Dysfunctional Patterns of Agile Teams

Common dysfunctional patterns of Agile I’ve seen in actual digital transformation programmes I’ve worked in are:

  • Chaotic
  • ‘we don’t need documentation or process’
  • Big room planning too big and communication poor
  • Agile framework is just used as an enterprise planning process
  • Consultancy being paid to big bucks to “embed” said frameworks
  • Scrum master is micromanaging through daily task tracking
  • Velocity is not tracked properly and team members feel overloaded
  • Management attend standups for progress updates
  • Standups are run without board and / or stories aren’t opened nor referenced in the daily updates
  • Lack of automated test and CI tools makes it manually intensive and problematic and ‘fragile’ (common industry pun)
  • Poorly refined stories or not at all
  • Lack of a dedicated PO to provide leadership
  • Trying to make big architectural changes within sprints
  • Vendor procurement decisions executed in an agile fashion
  • Using Agile to manage non-software (or non-artefact producing) processes
  • Business or other management don’t respect the Agile / Scrum process and commonly “break” sprints with ‘urgent items’
  • “collaboration” – whatever that means
  • JFDI (people management command of the last resort)
Seeing dysfunction as opportunity

It’s worth pointing out that for each dysfunctional pattern or behaviour above, there is an equal opportunity to see them as just impediments and (as a team) work to fix them and improve maturity of the Agile process. Tailoring and embedding, retrospectives, root cause analysis and continuous improvement practices will come in handy here.

Keep in mind that some of the dysfunctions will emerge because of underlying business structure and operations the team are working within rather than Agile itself. It’s not right to simply point the finger at Agile or the agile team as the cause (and responsible parties) for the dysfunctions in this case.

The extent to which you can (or need) to remediate the above dysfunctions or alternatively just accept them will come down to many factors, one of which is the maturity of the business and its ability to respond to change. Competitive market pressures and a constant demand to keep ahead might help the cause. Seeing Agile as a standardised, rigid delivery process will not.

Personal commentary

I think it’s the belief and experience that things cannot be improved that ultimately kills teams and individuals… but if you are actually trying to improve on the current situation then you are making progress, albeit sometimes very slowly.

The above list is from a problem focused view and can be used as topics to drill down into further if required. However, an alternative approach to improvement in agile teams is starting top down with desirable behaviours, something like the unoffical Scrum checklist by Henrik Kniberg

Good luck walking the path to the Agile holy land. It’s a difficult journey but one worth taking.


Frank Ray

Frank Ray & Associates is a software engineering consultancy that builds high quality software for businesses.

We develop new applications, automate manual processes, integrate vendor packages, replace Excel workarounds, fix unreliable applications, retire end of life software and remove dependence on poor value suppliers.

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2 Comments

Malcolm Lisle 13 January 2021 Reply

Hi Frank,
Nicely done. I think the most pertinent part is the second last paragraph.

It is easy to think, in the midst of a transformation (digital/agile call it what you will) that the transformation is the cause of all the problems/impediments. But the reality is that, in a transformation, every part of the organisation may have to change in some way for the organisation to improve as a whole.
This can take months or years to do properly and is why many feel that the problems being faced, especially at the “coal face”, are caused by a transformation imposed upon them.

Malcolm Lisle 13 January 2021 Reply

Correction.
Third last paragraph

I think it’s the belief and experience that things cannot be improved that ultimately kills teams and individuals… but if you are actually trying to improve on the current situation then you are making progress, albeit sometimes very slowly.

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