Why Agile Projects Fail: Does Agile work for or against your project success?

While studying at the University of Texas, Austin, Courtney Leonard researched the significance of Agile as a methodology. She was able to demonstrate factors that are perceived as important for Agile’s success on creative teams, such as:

  • Client or stakeholder involvement
  • Educational resources
  • Flexible timeline and budget
  • The overall technical ability of the creative team

Below is an overview of her research results on why Agile projects fail. 

Agile Stats

In 2015, 94% of agencies surveyed by Version One, an agile enterprise software company, claimed to practice Agile. Highlighting the fact that there is some uncertainty surrounding Agile, 53% of the organizations believed that the “Agile” projects were successful. Many designers claim to use Agile, and many prefer it to other linear or traditional models.

But is it working for your company?

The study by Version One found that when using an Agile model, perceived product quality does not increase significantly, project timelines are negatively affected, and stakeholder value decreases by nearly 50%. This  might be due to the fact that Agile changes the relationship between the team and the client or product owner and the company’s culture and philosophies. 

Interestingly, 42% of companies believed that if Agile has failed a project, it was because their company culture and philosophies do not align with the core values listed in the Agile Manifesto (i.e. placing value on individuals and interactions over process and tools, working software over comprehensive documentation, customer collaboration over contract negotiation, responding to change over following a plan.)

Three reasons project situations do not work in an Agile environment

  1. Agile requires responding to change over following a plan, and customer collaboration over contract negotiation.
  2. It often takes one year for a creative team to reach a working stride in an Agile environment.
  3. Clients do not always fully understand why the process’s open timeline is integral to reaching the benefits of evolving requirements and deliverable features.

Four contexts in which Agile may be suitable for creative teams

Seeing that there are many ways Agile can fail a project, here are instances when the Agile process should have a higher success rate:

  1. Independent product design (when you’re working solo, working with a smaller team, or  working without the influence of an external stakeholder group)
  2. Speculative work (“spec work” that you’re conducting as part of the discovery phase for a larger project)
  3. When an agency has adequate resources for comprehensive internal team and client education on the process and its benefits, if applicable.
  4. A situation where creatives do not have many technical limitations.

Although many agencies claim to practice Agile for creative client work successfully when it is considered as an appropriate approach, their teams are still at odds regarding its legitimacy, gravity, and core principles. The project manager should use a systematic approach to determine when Agile is appropriate on creative teams — is their team knowledgeable with the process and can it lead to successful project work.

All statistics and images for this post are provided by the 9th Annual State of Agile Development Survey by Version One.