Biggest Mistakes New Agile Teams Make

Afterburner Team Written by:
Afterburner Team

Agile Antipatterns

I was talking with one of our Afterburner colleagues, Tom “Mad Dog” Friend, who is an Agile consultant and trainer, and I asked him, what are some of the typical mistakes new Agile / Scrum teams make?

He shared with me the concept of Agile / Scrum Antipatterns and why they are so insidious. Antipatterns are group norms, habits and decisions adopted by an otherwise Agile team. These antipatterns are sneaky because at the start they seem like good habits, when in reality those same habits are pitfalls destined to get in the way of true agile teamwork and accelerated business results.

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Here are a few well-recognized examples of Agile Antipatterns

  1. Daily Scrum Calls that last significantly over 15 minutes.
  2. Not having a visible impediment list.
  3. Having the attitude that we are doing well so we don’t need retrospectives.
  4. We can use variable meeting times. We’re agile!
  5. We will give partial credit for almost done stories.
  6. The product owner does not invite the entire scrum team to refinement.
  7. There is no definition of ready or definition of done.

These antipattern examples are well known to Agile / Scrum teams. Not surprisingly, we see evidence of these same antipatterns with teams using Flawless Execution as their agile business framework.

Let’s Back Up: Flawless Execution as an Agile Framework for Business

Before we dig into Flawless Execution antipatterns, we should talk about why and how Flawless Execution is Agile.  Agile has matured into an eco-system that includes highly-defined approaches like Scrum and Kanban. As Agile moved from its original manifesto, which focused on software development and software development teams, team attempted to apply agile principles to teams outside of software development – with varied success. No one approach fit comfortably across all business functions.

At its core, Agility is maximizing BUSINESS VALUE with right sized, just- enough, and just-in-time processes and documentation. It’s about a team or an organization’s ability to get to (customer) value sooner in a constantly changing environment.

One of the critiques of development-based agile methodologies is that they don’t always translate well, or scale, across the enterprise. Teams of executives and Sales teams can’t always focus on User Stories and MVPs exclusively, for example.

In those arenas, we have seen strong adoption of Afterburner’s Flawless Execution Model as an Agile Meta Framework that brings the same agility, maximizing business value with right sized, just- enough, and just-in-time combinations of people, resources, decisions and processes.

Antipatterns in Flawless Execution

Practitioners of Flawless Execution learn how to think in terms of short missions and apply the Plan-Brief-Execute-Debrief pattern to their team cadence. Still, as FLEX teams operate they tend to fall into the similar types of antipatterns as other agile teams.

1. FLEX Antipattern: The X-Gaps last 45 minutes

(Agile / Scrum Antipattern: Daily Scrum Calls last 45 minutes)

X-Gaps are the mission check in calls led by the mission Ace that hold the team accountable and are a key ingredient in how Flawless Execution accelerates performance.

  • Unfocused and often irrelevant chatter drags X-Gaps out. Stay focused on the specific tasks for discussion and observe a 2-minute rule. Spend no more than two minutes explaining the issue and offering a suggested solution.
  • Don’t try and solve complex issues in the X-Gap. Set another time for a meeting to do that and invite only the relevant people needed to solve it. Don’t waste the whole team’s time when only a few are needed to resolve such issues.

2. FLEX Antipattern: We don’t need to write down Threats OR We write down a dozen threats

(Agile / Scrum Antipattern: There is no impediment list)

It’s easy to ‘phone it in’ when ‘coming up’ with threats. Carefully considering impediments and true threats to success has the power to make or break the mission.

  • Thinking that this time is the same as last time is a huge mistake. Things change and taking time to think about how those things threaten success is a critical step in planning. Identifying changes and threats is a central activity in adaptation and agility.
  • There are rarely a multitude of threats. Usually, there are only a few, about five. We are pessimistic beings and we will often list dozens of reasons why something won’t work. Keep your top threats to a few and address them in your plan.

3. FLEX Antipattern: Debrief? Ain’t Nobody Got time for a Debrief

(Agile / Scrum Antipattern: We are doing well so we don’t need retrospectives)

Just the other day I heard someone say this exact same thing. “We did great! What do we need to debrief?”

  • If things went great, then identify what went well, what you did to make it go so well, and generate a lesson learned from that experience so that you and others can repeat it.
  • Beware of near misses, the things that could just as likely have gone wrong but didn’t. If you don’t address these near misses they stick around and, eventually, cause a failure.

4. FLEX Antipattern: Why bother setting XGap check ins and being disciplined about holding them?

(Agile / Scrum Antipattern: We use variable meeting times. We’re Agile!)

This is one of many I am personally guilty of. I’m so busy – can we get together later? Then later never happens or people don’t take accountability seriously because I haven’t held myself accountable to hold the accountability meeting.

  • Good habits are just that – good habits. It’s easier to do something or get something accomplished when it becomes routine. Being disciplined with timing is a critical component of developing good habits.
  • When things aren’t regular, standard, or expected, people easily forget them.

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5. FLEX Antipattern: If it looks like we aren’t going to accomplish the mission, why not change it?

(Agile / Scrum Antipattern: We will give partial credit for almost done stories)

Done is done. Not done is not done. We run into trouble when the story or the Course of Action (COA) is ambiguous and no one is sure if the requirement was met or not.

  • If you are finding your team wants partial credit, teach them that their COA was too vague and that they did not do a good job understanding what can get done in a timeframe. Agree as a team on what can be accomplished and stick to it.
  • Moving deadlines and changing expectations in mid-stream makes it difficult or impossible to assess or debrief to root causes and develop good lessons learned.
  • If people experience a culture of easing requirements, they come to expect it and high-performance becomes impossible to achieve.

6. FLEX Antipattern: Why not skip the Red Team?

(Agile / Scrum Antipattern: The product owner does not invite the entire scrum team to refinement)

It’s just way too easy to skip the Red Team step: we wouldn’t have wasted our time coming up with a bad plan, right? The moment we begin planning toward the achievement of some objective is the same moment our proverbial ‘box’ begins to close around us. We begin to narrow our focus and ideation process.

  • Bringing in others to step back and take a look at a plan is critical to exposing flaws and identifying missed opportunities. Flaws and missed opportunities are there; we can’t see them.
  • Red Teaming is a discipline. It’s like eating vegetables. Sure we can live without veggies, but we won’t be as strong

7. FLEX Antipattern: The Mission Objective can be vague because there is information we don’t know yet

(Agile / Scrum Antipattern: There is no definition of ready or definition of done)

  • Ambiguity breeds confusion and misunderstanding which ultimately leads to errors.
  • If you can’t define ‘done’ how do you know you have accomplished anything? What effect did you really have? Are you just patting yourself on the back because you did something but made no positive impact whatsoever?

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