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The #1 Challenge With Agile Projects

December 24, 2016

Recently I got asked what I consider the most common challenges with Agile projects. These are projects that have such a high rate of uncertainty and complexity on how and what to build, an Agile approach is necessary. Although my gut feeling immediately provided an answer, I gave myself some more time to think about the question. However, this week my initial thoughts proved to be correct. Without any doubt!

The Agile Manifesto

In my role as an Agile Coach, the Agile Manifesto acts as guidance. The 4 values and 12 underlying principles support me exploring options to daily issues, challenges and questions. I've read many books about Agile software- and product development, but the original manifesto remains my primary source to think about Agile related questions.

What We All Agree Upon

I've worked in quite a few different organizations. Without exception, every organization wants what the Agile Manifesto values. Of course, it should be about collaboration, teamwork, and open communication. Sure, working software or a working product is what it should be all about. Without a doubt, everyone wants a fruitful partnership with their customers. And yes, we all understand that we live in a VUCA world. A world with a high rate of volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity. In such a world organization need to respond to change quickly to become or remain successful.


  • We do need to respect current processes and tooling, this is simply necessary considering the legislation.

  • We do need to write proper documentation. The more complex the product, the more time we should spend on determining how to build it, and of course we should write down all our thoughts (guesses and assumptions).

  • We do need a contract that protects us when it gets tough. Even better: let's describe the desired result in the contract in as much detail as possible. At least that won't cause any misunderstandings.

  • We do need a plan. Where would we be without a plan? Although it's quite difficult to predict what's going to happen upcoming year, we do need a detailed plan that eases the minds of our stakeholders. Even better: let's create the plan upfront and give it to the supplier. The only thing that the supplier has to do is execute the plan. How difficult can it be?

The Big Misunderstanding

There is nothing wrong with processes, tooling, documentation, contracts, and plans. But they should all enable the left side of the Agile Manifesto! Not the other way around!

  • Processes and tools are valuable. But they should enable the collaboration, interactions, and dialogues of all the individuals involved.

  • There's nothing wrong with documentation. But don't write everything down for the sake of documentation. In the end, it's all about working software or working products. Only working software will help you to validate if you're building the right product right.

  • Contracts are important. They can offer everyone clarity and guidelines on what to expect from each other. But don't expect a great collaboration with your customer when the contract says "we don't trust you!"

  • Plans can be useful. But in the end it's all about the conversations we have with each other to create common understanding about the desired results. Remember:
"Planning is everything, plans are nothing." - Field Marshal Helmuth Graf von Moltke.

The #1 Challenge With Agile Projects

Every organization wants to be Agile. Every organization wants the necessary agility to deal with the increasing rate of volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity. The Agile Manifesto offers 4 values and 12 principles to support organizations build software/products in such a complex environment. Many organizations acknowledge these values and principles. However, ensuring the right sight of the Agile Manifesto truly enables and strengthens the left side is the #1 challenge with Agile projects. It's a challenge organization must deal with, otherwise, projects with a high rate of complexity and unpredictability are bound to fail!


I do want to close this blog post with a positive note. Although the struggle with the values of the Agile Manifesto is a common challenge, organizations do accept more often that change is necessary and inevitable. Doing some Agile practices mechanically isn't enough. Agile projects will only become successful when the values and principles are truly embraced and put into practice.

What do you consider the #1 challenge with Agile projects? 

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