of empowered teams that can execute sprints in a collaborative environment. The change would need to happen right from the top to the lowest level. Once the foundation is laid, every team and department needs to bring in the concept of adaption and help motivate the team members to take risks and also adapt to change more openly. All this set-up would help work in a collaborative environment all set to make Agile Scrum Projects successful.

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