Agile pros and cons: should CEOs embrace agility?

To be agile or not to be? That is the question. More and more organizations and departments are adopting Agile methodologies for both project and portfolio management. However, is Agile made for everyone? Is it always justified that CEOs and company executives push Agile methodologies at all costs, without considering the pros and cons of its implementation?

The CEO says: “We need Agile”

CEOs like the latest technology. CEOs like continuous improvement initiatives. CEOs like to be at the cutting edge of technology whenever possible. They like to make decisions. But are those decisions always in the best interest of the organization? Or are The latest tech, the latest processed, the best buzzwords this week. Whatever is hot now – that’s what they want. They’re pretty sure that’s what will solve whatever problem or change how the organization is going through right now.

Agile. It’s the latest corporate buzzword making the rounds. One survey last year found that over half the organizations who were implementing it were doing so because the CEO said so, not because of the value it adds. When done well it can transform individuals and organizations, but when done badly it can suck the life out of everyone involved.

So, when the CEO orders a change or champions something like this… what do you do? This topic brings to mind what I would consider an appropriate or applicable quote from the late Steve Jobs… “In weak companies politics win. In strong companies, best ideas do.” Strategic planning is a must – we must avoid falling into the trap of just adapting to the whims of leadership or the latest technology.

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What is Agile? A brief definition

Agile is an iterative type approach where phases (requirements/design/build/test) needed to complete a project are generally done in parallel together. There are many Agile frameworks but each effectively has the same empirical structure where tasks are broken down into small planning cycles. Requirements and solutions are continually evolving and based on priority and discipline.

Generally, the Agile pros outweigh the Agile cons, but let’s consider a few…

Agile advantages

  • Agile is great for creative, innovative and more uncertain projects. These types of projects often have changing or evolving requirements and that’s a perfect fit for Agile.
  • Agile encourages active involvement and interaction from key project stakeholders which allows for product build based on priority and accuracy. Continual ‘show and tell’ sessions allow for product agreement.
  • The Agile framework is great for teams because it generally allows for more team interaction. Constant team involvement and structured communication channels allow for the discovery of progress, impediments and collaboration.
  • Agile forces continuous improvement. Lessons are learned and ultimately used to better the next iterations.

Agile cons

  • Scalability may become an issue. Agile is really useful in software development projects, especially small ones with team size up to 10 people. Above that the question how to scale agile practices comes into play.
  • Agile methodologies don’t always work as well for predictable projects. if the project is predictable and plannable – use traditional PM approach.
  • Planning can be difficult because the actually deliverable delivery dates may become moving targets. Agile can cause the delivery dates to move and that may be an issue with the organization, leadership or project.
  • Business representation may become an issue. Time and efforts will be continually required from product resources. This is crucial to cycle planning and success.
  • Team members must be highly skilled and cross-skilled. Team members must be highly skilled and competencies as core teams are small. They must also be up-skilled on the Agile framework chosen.


The bottom line is this – Agile can be great for the organization and can be the right software development life cycle (SDLC) to follow. But it must be well adopted among the dev staff and is not necessarily the end all best for everyone and every situation. And it certainly should not be rolled out and forced on a mature development staff just because the CEO heard about it and decided to force it on the organization.

I know that would have been a complete disaster back when I was a younger application developer working with a dev staff that averaged 20 years older than me. The idea would have crashed and burned fast and many projects would have suffered irreparable damage in budget and timeframe.

What are your thoughts? Have you had major changes or processes forced on you by the Ceo’s desire to implement something “just because”? What pushback was done there? Did it work? Please share and discuss.

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