Opening Remarks: This article is the synthesis of our experience as Agile coaches and data gathered from Agile practitioners in our network. We do not have the presumption to cover every aspect of Agile complexity. We are gladfully welcoming feedback to start a conversation on any aspects that might spark your interest. 
 

 

Introduction on hands-on guide to avoid pitfalls in executing an Agile project
Pitfall #1: Losing faith in the team
 

 

Pitfall #2: Confusing agility and disorganization


The clear definition of roles and responsibilities is a key step in the implementation of any organization. In Agile, roles and responsibilities may differ from existing ones. But it means more than just rebranding existing roles in your team. Your coworkers must acknowledge that there is also a shift in responsibilities. Thus, when transitioning from a traditional to an Agile way of working, to engage your teams in this transformation and ensure everyone’s accountability, you must clearly define and adapt the new roles and responsibilities matrix to your project.   

Exhibit 1: Team organization framework 

The Agile way of working relies on a guiding principle: doing the right things right, at the right pace. Indeed, when implementing Agile, you want to have 3 elements simultaneously linked to key roles as illustrated in exhibit 1:  

  1. Purpose: make sure you are developing the “right thing”, meaning what will bring the most value to your end-users 

  1. Quality: have people with the right skills in your team to deliver value to your business, who will be able to develop the “thing right” 

  1. Efficiency: remain at a constant sustainable pace while ensuring the delivery of the “right thing” by the end of the project  

And once those elements are jointly implemented, your team is completely effective.  

For example, in the Scrum framework, each dimension leads to a specific role. The person responsible for… 

  • … “building the right thing” is the Product Owner (PO) 

  • … “building the thing right” is the Development team 

  • … “building at the right pace” is the Scrum Master 

If not done properly, appointing people without raising awareness on associated responsibilities could endanger your project. Before we coached a project team for an Oil & Gas company, the Product Owner had started off with no Agile knowledge whatsoever. He had been appointed Product Owner without further information on the role. The PO was used to being a traditional project leader, prone to managing the team’s daily activities and performance. But he had not understood that he was now the owner of the business value delivery. Thus, the first thing the Agile coach had to do in this specific context was to ensure the ramp up of the Product Owner by scheduling individual coaching sessions with him. Thanks to that, the PO was able to quickly develop his skills and fully embrace new responsibilities.  

At the beginning of an Agile transformation, it is best to take time to design the roles and responsibilities matrix with all team members. It will enable you to raise awareness from the start and avoid turning things around in the middle of the project. To help you co-construct your team organization, we propose the following structure: 

  1. Define the purpose of the team / organization with all their members -> What do we want to achieve and why?  

  1. Assess the current state by mapping existing roles and responsibilities with that purpose in mind -> What are we already doing right? 

  1. List missing responsibilities to achieve the purpose -> What do we need to improve? 

  1. Identify responsibilities to go with the roles within the organization -> How will we concretely improve? 

  1. Draw the final team organization with roles and responsibilities -> What is our new direction as a team? 

  1. Involve management during all previous steps to validate the new operating model -> Is it realistic and sustainable? 

At the end of this journey, you will have a team setup shared and understood by everyone. To ensure the ramp-up of all team members, you can plan additional individual coaching sessions with the ones who need it the most. This will then be a dimension to follow during iteration retrospectives by asking a simple question to the team: “Do you understand your role on the team and the roles of your fellow team members?”. As your transformation goes on and newcomers arrive, you will perhaps have to share once again the defined roles and responsibilities. But if we have learnt one thing from our agile coaching experience, it is that repeating is key!  

So now you have a good team setup and you have encouraged trust within the team? That is a good step but if you want it to work, sponsoring from top/middle management cannot be put aside. Indeed, it was mentioned by 32% of Agile practitioners that we surveyed. 


This article is part of a series of articles on Agile pitfalls and tips to avoid them. You will find the complete series here addressing People, Processes and Technology

Are you interested to work on Agile projects and support our clients in their digital transformation? We are hiring: check our job offer!

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