Agile Sucks...And This Is How You Can Make It Better
Don’t get me wrong, Agile is way better than other methodologies (like “wat....” whose name shall not be taken...) for product development, but it has been touted as the Holy Grail that cures all ills. As someone who has led product teams in both large enterprises and startups using agile and other methodologies, here are the top 10 lessons I learned on how to make Agile work better:
1. First, what it is not: Agile is not a panacea for incompetent teams — it is more of a catalyst for teams with potential. It enables teams to define customer problems and validate business hypotheses. It allows for continuous learning and makes teams more adaptable. As in every business, the goal is to achieve market fit (generate revenue and acquire a critical mass of repeat customers) with the least amount of expenditure. Agile helps you achieve that market fit efficiently.
2. Effective structures & incentives create high-performance teams: In the biblical story of Cain and Abel, just two people had trouble settling differences peacefully. Larger teams, with all the resources and rewards at stake, are invariably more complicated. But clearly defined roles, responsibilities, and incentive systems minimize office politics. You have to decide whether you want to be a Congo or a Germany. There is politics in both countries. There are shifting alliances and jockeying for power in both, but in Germany there are structures and systems in place that guide better outcomes. Most product managers work in matrix teams, which allow for scalability and best practices and when implemented properly it works great. There is plenty of material on the best practices of the matrix team but here are a few observations:
- Only 1 is ultimately responsible: You can have multiple supervisors but for every function there can only be one person who is the “decider”. This is a crucial requirement that defines high-performance matrix teams. Use RACI charts to establish boundaries and guidelines. Use the veto power sparingly but use it if you must to enforce team discipline.
- Develop decisive leaders: In of my more recent experiences, there was senior stakeholder who said yes to everything and everyone, never made any decisions even when presented with options and all supporting evidence. Worse yet, he never let others make any decisions. This lack of decisive leadership encouraged teams to pursue their own agendas leading to infighting and a fractured product strategy. It is better to make a wrong decision and learn from it. Have a bias towards action.