3 Disadvantages of Agile Methodology (and How to Avoid Them) | Lucidchart Blog
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“Perfection is not attainable. But if we chase perfection, we can catch excellence.”

—Vince Lombardi

Workdays are more than 9-to-5 blocks of time—especially if you’re a project manager. 

Every minute of any typical day is shaped by its share of always shifting and competing priorities, along with an ever-growing list of ongoing assignments in need of completion. Without a strategy in place, it can be difficult to gain any insight into a project’s health.

This is what makes the Agile methodology so effective.

Whether you realize it or not, you may have used a form of this method long before working in project management. If you’ve ever put together a to-do list or ranked items by their order of importance, you applied the basics of Agile methodology to get things done.

By its very nature, there is no real concrete definition of Agile methodology. It’s all about flexibility and adaptation. It’s also about forgoing paperwork and endless planning for putting work into action.

The methodology was best summarized by its rejection of bureaucracy for small teams working fast and operating with autonomy. By pushing face-to-face interaction over passive communication, it was a revelation. 

It all started back in 2001 when 17 technologists drafted the Agile Manifesto to counter the prevailing waterfall methodology—which required massive documentation before any coding could begin. Their four major tenets for developing better software are:

  • Individuals and interactions over processes and tools
  • Working software over comprehensive documentation
  • Customer collaboration over contract negotiation
  • Responding to change over following a plan

Once we are able to delve further and examine both the merits and disadvantages of Agile, you will be armed with all the information you need to select the best methodology for your team.

RELATED: Considering other methodologies? Compare Agile vs. Waterfall vs. Kanban vs. Scrum.

agile software development life cycle
Agile Software Development Life Cycle Overview (Click on image to modify online)

What types of organizations use Agile methodology today? 

Once a phenomenon restricted to software development teams, the Agile methodology has now been employed to great success by several companies outside the IT industry. 

NPR uses Agile to create new programming. John Deere develops its latest machinery based on Agile methodology. While the venerable GE credits Agile methodology for its transformation from legendary conglomerate to “21st-century digital industrial company.”  

With its emphasis on pushing people to make dramatic changes by choosing to do what can’t be done, the Agile methodology holds great promise for those seeking innovation. 

Despite how quickly everyone else has come to embrace it, it’s project managers who must consider the disadvantages of Agile methodology. Most problems with Agile aren’t insurmountable. It’s a matter of recognizing the limitations or pitfalls when using Agile.

And more importantly, knowing what you can do to best avoid them. 

Most common Agile challenges 

When attempting to adopt an Agile methodology for an entire organization, it’s easy for missteps to occur. Taking on two-week iterations and other experimental approaches to increase production can help inspire creativity and enthusiasm—but not without risk.

Here are the three disadvantages of Agile methodology all project managers ultimately face.

1. The lack of process allows people to get easily sidetracked

The inherent freedom and independence of the Agile methodology can be refreshing. Especially for your more self-assured software developers (or any other experienced members of your team) who welcome the idea of forging ahead with minimal planning.

Allowing phases to run concurrently rather than sequentially seems efficient enough.

However, the see-as-you-go nature of Agile also allows teams to get easily sidetracked. Often, when you proceed without sufficient documentation or a clear vision of what your final product or outcome looks like, the presence of scope creep becomes inevitable.

Once there’s no finite end in sight, measuring progress can also be a challenge.

Whether its software or another consumer product, some deliverables or individual efforts cannot be fully quantified—particularly at the onset of a development life cycle. When project managers and teams are new to Agile, such unknowns cause concerns.

And those concerns lead to frustrations, skipped tasks, and missed deadlines.

Solution: Find ways to measure growth and share your team’s progress

Fortunately, there are several ways to overcome this particular Agile problem. It can be as simple as setting KPIs within your Agile methodology or sharing a product roadmap with your team. Both of these tactics can help you and your team create an analytical basis for decision making while gaining greater insight and clarification into each subsequent product launch.

Establishing requirements within your Agile framework also helps when onboarding new members to your team—letting them know any necessary project details upfront and how to better focus their attention on what matters most.

product roadmap example
Product Roadmap Example (Click on image to modify online)

2. Long-term projects suffer from Agile’s incremental delivery

With the Agile methodology, teams and organizations can bring products to the market faster. Its incremental delivery style helps provide quick wins and prompt turnarounds.

Yet, it’s also one of the disadvantages of the Agile model.

When teams work on each component of a project in different phases than one another, the output can become fragmented—lacking the functionality of a cohesive unit. A focus on delivering a working product rather a quality end product is another Agile challenge. 

Compared to more formal methodologies, Agile lacks many of the checks and balances that safeguard less experienced developers and team members. Because Agile doesn’t have a formal design phase, long-term project development can be more problematic.

Since Agile is based on the premise that teams won’t always know their end result will look like (or the next few delivery cycles ahead for that matter) it also becomes difficult to accurately predict the cost, time, or resources needed at the beginning of a project.  

Again, such pitfalls are more pronounced for long-term or complex Agile projects.

Solution: Rank the must-have items within each sprint and act accordingly

By scoping out and prioritizing your organization’s Agile projects early on, you and your team can be in a better position to assess which opportunities are best worth pursuing.

Within the Agile methodology, every product iteration can be put through its own quality assurance and testing process. By taking a disciplined approach to maintaining your project’s Agile backlog, the tendency to haphazardly fragment output can be mitigated.

When looking back at the stages of the Agile software development lifecycle, remember that remaining flexible, ready to hash out conflicts or course correct, and being open to change is what makes Agile such an effective methodology to employ in the first place.

product backlog example
Product Backlog Example (Click on image to modify online)

3. The level of collaboration in Agile can be difficult to maintain

Across many industries today, the Agile methodology is lauded as a better alternative to the traditional “command-and-control” styles often associated with project management.

Agile is meant to be an empowering process. When it’s successfully employed, project teams are adept at self-organization and cross-functionality—using practices within the appropriate context to create fast effective solutions and product iterations.

All of which requires endless collaboration, additional time, and greater commitment.

The inherent challenge of the Agile methodology is that team members and customers must constantly interact—much of it in the form of face-to-face conversations. Everyone involved in the project must be willing to have close cooperation. Cooperation includes:

  • The availability of team members to conduct daily testing
  • Signoff at every phase to allow developers to move ahead
  • User involvement to ensure that products meet expectations

Done correctly, the Agile methodology can be an engaging and transformative system. But it demands a considerable commitment from everyone involved in your project for it to be successful. As mentioned before, this goes beyond developers and team members.

This includes your customers. 

Which is why the absence of client participation within the Agile methodology at your organization will impact software quality at every iteration and at every sprint.   

Circumventing requirement analysis, design planning, and the other developmental procedures found in the more traditional methodologies outside of Agile may initially free up time. But in the absence of linear phase completion tactics, bringing your team together on a regular basis to discuss and evaluate what is working (and what is not) is paramount.

Solution: Make an effort to move together as a team toward the same goal 

Within the Agile environment, this form of collaboration is called a scrum. And one of the most effective ways to track your team’s agreed-upon work before each sprint is the scrum board.  

The scrum board provides your team with a visual representation of its current sprint—including a list of in-progress tasks, prioritized backlog of product features, and any tasks being verified or tested. If your team works in the same location and is able to attend sprint meetings in person, they may prefer using a physical scrum board to track projects (e.g., whiteboard or glass wall). 

However, virtual scrum boards offer you greater flexibility since every team member is assured access to them—regardless of their location. With Lucidchart, you the tools to create an ideal web-based scrum board that can interface with apps like Jira and Microsoft Teams in real time.

scrum board example
Scrum Board Example (Click on image to modify online)

Avoiding the pitfalls of Agile—a continual process within a process.

On the surface, Agile offers project managers a promising methodology for promoting faster project completion and a more efficient development process. But ultimately, it’s your willingness to adapt, be flexible, and collaborate with others that will make it work.