Where does the agile method not apply?

Project management

At least since Daimler boss Dieter Zetsche announced the concept of a new agile organization in October 2016, it has been clear: agility is no longer a niche in companies; it has become a trend that encompasses all industries. Even corporations now want to act like startups and "agilize" their organizations.

They often proceed according to the following scheme: agile teams are set up, the project managers are given the "Handbook of Scrum". And then they are asked: "Now be agile" - often without those affected knowing what this means. There is a correspondingly high risk that they will simply equate "being agile" with "being quick" and "being flexible" and forget that the agility concept is based on a philosophy that requires radical rethinking.

The last big wave or the last big trend that required such big changes was the Lean philosophy. In many companies it was also taken up with euphoria at first and then implemented half-heartedly - with the consequence that most lean initiatives fell asleep again after certain initial successes. And the term lean? Today it is burned in the minds of most employees - and is often equated with "slim down", i.e. saving costs and downsizing.

Regular questioning and reflection

Agility and Lean have one thing in common: The basis of both philosophies is that employees and managers, teams and departments in the company regularly question and reflect on themselves and their actions - with the aim of continuously learning and improving. Such an attitude and attitude cannot be taken for granted in most companies. On the contrary. Those who admit a mistake or an omission in them have often lost: they have failed! This attitude has to change if the methods behind the agility and lean philosophies are to lead companies to success.

Scrum Masters as well as the members and managers of agile teams face the challenge in their work that agile work requires a paradigm shift in their organization - on many levels:

  • Employees who are used to being "told" about everything should suddenly think and act independently and entrepreneurially.

  • The executives no longer have the sole say and should provide their employees with coaching support.

  • The established hierarchies with the associated privileges are broken up and are constantly reorganized depending on the projects, goals and ideas.

  • Dealing with uncertainty and change is suddenly the daily bread.

This change can only be managed with agile teams that are sufficiently qualified for these tasks and receive support from the very top. The following applies: A great diversity of team members is conducive to good ideas, but it also harbors the potential for conflicts and rifts. It is important to absorb this through team development and to convert it into a productive cooperation. The "otherness" of others has to be understood so that it can be appreciated.

  1. Scrum in Two Days
    The workshop participants experienced agile project management at the Karlsruhe Diva-e Netpioneer GmbH.
  2. Minecraft as a parable of the project world
    The special thing about it: The participants have to complete tasks in the open world game Minecraft and organize themselves according to the Scrum method.
  3. Our goal
    The investor Ultimate Green Car wants to build a factory in a pristine landscape that will produce sustainable cars and provide employees and residents with space for leisure activities.
  4. Scrum coach Björn Radon ...
    ... taught us the basic agile principles as Scrummaster.
  5. Two important Scrum principles
    Cross-functional team: It not only includes developers, but also designers, testers and business analysts. All that are necessary for the development of a product. Timeboxing or the schedule is sacred. If 10 days are planned for a sprint, it can only last ten days.
  6. Daily stand up
    The participants also exchanged ideas in the workshop format during a sprint while standing up. This not only helped to identify problems, but also to find a solution.
  7. How long does it take to build a lobby?
    After the first sprint and a certain development experience, the participants know that it took them an hour to build a company sign with a green logo on a white background. Based on this experience, they give their assessment of how much more work it is to build the reception hall.
  8. Fortunately there are chocolate buttons ...
    The bowl was noticeably emptied when the Scrum team did not manage all tasks in a sprint because the framework conditions suddenly changed. In the Minecraft world, it was the monsters that had to be fought.
  9. Together we are stronger
    In complex projects it is often difficult for the individual to keep track of things. Failure is inevitable if the project team does not work hand in hand and help each other, for example by having experienced players pass on their knowledge to newcomers.

Further stumbling blocks when introducing the agility philosophy

  • The Scrum team is embedded in old structures that look incredulously at the interfaces at the agile principles and ask themselves what this is about. "We have never done it like this before."

  • The Scrum team itself consists of employees who are not yet trained in self-organization. Conflicts arise from unclear roles and the danger lurks that if there are obstacles, everyone will fall back into the old and familiar pattern.

  • Agile teams and structures should be introduced without Scrum. In this case, there is no framework that everyone can adhere to; an approach based on principles of cooperation has yet to be developed.

In the Scrum philosophy and methodology, the Scrum master is considered to be the one who is supposed to coach the team members, product owners and often also the people involved in the introduction of agility. That is why a new term has emerged in the scene: the agile coach.

As a rule, this agile coach is the scrum master. If things went well, they were trained in practice in a two-day seminar and prepared for the scrum master exam, which they complete online using a multiple-choice procedure. This exam, which is not that easy to pass, is all about the theory of principles and methodology. However, nothing and nobody prepares the Scrum Master for how to deal with the challenges that arise in practical work and how to develop teams. He is expected to be able to do it and to act like an agile coach without training.

An agile coach has many tasks and functions

  • He understands and knows the agile practices and principles and supports teams in learning and applying them.

  • He recognizes organizational blockages and obstacles and coaches management and other affected parties in agilizing the company.

  • He is able to mediate, moderate, coach and methodically accompany teams in their development into high-performance teams.

  • He can convince executives and board members of the advantages of agile methods and processes and inspire them.

In concrete terms, this means that an agile coach must slip into the following roles, depending on the situation and goal, and perform them professionally: consultant, trainer, coach, change manager and often also a manager. And this in an environment in which it is often assumed that agility is the solution to all problems. The scrum master or agile coach can only fail if he does not manage to create awareness through a lot of educational work: Agile methods and organizational forms do not solve problems, they just make them visible very quickly. This also applies to the agile teams themselves. Those who are "right" and "wrong" in the team can be seen very quickly when working together due to the group dynamics and transparency.

The identified problems must be seen in the company as an opportunity to improve something. Because only then are they usually resolved consistently. This attitude and attitude is also important when introducing agility. If it exists, this gives you the chance to quickly and clearly uncover problems due to the high level of transparency and regular reflection and, if you are determined, to fix them.