Danger Will Robinson — 8 Anti-patterns of Agile Adoption, part-2

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And we continue…

Continuing on from the last post, I want to present four more anti-patterns from an Agile Adoption perspective.

As I cautioned you the last time, don’t get so hung up on what not to do. Instead, leverage these towards positive, adoption patterns.

5) Leadership Lip service

I wonder, truly wonder if most leadership teams who ask their organization to “go Agile” truly know what they’re asking? I have this strong suspicion that few do. I suspect that they think it only a methodology that will get things out the door faster. That will place leadership in the hands of the team, so that they can abstract themselves from making decisions and supporting the team. That will deliver great things with little attention or hard work on their part.

True agile leadership is a hard journey to effectively balance. It includes concepts like Servant Leadership and team trust. It includes a situational nature that often requires the leader to balance and provide proactive coaching, support and guidance to their teams. It requires patience and an unerring focus on quality, whilst doing things right. And finally, it places the focus directly on providing customer value.  Good agile leadership is very much “in the game” with their teams on their continuous improvement journey.

Healthy Pattern: Leadership needs to be as inquisitive and self-learning about agile principles as their teams—walking their own talk wherever possible!

6) Scrummer-fall

The behavior is that the team essentially works on Sprint stories and tasks in serial order. There is very little true teamwork or collaboration around the work within the actual sprint. Developers implement a user story fully and then “hand it off” to testers for testing. If a bug is found, the tester writes a defect log and sends it back to the developer to fix.

While the team is in an iterative ‘wrapper’, the behaviors within the sprint are partitioned around functional silos and hand-off oriented. You see this often indicated by a burndown chart that doesn’t burndown or team behavior that is frenetic on the last day of the sprint as everyone tries to get the serially delivered work ‘done’.

A key to avoid Scrummer-fall is to collaboratively work together and limit the size of tasks and the time when individuals are working along and handing off work around the team.

Healthy Goal: Swarm around work as a team, limit WIP, and focus on throughput and quality. The place where Scrummer-fall is created is in the teams approach to sprint planning, as it’s an intentional anti-pattern

7) Superficial Agile

Sometimes referred to as Scrum-But. It’s when a team assumes a small handful of the easier agile practices, but misses the overall value or ROI of the methods because of a superficial adoption. For example, most teams adopt stand-ups, backlogs, and iterations when moving to Scrum. However, some of the “harder bits” like focused Scrum Masters or establishing a Definition of Done that requires discipline are overlooked.

Often the excuse is that these will be adopted later—when everyone has ‘matured’ a little. Or that the organization cannot ‘afford’ any additional costs. As in anything in life, true change and impact requires a bit of hard work and investment.  I often tell these teams that;  you are going to “get what you pay for” as we part ways.

Healthy Pattern: Adopt a solid measure of agile methods and practices; even the harder bits. Invest in an “out of the box” model and gain some maturity and experience before changing it.

8) Going it alone

One of the true weaknesses of the agile methods is their simplicity. For example, the Scrum Guide [iii]is only about 18 pages long and can be read in a 30 minute sitting. It gives an incredibly sound overview of Scrum and readers walk away thinking they’ve “got it”, when it comes to understanding it. I see so many teams that try to “go Agile” on their own. The anti-pattern here is getting trapped by that simplicity; in mistakenly thinking that you can “go it alone” as an organization when adopting agile.

Instead you need expert coaching and guidance in instantiating a healthy agile adoption; coaching towards an understanding that the complexity in the methods is based on their situational application, and not simply by reading about them.  The other key is in continuous learning. There are many agile networking groups now and resources on the web for you to consider, that going it alone is no longer a true option.

Healthy Pattern: Realizing the acquiring deeply experienced help (coaching & training) is a necessary part of effectively starting up your agile adoption.

Wrapping Up

I’m not presenting these patterns to whine or complain. Nor am I blaming organizations, managers, or teams that exhibit them. I’m simply listing them to sensitize you to things to avoid. To help paint a picture as to what “good agile” might look like in your organization. To help you identify these things in your retrospectives and to discover your own anti-patterns to avoid and patterns to gravitate towards.

You see, contrary to popular opinion, ‘agile’ isn’t easy[iv]. I believe it requires discipline, study, open-mindedness, and hard work to get ‘right’. It’s also much more of a journey of discovery and continuous improvement over achieving a final destination.

Perhaps that’s where the “Lost in Space” analogy stops. They never did make it home to earth; while I hope you do find “your way home” to a healthy agile adoption that drives real world results for you and your teams.

Stay agile my friends,


[i] was a breakthrough guide to the people dynamics within software development teams. It’s worth looking at today, as nearly all of the lessons and points are still highly relevant.

[ii] is wonderfully applicable to agile methods, culture and teams. You see aspects of “slack” in references to Developer Days, Hack-a-thon’s and Google’s 20% time.

[iii] The Scrum Guide may be found here:

[iv] I’ve written several blog posts that compliment this article. Here are a few links:

Bob Galen

Bob Galen

Bob Galen is an Agile Methodologist, Practitioner & Coach based in Cary, NC. In this role he helps guide companies and teams in their pragmatic adoption and organizational shift towards Scrum and other agile methodologies and practices. Contact: bob@rgalen.com