Answer

Managing Agile projects with ALM requires careful balance

What is the biggest pitfall in managing Agile projects with ALM?

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The single biggest pitfall in managing Agile projects with ALM is running over Agile. Project managers can get so involved in the management aspect that processes lose their agility.

By running over Agile, I mean you get so caught up with the ALM that you forget about Agile -- being flexible, fast and effective. It's common to over-engineer the ALM or, more frequently, under-engineer the chosen ALM. Doing either wastes valuable time that should be focused on development.

Too many rules will hinder the team process.

For example, you choose a tool that displays your user stories, tasks and assignments for a set series of iterations. Looks good; everyone has figured out when and how to move their tasks through the process. As you go along, you notice team members following different rules when moving tasks. As the Agile project manager, you go in and define the rules more precisely. You may even add constraints so the rules have to be followed.

If there are any two groups that can find a way around configured software rules, it's developers and testers. As time goes on, you see more and more rules getting broken. Business requirements are accepted without verifiable acceptance criteria and stories are accepted with no quality assurance testing even though it's listed as required. You add more rules and review with the team.

This could go on forever, and the longer it goes on, the more you notice timelines are slipping and work is not getting done. This pattern can bog down the process with more rules than the Waterfall methodology. That's not what you're after. Everyone gets blocked. You'll get in your own way and make the team un-Agile, inflexible and unproductive. Too many rules will hinder the team process.

You have to be careful how many rules you add, how you communicate them and how you communicate with the team. Rather than just adding more rules, have an open discussion with the team. Ask yourself if changes are really necessary. Ask your team why they are circumventing the process in certain instances. As a team, discuss what keeps the process Agile and how to operate within the defined Agile methodology that the business needs.

This was first published in February 2014

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