Agile working practices: The pitfalls

Huge changes in working practices, new expectations, and modern tools are creating problems for agile working evangelists. In part 1 of this post, we take a look at some of the challenges facing agile methods in the modern workplace.

Agile methodologies attempt to promote openness and visibility. But to do so they revolve around task boards and tight feedback loops which often need to be centrally located in physical workspaces.

They need an ability to make fast decisions and iterate. They need a high degree of trust among co-workers to improve team collaboration and enable quick decisions. Documentation is light-weight and things change – so no rigid or traditional process of information-sharing can serve the needs of an agile team.

The product teams become the fundamental units of progress and control. The main role of management to remove road-blockers and set high-level direction. Agile organizations give teams a high degree of power and plenty of space to succeed or fail.

In agile teams, the people closest to the problem make all the decisions. And yes, this sounds ideal. But the same conditions you need to enable people to make decisions can also create limitations.

Physical co-location

Physical co-location

Widespread adoption of agile practices helped promote the use of new and modern open-plan workspaces. Team co-location is as literal as it can be in these working environments. Perimeters of scrum boards protect islands of desks – each defining a team’s physical area. These workplaces are almost certainly more efficient uses of space. And they can help improve company collaboration and facilitate better idea-sharing. But it’s more debatable when it comes to productivity. Being close to your team is great – but people need discipline to only interrupt their colleagues when they need to.
Remote working and the break up of the physical team

Remote working and the break up of the physical team

And as organizations continue to digitalize, remote working has become more feasible and more popular than ever. Yet the need for collective team accountability can hinder aspirations of location agility. When you expect all team members to take part in all decision making, there’s a risk that managers see remote workers as underperforming or even individualistic players.
Forced gregariousness

Forced gregariousness

Another challenge is one of inclusiveness. In many professions, being sociable and outgoing is not part of the role description. But agile imposes an artificial need to “be out there” on even your most introverted team members.
‘This way of working isn’t optimal for everyone’

‘This way of working isn’t optimal for everyone’

Performance reviews in agile organizations often focus on team impact which discourages people from spending time on their individual tasks.

There’s often an expectation to empower others, to leverage your teammates and to work towards team goals that are fluid and often loosely defined.

This way of working isn’t optimal for everyone, it can be bad for key individuals in the team, it can hinder collaboration, and it can be bad for business.

Giving everyone the potential to inform team decisions and provide direction has obvious merits. But soft skills take a long time to learn. And limiting the medium of expression to oral ad-hoc conversations and large meetings can deprive less confident (but otherwise competent) team members of opportunities to engage.
Siloed information

Siloed information

It can also reduce the flow of information within teams. The right team needs the right mix of people and being an introvert is not a measure of success or failure. In agile teams, information often becomes a commodity traded most effectively by the most skilled communicators. Social networking and ad-hoc oral conversations become the norm for knowledge sharing and decision making. Less outgoing team members find their access to important project information limited.

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What’s next for agile?

What’s next for agile?

So what does this mean for the workplaces of the future? And how will new collaboration platforms inform the ways that people get work done?

In part 2 of this post, we explore how the changing expectations of people – and the collaboration technologies they use – could help usher in a new golden age of agile working. Read it here.

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