What Is an Agile Anti-Pattern, & How to Avoid Them


Agile methodology has become almost every software agency’s predominant software development framework. It’s not just a trend anymore, and it’s the most efficient method for agencies to get the most out of a software development cycle.

But even with the best team dynamics and efforts, trouble can arise in the form of agile anti-patterns. These often come in the form of solutions for urgent issues, making them harder to detect.

How Agile Anti Patterns Can Hurt Your Team, And How To Avoid Them agile anti patterns

Today, we’ll discuss common agile anti-patterns that can hurt your development on a team level and how you can efficiently work around them. But before that, let’s learn about the word of the day: agile anti-patterns.

What Are Agile Anti-Patterns?

An anti-pattern refers to something that appears as a solution but has different underlying issues when applied. When these come up during the agile development cycle, they can be considered agile anti-patterns.

Agile allows you to be flexible with the rules and bend them to your will for continuous improvement. But here’s the problem: bending the rules too much can break them completely, and that’s when anti-patterns appear.

Sometimes, an individual team member or the entire team will use an anti-pattern to get efficient results through unconventional means, while they fail to see the adverse effects till it’s too late.

Agile Anti Patterns In Software Development

Many, many different anti-patterns out there can cause agile development to slow down or come to a halt. Let’s discuss 20 of the most common and frequent ones. As we speak, one or more of these might be taking place on your end.

1. Miscommunication

The very first agile principle of the agile manifesto values individuals and interactions over processes and tools. And this is also the most basic first rule most companies fail to implement.

Companies get so invested in processes and tools that communication is interrupted, or the environment doesn’t support individual communication.

Most scrum team leaders hold a daily stand-up to understand the team’s progress. The team leaders see it as a way of communicating with the team members, but this, in reality, is an anti-pattern as well.

To overcome this issue, we suggest relying on tools that can help with better communication, whether you’re working with remote teams or not. Here’s a list of suggestions from us.

Tools For Succesful Agile Transformation
Short-Term CommunicationMicrosoft Teams, Slack
Video CommunicationGoogle Meet, Zoom
Large-File SharingGoogle Drive, Dropbox
Developer ToolsJira, GitHub
Designer Collaboration ToolsInVision, Figma
Work Management ToolsTrello, ClickUp
Data Management ToolsAirTable, Notion
Virtual CollaborationMural, Basecamp

2. Unclear Requirements & Scope Creep

The product owner works as the bridge between the agile development team and the clients to ensure the idea of the product reaches the team just the way the clients want it.

But sometimes, product details either get lost in translation when reaching the team, or the instruction comes off as ambiguous and incomplete. The result is a product that doesn’t have market needs.

Also, constant reworks while trying to get the instructions just right can result in additional technical debt and a higher time to market. It can also come in the form of expanding scope creep, which can create further confusion.

The best solution to this issue is to create documentation of the requirements. Verbal communication can often cause details to get lost, and detailed documentation can express the exact needs of the product owner to the team.

But even the documentation can go wrong sometimes, so it’s better to take it one step further and contact the stakeholders to verify the documentation. It ensures that their demands are being conveyed through the documents properly.

3. Scope Stretching

Scope stretching or gold plating is the idea of adding extra work by introducing unnecessary functions for the product. Most of the time, these features were never required, and they are here because the product owner constantly was chasing after the next shiny thing to add to the product.

When the team is too busy adding these unnecessary features, the development process gets completely sidetracked, and all deliverables get delayed.

This can happen very often, and scope creep can lead to scope stretching very often.

To eliminate the issue, the team leaders should collaborate with the members to map the results against the requirements after every sprint. There should also be a constant communication channel between the product owner and the product designer.

Another way is for the team to stick to the primary documentation of requirements and always check if there is anything that must be worked on outside the primary objective.

4. Lack of Sustainable Pace

Sometimes, the team is rushing to get to the final result, but the team misses or deliberately skim user stories they are supposed to work on.

When the dev team frequently skips user stories, they add up, and in later sprints, it will only increase the burden for the entire team.

The solution here is simple: The team should never ignore the idea of a sustainable pace. It’s about keeping the development constant and focusing on and completing one user story before moving on to the next one.

5. Considering Discovery & Delivery To Be Different

Discovering and delivery are often considered two different entities in the agile development method, which is an anti-pattern.

Agile is the idea of iterative and incremental development. It implies that discovery should never be finalized because the requirements can change anytime.

The easiest solution here is to build along the discovery and deliver constantly. The best way to do it is to launch your MVP and wait for user feedback to continue refining your existing features while working on new ones.

6. Scrum Master Working As Team Leader

The scrum master is there to introduce the team to agile practices and ensure that the team constantly follows the agile methodology. They are there to act like a servant leader, not a team leader.

In many organizations, the management believes that the scrum master is the team leader, and the hierarchy soon falls apart. In some other agencies, the scrum master tries to impose strict rules or activities on the entire team, which ruins the agile environment.

The solution is simple: the scrum master should only teach people how different things in agile work and not interfere with the development process in any way or take control of the said process.

7. Scrum Master Avoids Conflicts

Avoiding conflict is human nature, but sometimes you can’t get things done correctly without jumping right into it. Avoiding conflict is something scrum masters tend to do, and it doesn’t serve the team in any way.

If there is a conflict among the team members, the scrum master should address it as fast as possible. A scrum master should pay double attention to repeated issues before they become too big to handle.

8. Sprint Backlog Changing Mid-Sprint

Before a sprint starts, the product owner and the development team decide to work on a refined user story. After a sprint starts, the sprint backlog should remain unchanged until the development team finishes the sprint.

The issue starts when stakeholders want to introduce high-priority objectives to the backlog while the current sprint progresses. The product owner has no choice but to discuss the new priorities with the team, causing the product backlog to change mid-sprint.

It’s normal to receive requests in sprint backlogs, but if it’s frequently happening, it indicates an anti-pattern. The product owners can solve this issue by not introducing a ticket in the sprint backlog unless the current sprint has finished.

The product owner should also regularly communicate with the stakeholders to explain that they should respect the product owner’s choices and decisions and not introduce additional items in the sprint that might lengthen the development cycle.

9. Retrospectives Aren’t Fulfilling Their Objectives

A retrospective team meeting is like a shutdown ritual for a sprint. It’s an established practice for any well-built scrum team. At the end of each sprint, the team holds inclusive meetings focusing on their priorities and has productive conversations about critical issues in short meetings.

But there can be times when the retrospectives just aren’t doing what they should. The common reason can be that most team members don’t feel comfortable sharing problematic issues for fear of being seen as inexperienced in problem-solving.

It’s up to the scrum master to create a safe, agile software development environment where each team member can comfortably voice their opinions, concerns, and issues to create actionable plans to resolve them.

10. Erratic Execution of Scrum Events

Scrum consists of the following events:

  • Sprint Planning
  • Daily Reviews
  • Retrospective
  • Sprint

The team members or leader might be tempted to skip one or more steps now and then, but doing so only loses the effectiveness of the scrum events. Each event is designed to inspect, adapt and improvise the work, and skipping the steps leads to the product development derailing completely.

It’s up to the scrum master so that every team member follows the correct order of the events.

11. Absent Product Owner

Sometimes, the product owner drops everything on the development team and vanishes. It can cause many problems for the development team and the product itself.

The most glaring issue is when the product owner is absent to answer any question the development team might have. The absence of the product owner can leave the team in the dark about their objective, leading to unachieved goals and incomplete sprints.

When the product owner is absent for long periods, the team slowly starts to lose its morale, and the development process slows down even further.

The solution is evident from the problem: the product owner must always be available to communicate with the team and clear up all the objectives laid out for the team.

12. PO Clinging To Backlog Objectives

Sometimes, the PO cannot let go of the backlog objectives even when they are completed. The product owner is responsible for items in the product backlog, but they become the developer’s concern once they move to the sprint backlog.

Then, it’s up to the developers to collaboratively decide the best steps for development. Product owners keeping tasks held in the product backlog only delays product development.

To solve the issue, The product owner should differentiate between the right items that should be kept in the product backlog or passed on to the sprint backlog.

13. Cancelling Sprints Without Team Consultation

The product owner can shut down a sprint in case of an emergency. But even then, the product owner has to consult with all the team members before shutting down a sprint.

Product owners often feel like the sprint isn’t going in the direction they want it to, and they shut down the sprint without any consultation with the team leader or team members.

If the product owner is looking to make the most of a sprint, they should look for ideas within the team for salvaging and saving the current sprint to get the most results.

14. No WIP Limit

A WIP (Work In Progress) Limit dictates the number of tasks a developer can handle at a time. Sometimes during sprints, in a rush to complete the development process, the team leader or the product owner might remove all the WIP limits from the entire team.

This can lead to burnout and exhaustion within the team members while reducing the number of deliverables after each sprint. Also, removing limits for simultaneous tasks leads to divided attention and reduced focus.

The WIP limit must be maintained at all costs and at all times. Without it, the team is constantly switching tasks, which causes both the cycle time and the overall development time to suffer.

15. Flow Disruption

Sometimes, the scrum masters allow internal stakeholders to interfere with the team’s flow during sprints. This incident is known as a flow disruption. There are a few instances when scrum masters allow flow disruption to happen.

The scrum masters don’t bother with teaching the stakeholders about their idea of management and how the flow disruption of the agile scrum team can affect the product negatively.

The scrum master frequently takes team members off the team and assigns them completely different tasks, which is a project-minded and anti-agile idea.

The scrum master doesn’t mind adding in new members without consulting the existing team members first.

The scrum masters allow the stakeholders to undermine the self-organizing teams by turning daily scrums into reporting sessions.

To Wrap It Up

Agile management anti-patterns can show up during any stage of the development process, and these are recurring throughout the process. But these issues can be resolved with a great team and an efficient scrum master. If you want to ensure the longevity of your team, you need to put in efforts against agile anti-patterns on a management level.

A good scrum master/coach with the help of workshops, 1–2–1 mentoring/coaching/conversations, and day-to-day guidance can address almost all team-based anti-patterns, but it does take patience, courage, and a bit of a thick skin.

-Patrick Martin
What Are Agile Anti-patterns/ Scrum Anti-patterns?

Agile anti-patterns are solutions to problems that come with underlying issues. They may seem beneficial for development at first, but they make the process more inefficient later on.

How Can Agile Anti-patterns Harm the Software Development Process?

Agile anti-patterns disrupt the agile development motion and practices, slow the development down, or even bring it to a halt.

Can Agile Anti-patterns Be Prevented Before They Occur?

If the scrum master and the team leaders are well aware of the agile anti-patterns, most of them can be prevented before they occur.

What Are the Consequences of Ignoring Agile Anti-patterns?

Ignoring agile anti-patterns in the long term can create problems that become too tough to solve, and trying to solve the issues can cause longer development time, higher time to market, and higher technical debt.

Can Agile Anti-patterns Happen Anytime?

Yes, agile anti-patterns can take place during any stage of development.