Home > Articles > Software Development & Management > Agile

Perils and Pitfalls of Agile Adoption

  • Print
  • + Share This
Agile development sounds great; what could go wrong? Matt Heusser examines some of the myths, mysteries, and classic mistakes in Agile development, including some things to consider before jumping into Agile with both feet.
Like this article? We recommend

Like this article? We recommend

"Any good idea can be implemented poorly."

—Author and consultant Esther Derby

If your organization is trying to adopt (or considering) a more Agile approach to software development, you are probably hearing plenty of rah-rah stories of how great things will be. A rational response to those stories is to ask, "What can go wrong?" To discuss some of the traps to avoid, let’s consider what most companies are transitioning from: the waterfall model.

The waterfall model is the most common way for large organizations to write software today. It takes the complex, chaotic development process and turns it into something simple and clean:

  1. Figure out what needs to be done (requirements).
  2. Determine how to do it (architecture and design).
  3. Write the software (coding).
  4. Make sure that the software works (testing).
  5. Deploy the system.

The only problem is, it doesn’t work.

I should probably clarify that statement a bit: The waterfall model often doesn’t work well. Companies try to turn the waterfall into an assembly line, with requirements analysts, architects, coders, testers, and project managers who oversee the assembly. Transferring information between these people is difficult, so they tend to rely on documentation, which is often vague and sometimes worthless. Worse, when the customer changes his mind after a decision is made, costs go up vastly—therefore, waterfall advocates suggest limiting or controlling change. So, when the software ships, it’s late, buggy, and doesn’t really meet the customer’s need; it meets what the customer thought his need was nine months ago...

Enter the Agile consultants. Instead of specialists, they suggest generalists, who do all the work, implementing features in slices, end-to-end, in very short timeframes. The customer can prioritize her features, getting the most important features first, meeting after every release to plan the next release. Productivity increases because problems aren’t falling through the cracks. There are no inter-team arguments, such as architects versus coders versus testers; everyone is on one team, focusing on delivering something of value. Testing moves up front, changing from a verification activity to a specification activity.

Immediate Risks

Implemented well, Agile methods truly can deliver. The customer sees working progress periodically, can change her mind after every release, and sees the most important features implemented first. But in my experience, Agile methods have three major potential risks:

  • Agile methods are easy to misunderstand.
  • It’s easy to think you’re doing Agile right, and be wrong.
  • Agile methods make value visible.

Agile Methods Are Easy To Misunderstand

Agile philosophy includes heavy customer involvement, responding to change versus following a plan, releasing software early and often, and focusing on individuals and interactions over processes and tools. Those Agile philosophies tie into Agile methods such as pair programming, the planning game, time-boxed iterations, test-driven development, and refactoring. (XProgramming.com is a wonderful resource on Agile methods.)

The methods exist in order to enable the philosophy. For example, test-driven development combined with refactoring can make software malleable so it can change more easily, allowing the plan to change. Automated testing combined with continuous integration makes it possible to release often. Without automated testing and continuous integration, frequent releases create a huge manual testing burden that’s often unbearable.

Agile practices are like any other practices, though; they’re learned through example, application, and training. If the practices are disconnected from the philosophy, the result just won’t work.

For example, a few years back I worked with a company that wanted to be more "agile," yet they still wanted to know exactly when projects would start and stop, before the requirements were defined. That’s a fine idea—in fact, Agile development can support this plan. Features are placed in a priority order; the team works on the highest priority first, iterating until time runs out. The problem was that the organization wanted an estimate for all the work to be done—before they knew all the requirements.

The example above isn’t Agile—it’s psychic. Agile development specifically gives up on the psychic approach, instead choosing an adaptive approach.

It’s Easy To Think You’re Doing Agile Right, and Be Wrong

It’s really easy to throw out the big, thick methodology binder and the heavyweight requirements documents, but Agile development expects that something will replace them. Many organizations move to iterative development without automated testing—with the result that the testing burden grows exponentially—or move to iterative development but keep the hard deadlines and the expectation of full delivery on a ship date. Pair programming without communication and feedback is just someone breathing over your shoulder. Without testing skills, a developer won’t be able to do automated testing; worse, he won’t even realize this as he wastes hours writing so-called "tests."

In other words, Agile techniques require depth: the ability to know the right techniques for the current project, and the ability to choose between them. Without direction, a team told to throw away its waterfall method will simply devolve into "code and fix."

That isn’t Agile: it’s chaos.

Agile Methods Make Value Visible

Yes, believe it or not, this is a potential risk of agile adoption. It’s a political risk. In most large organizations, it’s possible to not work very hard, not contribute, and get by on political savvy and power. I refer to these folks as "roaches" because they’re essentially scavengers that hide from the light.

Agile methods make progress visible. Unlike the complex, bureaucratic waterfall organization, which is opaque, if someone in an Agile shop isn’t contributing, the fact will become obvious—and fast. Think about the consequences of this fact for a minute. The roaches, often the most influential and politically savvy people in the group, are going to fight Agile methods tooth and nail. The misinformation campaign that a roach leads can be surprisingly effective, because Agile methods are easy to misunderstand and hard to get right.

  • + Share This
  • 🔖 Save To Your Account

InformIT Promotional Mailings & Special Offers

I would like to receive exclusive offers and hear about products from InformIT and its family of brands. I can unsubscribe at any time.

Overview


Pearson Education, Inc., 221 River Street, Hoboken, New Jersey 07030, (Pearson) presents this site to provide information about products and services that can be purchased through this site.

This privacy notice provides an overview of our commitment to privacy and describes how we collect, protect, use and share personal information collected through this site. Please note that other Pearson websites and online products and services have their own separate privacy policies.

Collection and Use of Information


To conduct business and deliver products and services, Pearson collects and uses personal information in several ways in connection with this site, including:

Questions and Inquiries

For inquiries and questions, we collect the inquiry or question, together with name, contact details (email address, phone number and mailing address) and any other additional information voluntarily submitted to us through a Contact Us form or an email. We use this information to address the inquiry and respond to the question.

Online Store

For orders and purchases placed through our online store on this site, we collect order details, name, institution name and address (if applicable), email address, phone number, shipping and billing addresses, credit/debit card information, shipping options and any instructions. We use this information to complete transactions, fulfill orders, communicate with individuals placing orders or visiting the online store, and for related purposes.

Surveys

Pearson may offer opportunities to provide feedback or participate in surveys, including surveys evaluating Pearson products, services or sites. Participation is voluntary. Pearson collects information requested in the survey questions and uses the information to evaluate, support, maintain and improve products, services or sites, develop new products and services, conduct educational research and for other purposes specified in the survey.

Contests and Drawings

Occasionally, we may sponsor a contest or drawing. Participation is optional. Pearson collects name, contact information and other information specified on the entry form for the contest or drawing to conduct the contest or drawing. Pearson may collect additional personal information from the winners of a contest or drawing in order to award the prize and for tax reporting purposes, as required by law.

Newsletters

If you have elected to receive email newsletters or promotional mailings and special offers but want to unsubscribe, simply email information@informit.com.

Service Announcements

On rare occasions it is necessary to send out a strictly service related announcement. For instance, if our service is temporarily suspended for maintenance we might send users an email. Generally, users may not opt-out of these communications, though they can deactivate their account information. However, these communications are not promotional in nature.

Customer Service

We communicate with users on a regular basis to provide requested services and in regard to issues relating to their account we reply via email or phone in accordance with the users' wishes when a user submits their information through our Contact Us form.

Other Collection and Use of Information


Application and System Logs

Pearson automatically collects log data to help ensure the delivery, availability and security of this site. Log data may include technical information about how a user or visitor connected to this site, such as browser type, type of computer/device, operating system, internet service provider and IP address. We use this information for support purposes and to monitor the health of the site, identify problems, improve service, detect unauthorized access and fraudulent activity, prevent and respond to security incidents and appropriately scale computing resources.

Web Analytics

Pearson may use third party web trend analytical services, including Google Analytics, to collect visitor information, such as IP addresses, browser types, referring pages, pages visited and time spent on a particular site. While these analytical services collect and report information on an anonymous basis, they may use cookies to gather web trend information. The information gathered may enable Pearson (but not the third party web trend services) to link information with application and system log data. Pearson uses this information for system administration and to identify problems, improve service, detect unauthorized access and fraudulent activity, prevent and respond to security incidents, appropriately scale computing resources and otherwise support and deliver this site and its services.

Cookies and Related Technologies

This site uses cookies and similar technologies to personalize content, measure traffic patterns, control security, track use and access of information on this site, and provide interest-based messages and advertising. Users can manage and block the use of cookies through their browser. Disabling or blocking certain cookies may limit the functionality of this site.

Do Not Track

This site currently does not respond to Do Not Track signals.

Security


Pearson uses appropriate physical, administrative and technical security measures to protect personal information from unauthorized access, use and disclosure.

Children


This site is not directed to children under the age of 13.

Marketing


Pearson may send or direct marketing communications to users, provided that

  • Pearson will not use personal information collected or processed as a K-12 school service provider for the purpose of directed or targeted advertising.
  • Such marketing is consistent with applicable law and Pearson's legal obligations.
  • Pearson will not knowingly direct or send marketing communications to an individual who has expressed a preference not to receive marketing.
  • Where required by applicable law, express or implied consent to marketing exists and has not been withdrawn.

Pearson may provide personal information to a third party service provider on a restricted basis to provide marketing solely on behalf of Pearson or an affiliate or customer for whom Pearson is a service provider. Marketing preferences may be changed at any time.

Correcting/Updating Personal Information


If a user's personally identifiable information changes (such as your postal address or email address), we provide a way to correct or update that user's personal data provided to us. This can be done on the Account page. If a user no longer desires our service and desires to delete his or her account, please contact us at customer-service@informit.com and we will process the deletion of a user's account.

Choice/Opt-out


Users can always make an informed choice as to whether they should proceed with certain services offered by InformIT. If you choose to remove yourself from our mailing list(s) simply visit the following page and uncheck any communication you no longer want to receive: www.informit.com/u.aspx.

Sale of Personal Information


Pearson does not rent or sell personal information in exchange for any payment of money.

While Pearson does not sell personal information, as defined in Nevada law, Nevada residents may email a request for no sale of their personal information to NevadaDesignatedRequest@pearson.com.

Supplemental Privacy Statement for California Residents


California residents should read our Supplemental privacy statement for California residents in conjunction with this Privacy Notice. The Supplemental privacy statement for California residents explains Pearson's commitment to comply with California law and applies to personal information of California residents collected in connection with this site and the Services.

Sharing and Disclosure


Pearson may disclose personal information, as follows:

  • As required by law.
  • With the consent of the individual (or their parent, if the individual is a minor)
  • In response to a subpoena, court order or legal process, to the extent permitted or required by law
  • To protect the security and safety of individuals, data, assets and systems, consistent with applicable law
  • In connection the sale, joint venture or other transfer of some or all of its company or assets, subject to the provisions of this Privacy Notice
  • To investigate or address actual or suspected fraud or other illegal activities
  • To exercise its legal rights, including enforcement of the Terms of Use for this site or another contract
  • To affiliated Pearson companies and other companies and organizations who perform work for Pearson and are obligated to protect the privacy of personal information consistent with this Privacy Notice
  • To a school, organization, company or government agency, where Pearson collects or processes the personal information in a school setting or on behalf of such organization, company or government agency.

Links


This web site contains links to other sites. Please be aware that we are not responsible for the privacy practices of such other sites. We encourage our users to be aware when they leave our site and to read the privacy statements of each and every web site that collects Personal Information. This privacy statement applies solely to information collected by this web site.

Requests and Contact


Please contact us about this Privacy Notice or if you have any requests or questions relating to the privacy of your personal information.

Changes to this Privacy Notice


We may revise this Privacy Notice through an updated posting. We will identify the effective date of the revision in the posting. Often, updates are made to provide greater clarity or to comply with changes in regulatory requirements. If the updates involve material changes to the collection, protection, use or disclosure of Personal Information, Pearson will provide notice of the change through a conspicuous notice on this site or other appropriate way. Continued use of the site after the effective date of a posted revision evidences acceptance. Please contact us if you have questions or concerns about the Privacy Notice or any objection to any revisions.

Last Update: November 17, 2020