A few years ago I would have had difficulty mentioning failure and Agile software development in the same breadth. On the heals of the ever popular manifesto and effective practices such as XP and Scrum, Agile adoption grew, and the more it grew, the more software developers and managers felt empowered to beat the the long and dismal history of software failure.
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Now there’s increasing evidence to suggest that Agile software development and Agile management practices have finally earned the interest and attention of larger organizations, the same organizations who usually find comfort hiring from a pool of 400,000 management professionals carrying the widely recognized PMP industry certification. This certification, (known as the Project Management Professional), is a leading certification for project managers offered by the Project Management Institute (PMI). The certification’s popularity makes the PMI very influential in establishing culture and practice of management within larger organizations. The PMI has now turned their attention to Agile.
But in the spirit of Agile’s promotion of continuous feedback and adjustment, I’ve encountered quite a few challenges scaling agile in larger organizations. Some of these challenges are structural, others cultural, and so it’s time for me to adjust my own tune on the realities that come from adopting Agile in such environments.
The following are four challenges confronting Agile practitioners in larger organizations:
- “System of reporting” differs from the “System of production” – The corporate hierarchy (i.e. “system of reporting”) renders difficult the self-organization and a cross-functional focus required for successful Agile teams.
- Financial cycles differ from management cycles which differ from project cycles – Excellent article by Jim Highsmith on the temporal challenges an iterative approach brings when the organization thinks and acts on a quarterly and yearly basis.
- Definition of done – Procurement, budgeting and yearly reviews all necessitate a formal understanding of when the project will finish. You may even reach consensus on a scope and date to appease management but your first release plan that extends past the terms of this definition may present problems.
- Rewarding individuals over teams – Yearly corporate performance review programs focus on the individual yet Agile makes no provisions for this kind of evaluation, in fact it can be detrimental (pdf) to the team’s trust and self-organization.
What challenges have you encountered scaling Agile in larger organizations? How are you overcoming them?