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5 Anti-Patterns Found in Agile (or Not) Project Management and How to Deal With Them

These are behaviors or practices that seem helpful but can actually harm the efficiency and effectiveness of agile teams.

Felipe Fernandes

December 15, 2023

4 Min Read

At the start of my career, back when I was a Scrum Master, I always needed to have some basic slides ready on my pendrive (yes, I'm old) to explain what to do and how things were done in agile methodologies. It's all about lots of guidance and conversation, especially at the beginning, whether it's the start of your career or joining a new team/company. Understanding the context and being a good listener is fundamental and a sign of maturity (I can delve deeper into this in another post). However, once while I was presenting basic concepts to a novice team in this governance approach, a participant asked (provocatively), "Ok, Felipe, we get what we can/should do, but what shouldn't we do?" I obviously didn't have an answer right then, but I went back to my desk and did some research, gathering some points that I'll share below.

Agile Anti-Patterns 

These are behaviors or practices that seem helpful but can actually harm the efficiency and effectiveness of agile teams. 

Note: to not be just a complainer, I'll list a possible countermeasure for each anti-pattern.

#1 - Ignoring WIP Limit (work in progress) 

It's an important practice in Kanban, based on the Theory of Constraints. Ignoring it is like having too many tabs open in a browser on a weak computer (the constraint). If you try to do too many things at once, you end up not doing anything properly. WIP limits help focus and complete tasks more efficiently. 

What to do? 

The first step to having a healthy WIP is to monitor and constantly reinforce the applied limits. Use the Daily for this or some other recurring meeting. Educate the team about the importance and demonstrate results through monitoring tools.

#2 - Lack of Prioritization 

When it comes to building/managing products, the effectiveness of actions is crucial. We need to make good choices to maximize results. There's no easy way out. Otherwise, something important might be overlooked or an opportunity neglected. 

What to do? 

First, establish criteria for choice. Having some KPIs to anchor decisions makes the task of ordering the work list much easier. Other criteria like urgency, financial impact, etc., can help. Techniques like GUT Matrix, Eisenhower Matrix can also assist in the process.

#3 - Reduced Visibility 

Ever tried driving with your eyes closed? Hope not! Because the results could be catastrophic. Thus, having visibility of the path (flow) taken by work units is essential to identify opportunities for change and improvement. All work is based on stages, most of the time it's partially mapped or not; and it's important to be aware of the path to optimize it. 

What to do? 

Propose having a Kanban board, with well-described stages so you can visualize the work units moving through the flow. It can be physical or digital, doesn't matter. Make this mapping and assembly of the board collaboratively, it's much more fun and promotes ownership!

#4 - Non-Optimized Processes 

The truth is, having the workflow mapped, work units moving through the Kanban board is a good start, but it doesn't guarantee success. It's necessary to be attentive to the behavior of tasks along the flow, observe bottlenecks, common problems. Otherwise, you won't be taking advantage of optimizations that the methodology can bring. 

What to do?

Observe and act quickly in the formation of bottlenecks. Review policies (agreements), do periodic reviews of the workflow and everything related with the users of the flow. Collect insights and proposals for improvement.

#5 - Excess of Metrics 

Imagine having to count every step you take, instead of just walking to where you need to go. Those who use digital management tools can easily be seduced by the multitude of metrics they can generate. Not all are useful at first and may only serve vanity. Be careful! 

What to do? 

Value the questions and use metrics to answer them (or not). Using the framework of Doubts > Metrics > Possible Causes (Hypotheses) > Actions has proven valuable to me. Bringing too many metrics for the teams to analyze causes more confusion than collaboration. You'll inevitably end up talking to yourself for 20/30 minutes. It's necessary to connect with the data, and nothing better than a problem (or problems) for that.

Understand your current position. Take a small step towards your goal. Adjust your understanding based on what you learned. Repeat the process. (Dave Thomas)

Finally, always keep learning. The environment may be challenging, but don't be afraid to make mistakes. Instead, document and learn from your errors. I hope these tips can be useful for you, as they have been for me. And if you know some of these or other anti-patterns, share in the comments which ones and how you dealt with them.

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