9 Agile anti-patterns to watch for and avoid

While the Agile Development methodology has become a predominant part of the software development processes today, organizations are still wrapping their heads around the proper process for software development. The impediments on the way are hampering the journey to building the product right. These impediments are called agile anti-patterns that are common problems in an Agile workflow, which, in turn, can lead to technical debts. This article will look at some of these common problems and how development teams can avoid them.


The first value of the Agile Manifesto recommends preferring individuals and interactions over processes and tools. Yet, organizations fail to implement this basic rule when creating software and work in a somewhat mushroom management setting. For example, the scrum teams conduct daily stand-ups to understand the teams’ progress is an agile anti-pattern.

In such a scenario, it is essential to remember that agile delivery’s success lies in building solid relationships and trust among team members, which can eventually lead to better cooperation and collaboration.

Furthermore, everyone must be aware of their roles and responsibilities within the team to avoid any confusion or conflict down the line. Lastly, it is essential to have an efficient tool or platform that can help with project management, communication, and task allocation so that everyone is on the same page regarding the project’s progress.

Unclear requirements and expanding scope creep

The Product Owner is the key person responsible for maintaining the product backlog and including the correct items in it. In addition, they also liaise with the client to ensure that the requirements are accurately captured and communicated to the development team. However, the requirements can often be ambiguous or incomplete, leading to misunderstandings and ultimately a mismatched final product, loads of rework, delayed time to market, and technical debt.

To avoid this, it is essential that the product owner thoroughly discusses the requirements with the client and development team so that everyone is on the same page from the start. Doing so will help to ensure that the final product meets the client’s needs and avoids any costly rework down the line. Moreover, expanding scope creep adds to the confusion and further extends requirement mismatch and frustration among team members.

Scope stretching

Scope stretching is the act of extending the workload without any need and working on something unnecessary in the first place. A lot many times, the agile team extends its responsibilities unnecessarily. In the process of overdoing it, they are seen diverting from the initially defined scope, thus leading to inconsistencies and delays with the deliverables — in turn, unhappy clients and customers. In most cases, neither the product owner nor the scrum master is aware of the increasing (not needed) burden that the team adds to their shoulders.

At the end of every sprint, the team should map the results achieved against the underlying requirements. In addition, there needs to be a constant communication channel between the product owner and the Agile Development team so that everyone is aware of any changes or additions. Finally, the development team should stick to the documented requirements; anything outside of that scope needs to be discussed with the concerned parties first. By following these guidelines, we can ensure that the product meets all the requirements in a timely and efficient manner.

Lack of sustainable pace

Development teams often face pressure to move ahead with the following user stories in line before resolving the issues of the previous sprint. However, this can often lead to problems further down the line, as unresolved issues from previous sprints reappear in consecutive cycles. This pressure not only puts an additional burden on the agile team but can also lead to burnout and reduced productivity.

Therefore, development teams must maintain a sustainable pace and not try to take on too much at once. By ensuring that each user story is thoroughly delivered before moving on to the next, teams can avoid these problems and maintain a healthy workflow.

Mike Cohn introduces an innovative way to address burnout, which he refers to as 6 x 2 + 1 (“six times two plus one”). This rule implies that the teams can work in six, two-week sprint cycles to complete a user story at hand. The left one-week sprint should be freely allocated to the team, where they can either work on pending user story polishing and reworks or on self-development, where they can learn and upskill.

I prefer creating “Spikes,” which are separately time-boxed sprints allocated to research a question or resolve a problem at hand. Scrum masters should entirely take up the charge and should monitor how teams are working. Over commitments should not be promoted. The Agile teams should not work beyond 40 hours per week if sustainable peace needs to be maintained.

Considering discovery and delivery as separate entities

It is common for agile teams to consider discovery and delivery as separate tasks. However, this anti-pattern must be done away with in agile development. The scrum roles often prescribe the need for Gantt charts for Agile, which makes no sense.

Agile is synonymous with iterative and incremental development, which, in turn, implies that product managers should never finalize discovery beforehand. This is because requirements can change at any point in time during development. Therefore, it makes more sense to consider discovery and delivery as two parts of the same task. This distinction will help ensure that the requirements are always accurate and up-to-date and that the delivery process is more efficient.

Though it may seem counterintuitive, it is often best to avoid fixating on a specific plan before building something new. The discovery process should be ongoing and closely intertwined with delivery rather than a one-time event. This process allows for greater flexibility and responsiveness to feedback. Launching an MVP (minimum viable product) is often the best way to start. From there, teams can refine existing features based on user feedback and add new ones. Gantt charts are often suggested for agile projects, but this can defy the purpose of agile methodology, which is designed to account for unpredictability.

Scrum master is the team lead

In Scrum, the Scrum Master is responsible for ensuring the whole team adheres to the methodology. However, the Scrum Master is not a team lead—they’re a servant leader. Therefore, the Scrum Master should avoid imposing anything on the Development Team without their consent.

Instead, the Scrum Master should serve the team and act as a servant leader. This approach will help ensure that the team buy-in to whatever changes are made and that those changes are implemented effectively.

Avoid conflicts and debates

Conflict is an inevitable part of any team dynamic; the Scrum Master is not exempt from this. It is often the Scrum Master’s role to address conflict within the team before it becomes unmanageable. This role can be a difficult task, but it is essential for the functioning of an effective Agile team. The Scrum Master should receive training in conflict resolution so that they are better equipped to deal with the problems that will inevitably arise. By addressing conflict head-on, the Scrum Master can help to create a more cohesive and effective team.

On the other hand, Scrum Masters who don’t like to be challenged should be instructed to provide more context whenever they decide on processes. This will make the decision more transparent and reduce the likelihood of the team questioning it. By providing more context, the Scrum Master allows for a greater understanding of why a particular decision was made. In addition, this increased transparency can help to build trust between the Scrum Master and the team. Ultimately, this can lead to a more harmonious working relationship and a better overall performance from the team.

Frequently changing sprint backlog

Once a Sprint starts, the Sprint Backlog should remain unchanged. Beforehand, the Product Owner and the Development Team will have selected the stories that are part of the next sprint, considering their priority and whether or not they are refined. However, stakeholders sometimes want to change the Sprint Backlog by introducing high-priority items halfway through a Sprint. For this, they address their request to the Product Owner. But according to the Scrum Guide, only the Development Team can change the Sprint Backlog. Therefore, the Product Owner ends up in a position where they are required to discuss the subject with the Development Team to come to a decision.

Often stakeholders wish to address their high-priority items mid-sprint. It is essential to remember that the development team should be able to complete all of the stories in the Sprint Backlog within the allotted time frame. Introducing new items into the mix can potentially disrupt this balance and cause problems for the team further down the line. As such, it is generally best to avoid making changes to the Sprint Backlog once a Sprint has begun.

If requests in the Sprint Backlog become a regular occurrence, it indicates something is wrong. Therefore, the Product Owner should frequently interact with stakeholders to keep them apprised of upcoming features and give them opportunities to provide input promptly – before a ticket ends up in the Sprint Backlog. Stakeholders should also respect the Product Owner’s decision-making authority. By taking these measures, development teams will significantly reduce the chances of dealing with unwanted requests during the sprint.

Retrospectives don’t fulfill continuous improvement objectives

A Retrospective should close the sprint to facilitate inspection, one of the three pillars of Scrum. Its goal is to unveil ways to increase quality and effectiveness within the team so that adaptation (another pillar) can follow. To do this, a meaningful discussion should be held with tangible outcomes regarding how the team works.

If no outcomes come from the Retrospectives, the team might avoid discussing pain points. Maybe team members don’t feel comfortable enough to bring up problematic issues in front of everyone. If so, it’s the Scrum Master’s job to find ways to create a safe environment for everyone to voice their opinion without fearing consequences. By doing so, the team can identify areas that need improvement and form actionable plans to address them.

Scrum events not being done or being done erratically

As an experienced Scrum Master knows, the five events prescribed by Scrum–sprint planning, daily, review, and retrospective–are essential for the team’s success. While it may be tempting to skip these events from time to time to save time, doing so means missing out on important opportunities to inspect and adapt work.

It is the Scrum master’s responsibility to ensure that these events occur and that the team understands their importance. By ensuring that these events are a relevant part of the team’s work, Scrum master can help avoid waste and maximize the team’s efficiency.

Scrum is a methodology designed to help teams work together more effectively, but sometimes teams can adopt practices that hinder their progress. These so-called “anti-patterns” can compromise teamwork and jeopardize delivery.

However, it is possible to spot these patterns and take corrective action. With a bit of awareness and effort, your team can stay on track and achieve success. A vital part of this has a Scrum Master who is vigilant for anti-patterns and can help the team stay focused on their goal. By taking these steps, you can avoid the negative impact of anti-patterns and ensure that your team is operating at its full potential.


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