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How to minimize risk in an Agile environment

Every step of software development comes with inherent risks. Reliable service providers seek not to dismiss them outright, but realistically acknowledge them as part of the process and plan for every possible outcome. The most successful businesses always hope for the best — but are smart enough to prepare for the worst.

Contrary to what many in the non-technical world think, coding is but one of many cogs in a highly complex machine; determining the sequence in which it’s written is just as important. So important, in fact, that it birthed an entire discipline around project management, with the industry’s dearest framework of them by far being Agile.

This adaptive philosophy came as an answer to Waterfall’s heavy-handed, micro-managed style. The former, as the name implies, approaches development processes not as huge, monolithic, marathon-like blocks of work, but as constantly reassessed short sprint cycles. The small iterations enable complex projects to be more flexible, transparent, and easily manageable even with multiple dev teams on board.

But that doesn’t mean Agile doesn’t have its drawbacks — for this article, we decided to explore its weak points and what can be done to overcome them.

5 Agile mistakes to never make

Agile mistakes

#1: Thinking that Agile will work for any project

First off: not every project benefits equally from Agile. Software development of any kind seldom involves one-size-fits-all solutions, and as such, some projects are better served by other methodologies entirely.

Flexibility, for example, isn’t necessarily a clear-cut benefit. If a project’s main concern is to be delivered on time, Agile’s lack of rigid, no-turn-back structure might overblow deadlines — and often, budgets.

A less tangible but fundamental aspect of great project management is to gauge how much it involves individual members. Agile works best when everybody is committed to the cause, contributing with reports and relevant insights during the daily scrums. Less productive meetings tend to call for extra meetings, again risking delays.

So before deciding on Agile, consider the nature, scope, complexity, and team(s) responsible for your project, as well as the priorities set by your client.

#2: Not having enough Agile-trained team members

As mentioned, Agile really shines when the whole group is on board. Agile methodology is a team sport in a game that can only happen when everybody knows how — and is willing — to play.

If a project’s characteristics heavily indicate Agile but team members aren’t keen on it, a good idea would be to hire professionals, especially in leadership positions, who are experienced with its principles. Then, before the project even starts, spend a couple of “tutorial” scrums/sprints to put the entire crew on the same page, with the leads providing support to their respective areas.

#3: Thinking that Agile projects don’t still need guidance

By keeping the team as its main focus, Agile also imbues its members with a great deal of autonomy — which is why it’s better to have as many Agile experts aboard as possible.

That, however, doesn’t mean anarchy. Guidance should still be given by the Scrum Master and individual managers, but the keyword here is guidance — not orders. Allowing your team space to innovate is paramount.

#4: Not implementing tracking methods

No matter the framework used, projects should always be thoroughly documented. In software development, it can be invaluable to pinpoint mistakes (for instance, in the code) that could demand manhours upon manhours to find and fix. Tracking projects improves their quality and productivity, with zero downsides — it’s that simple.

If that’s true for sequential methodologies like Waterfall, it doubles down for flexible ones like Agile. If left unattended, Agile’s constant reiterations can — and often do — transform a project’s timeline into 4D chess.

Therefore, make sure to use Agile’s best practices to properly document the project: splitting the tasks into epics and then further into use cases, using Kanban to visualize the big picture, so on. The important thing here is to ensure all stages remain intact and carefully executed.

#5: Not infusing Agile at all levels

The “lack of Agile-trained team members” bullet point at the top doesn’t just apply to the software development team only: it encompasses everybody involved.

To produce a finalized piece of software, countless other non-coding professionals are involved in the chain, from distribution to marketing. They, too, should be expected to adapt to pivots and fluctuations as the dev team does, especially in cases where their work hinges on that of the developers.

Conclusion

Agile is a powerful process when employed correctly, and can truly produce the best possible end result.

But shoehorning a management framework into a project “just because” — whether out of habit or client preference — is never the correct option. Assessing and planning are, so don’t be afraid to seek alternative methods if data and your gut tell you otherwise. Remember that no methodology is fundamentally essential for any given project.

That said, if you do pick Agile for your project, we hope the tips above were useful. Here’s for a safe product journey, with iterations galore!

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