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Agile methods have been shown to deliver plenty of benefits for complex projects and product developments. A flexible but structured approach and good team interaction lead to faster results that better reflect business requirements. It can’t all be good, though. There are some pitfalls of Agile methods to look out for. This article explores a few of the main ones.

Lack of vision of overall progress

Agile methods are sometimes criticised as they prevent teams from seeing the overall progress or end-point of a project. This can lead to a lack of motivation or team members becoming side-tracked. The iterative approach makes the end of a project vaguer than with a traditional linear project progression.

The best way to overcome this is with a clearly visible project roadmap and the use of appropriate KPIs. Sharing the progression of the overall project and future vision with the team is important. Frameworks such as Scrum provide several ways to handle this.

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Changing requirements

One of the core benefits of Agile methods is the openness to change and flexibility in allowing requirements to evolve. This comes with risks, however. The overall end-point is less predictable as things could change as the iterations proceed. There is also the possibility of scope creep, as requirements continue to change.

To a certain extent, this is something that has to be accepted with Agile projects. Overall, the advantages of allowing requirements to change should be worth it. Good overall vision and properly setting the targets for each iteration will help control the problems.

Maintaining focus and collaboration of team members

Agile teams are set up to be self-managing. This is a major strength of Agile methods, but it can also be hard to control. It requires constant engagement, interaction and sharing amongst team members. Over time this can be tiring and hard to maintain.

This is where the use of a framework and rigorous enforcement is very important. The Scrum framework, for example, defines regular meetings for key people. Ensuring these happen and are kept to the point and just for the right people helps to overcome problems.

Traditional projects have similar challenges, of course. Research has shown that when done right, though, Scrum teams are on average 20% to 30% more engaged.

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Difficulty in predicting overall cost and time of a project

The iterative progression of projects makes exact time estimates difficult. With the assumption also that requirements could change as the project progresses, any estimates made are subject to change. This can clash with traditional management structures that prefer clear targets.

Frameworks such as Scrum have well-defined methods to estimate duration and workload. The Dynamic Systems Development Method (DSDM) is another possible choice of framework if time and budget are more important. This framework is focused on controlling time and budget as its top priority.

Translating estimates to actual cost and time is not always easy, however. This is made easier if all parties interacting with Agile projects (including stakeholders, management and other teams) understand how Agile works and the benefits it provides. Agile Scrum Training can of course help here.