10 Challenges and Solutions in Agile Project Management

Agile project management has a lot of benefits for any kind of company, by providing more alignment between departments, ease of adaptability of new measures, and quicker project turnovers. By understanding the top 10 challenges in agile project management, it becomes easier to avoid them or solve them and have a smooth transition to a newer way of managing projects.

1. Butting heads with finance.

With an agile mindset and project management approach, every step isn’t outlined in extreme detail and planned out. For many finance departments, who tend to have a more traditional and cautious mindset, this is a big change. When an organization becomes agile, one of the big challenges is funding and financing.

Traditionally, a company would make a business case for a project which includes the scope of the project and a fully costed platform down to the pennies. However, as Ken Gains, a project manager at State of Writing and Ox Essays explains, “in agile projects, there is extra room to manoeuvre, update, and change things around. Everything isn’t planned out and costed down to the last number. That’s difficult for finance departments.”

To solve this challenge, organizations need transparency, and a realignment of finance and other departments so that they can work more closely together and understand what’s happening. The business and operational teams need to get finance on board, and it can help to explain that even traditionally costed projects are usually late and over-budget. Finance teams can be more open to change if they’re faced with those facts.

2. Less planning can be challenging for some.

Many leaders in the company want to have a detailed plan of the benefits of a project and the estimated total cost before agreeing to greenlight the project. The agile mentality of knowing what a project will cost only when it’s done, or just to do the next project that needs doing without a plan isn’t sufficient for many leaders.

Leaders need to adopt a more agile mindset, and also need to understand that agile projects still need a plan, it’s just done differently. Planning in the form of requirements scoping, design work, and architecture of the project, as well as time and money estimates for sprints and points is completely acceptable. Agile can include planning if it’s done in sprint planning and constantly adapting.

3. Resistance to change.

The biggest challenge is probably changing the whole company’s mindset and culture because there are always some that are resistant to change, especially such a big one as becoming agile. An interesting statistic is that 61% of people who have made the switch to agile practices suggest that companies focus on their people and their company culture as a primary target for transition management.

At the end of the day, no matter what new systems are implemented and tested, for agile companies to work, they need to have a transition in the fundamental way that employees think and approach their work. Company leaders have to approach the transition proactively, show the benefits of an agile approach, and give sufficient training and resources for employees to understand not only how the shift will work, but also the reasons for transitioning. Leaders have to become agile and lead by example, by being transparent and seeking feedback and dialogue from their teams. They should also encourage daily synchronization of their teams so everyone’s on the same page.

4. Traditional HR practices. 

Agile practices are great for HR departments to including recruiting, evaluating, and promoting employees. Agile is a good way of working because it means that the projects benefit from the right people stepping forward, and not outdated job descriptions or certain roles. Individuals will step forward because they feel confident and experienced in the project’s field, and they have collaboration practices with their colleagues who are just as passionate about the work.

These people benefit the project because they are more driven by an interesting project or challenge, working with a specific team or leader, as opposed to getting compensation or financial benefits. Agile companies should be updating their reward and performance programs to meet the needs of team-based development.

5. Adopting the waterfall approach.

Some organizations take the wrong approach to rolling out agile, usually a central and in-depth approach (the waterfall mindset), which leads to roll-outs stalling. The best way to transition to an agile business is to start with small changes and keep the ball moving, learning and developing the plan as they go.

6. Burnout.

A risk with agile transitions is employees burning out when employees commit too much time early in the process and don’t pace themselves out for the long run. Team members can overestimate their capabilities when a project starts and then they will work long shifts and overtime to stay on track to their commitments. This leads to the team members struggling, making mistakes, and with poor morale. The project suffers as a result, and no one in the company benefits. The team, which started out great and encouraging, becomes strained and aggrieved, and cracks begin to show.

Finally, all of these causes lead to more errors, team members abandoning the project, and the ultimate project failure. To avoid the problem of agile burnout, company leaders should hire agile facilitators, known as scrum masters, who will make sure agile teams give proper estimates and that things progress at a good pace for all.

7. Structural problems.

Pre-existing issues in a company can affect how agile project management is rolled out, including compliance departments and legacy systems that cannot handle quick iterations of projects. Businesses must adapt their practices and systems at the same time that they roll out agile methodologies.

8. Agile ‘fever’.

Agile projects are very successful, but the agile approach doesn’t need to be applied to all projects. Anything that requires outside partners or integration of different teams that don’t all use agile the same way should be managed in a more traditional sense. There’s a risk that once an organization runs agile projects, everyone wants to use an agile approach to each project, but if it’s done poorly, the results can be very damaging for the company.

Each project should be reviewed individually to make sure that the agile methodology will be best for that project. Sandra Thatcher, a team leader at Paper Fellows and Boom Essays, explains that “agile is best applied when the solution is complex or unknown and when the work can develop through many quick iterations. The most successful organizations are the ones that use different approaches for different projects.”

9. Unclear roles.

Agile projects have different roles, like the product owner, the scrum master, and the agile team members. There should be some specialized roles like testing and alignment because if teams are left to decide all the roles, efficiency may be reduced and the team won’t function as well as it could.

10. Being agile without a purpose.

Some leaders are tempted to become agile companies just for the sake of it because it’s a new trend in certain industries. If a company goes agile just for the sake of it without thinking whether it’s the best for them, they may actually lower their productivity and lose customer satisfaction. If agile is the key outcome, the plan should be revised to find better business goals.

Aimee Laurence

Aimee Laurence, a manager at Academic Writing Service and UK Writings, writes articles on the subjects of project management and HR best practices. She enjoys helping companies become more efficient and improving their work processes and procedures. She also works as a freelance editor for Essayroo.

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