Rescuing a Troubled Project With Agile: Making the Break With Teams

Early in my career I worked for a turnaround specialist. Two lessons have stayed with me from that experience. The first is that there is never a “formula” that will solve every problem. Different Agile techniques will be needed to rescue a troubled or failing project depending on the problems the project is facing. Second, once the turnaround process begins, everyone must understand that change has begun. The turnaround specialist I worked for was known for making everyone in the company he was rescuing physically move their desks, with no exceptions. The intent was to let everyone know life would be different from that point forward. In many troubled projects, the implementation of fixed teams focused on a single project at a time can be a watershed event to send the message that things will be different from now on.

Using Agile as a tool to rescue a project (or program) requires ensuring that stable and properly constituted teams exist. In many troubled projects, it is common to find most of the people involved working on more than one project at a time and reporting to multiple managers. Groups of specialists gather together to address slivers of project work, and then they hand the work off to another specialist or group of specialists. Matrixed teams find Agile techniques, such as self-management and self-organization, to be difficult. A better approach then is the creation of fixed, cross-functional teams that report to a management chain within the organization.

An example of a type of fixed team structure is the Capability Team, described by Karl Scotland (interviewed on SPaMCAST 174).

Capability Team

The Capability Team is formed around specific groups of organizational capabilities that deliver implementable functionality, things that will enable the business to make an impact. The team focuses on a generating a flow of value based on their capabilities. These teams can stay together for as long as the capability is important, building knowledge about all aspects of what they are building and how they build it. This approach is particularly useful in rescue scenarios, in which specific critical technical knowledge is limited. By drawing all of the individuals with critical technical knowledge together, they can reinforce each other and share nuances of knowledge between each other, strengthening the whole team.

Teams are a central component of any Agile implementation. Implementation of a fixed, cross-functional or capability team in environments where they are not already used will provide notice to everyone involved with the project and organization that change is occurring and that nothing will be the same. Embracing the team concept that is core to most Agile techniques will help provide focus that is needed to start to get back on course.


Tom Cagley
VP of Consulting & Agile Practice Lead

Written by Tom Cagley at 05:00
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