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Who Gets Blamed When an Agile Project Fails?

Have you ever thought about “When an agile project fails, who gets blamed”? I thought it was a very interesting question.

Who Gets Blamed When an Agile Project Fails?

How Does an Agile Project Fail?

It’s actually difficult for an Agile project to fail.

  • An Agile project typically does not have rigid cost and schedule goals that must be met and
  • An Agile/Scrum process has the capability to detect and correct potential failures early

Given that, an Agile/Scrum project should be self-correcting if it is done properly. For example, at the end of each sprint:

  • There is a Sprint Review to detect problems with the product
  • There is a Sprint Retrospective to detect and correct process problems

An Agile project should provide early warning of a potential failure with plenty of opportunity to correct any problems before the end of the project. At the end of each sprint, both the product and the process to produce the product are reviewed and corrected if necessary. If an Agile process fails, the process must have broken down somewhere; and rather than looking for an individual to blame, a more appropriate response would be to figure out what went wrong in the process to prevent it from happening again.

Fail Early, Fail Often

One of my favorite Agile mantras is “fail early; fail often”. People should not be afraid of failure and should see failure as an opportunity for learning. That is very important in an environment that is designed to support creativity and innovation. If senior management is looking for someone to blame, that’s not very consistent with an Agile culture.

How to Prevent Failure in an Agile Project

It’s relatively easy to prevent failure in an Agile project – its mostly a matter of:

  • Implementing the process effectively including Sprint Reviews and Sprint Retrospectives with an emphasis on continuously improving both the product as well as the process for producing the product as the project is in progress
  • Designing and implementing an enterprise-level transformation to align the Agile development approach with the company’s business and to create a culture that is supportive of an Agile approach

The important point is that their should be:

  • Everyone in the organization should have a spirit of shared ownership and partnership and be committed to the success of the project instead of an “arms-length” contractual relationship between the business and the project team
  • The business sponsors and users actively participate in the project in a spirit of partnership as the project is in progress to provide feedback and inputs as the project is in progress

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