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6 Mistakes that will kill your Agile transformation even before it begins

Posted on: 21 August '17
Daniel Barreto
Daniel Barreto
Agile Consultant, Global Agile Center of Excellence

1. Not focusing on Culture

Adopting Agile at an organizational level is a transformation that can take a long time, bring about change at every level of the organization and require a great deal of experimentation and learning. In order to adopt Agile successfully, it is not enough for an organization to simply adopt the practices of one or other of the many Agile frameworks currently available. This may result in short term success and initial enthusiasm but it would not sustain in the long term.

In order to get a transformation to really stick, the entire organization needs to experience a cultural shift. The organization needs to encourage, support and enable a focus on learning, failing, inspection, adaption, and continuous improvement. With the right culture in place, everyone would be comfortable with trying different things, focusing on improving and sustaining improvements over the long term.

2. Too much too fast

Scrum, DevOps, SAFe, Kanban, Continuous Delivery. With so many different buzz words floating around the Agile sphere, it can be easy for companies to get excited and bite off more than they can chew. Every organization is different in its readiness to adopt Agile and needs to carefully consider many factors when deciding how to start the journey.

Smaller organizations or teams such as start-ups or IT departmenst of larger companies may be able to immediately start practicing Scrum. On the other hand, larger organizations that have traditionally worked in a waterfall fashion or are in heavily regulated industries, may find it difficult to make the big changes that accompany a framework such as Scrum. As a result they may get discouraged or quit altogether if they run into problems, early on.

3. Lack of support from leadership

As my colleague Russ Wetmore wrote in his article “Transitioning to Agile: An Evolving Exercise” turf wars always pop up during an Agile transformation including early failures as organizations try to find their way. When this happens, leadership teams often start to worry about their ROI if they have not fully bought into the idea of Agile and revert to old ways of working after an early failure.

It is only when the top level leadership is fully invested in the idea that they are able to understand and accept the many bumps along the way. Understand that Teams would fail early and often, but with time, would become comfortable with new ways of working and embrace a mindset of continuous improvement. And once teams know their leadership is supporting them, they will be quick to embrace the transformation and feel more comfortable experimenting and finding new ways to improve.

4. Unrealistic expectations

Too often, organizations get excited about adopting Agile in view of the gains in terms of faster time- to- market and quality improvement. But they rarely, fully understand, what it takes to achieve this transformation or how long it would take to get there. Typically, they may decide to adopt Scrum and then expect to see results within a few months. In addition, without a proper understanding of concepts such as MVP, User Stories, and backlog prioritization, they may not understand that it is not necessarily to gain all the benefits. They may also not understand that management typically focuses on whatever adds maximum value.

These misaligned expectations could lead to a great deal of frustration for everyone involved. When these issues pop up, team members and leaders may eventually stray from the Agile principles in an effort to get everything they think, that needs to be done. They would also consider their Agile journey as a failure even before it has had a chance to take off. Hence, it is imperative, that everyone involved in the transition to Agile is on the same page about what to expect and by when to expect it.

5. Miscommunication throughout the organization

Everyone fears change, especially when they are not sure how it would affect them. When a company is undergoing an Agile transformation, there is bound to be lots and lots of change. With all this change taking place, many people in key roles would be unsure of what their new place in the organization would be. They may worry that they would become redundant or that they would be unable to learn to work and succeed in this new environment.

With these fears in mind, many people would be reluctant to embrace Agile transformation and may even actively work to block its success in order to preserve their existing positions. By clearly communicating not only the benefits of transitioning to Agile but also how everyone’s role would fit into the transformation journey, it would be possible to mitigate these fears. This would make people more accepting and comfortable with the idea of change.

6. Lack of adequate training

One of the primary aspects of Agile is collaboration. This collaboration takes place between everyone — even people and departments within an organization that have never traditionally been involved in IT. This is a big shift for many organizations that have never worked this way before.

Organizations may think that they can train one or two of their project managers to take a Scrum Master class and then have them teach the rest of the teams. However, in order to ensure the buy-in of the entire team, everyone needs to be trained so that they are familiar with the principles and practices that need to be employed. In addition to attending training classes, teams and organizations could also benefit from investing in Agile coaching by an experienced professional. He/she would be able to guide them through all the obstacles and pitfalls the teams would likely run into, as they embark on their Agile journey.

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Daniel is an Agile subject matter expert within Mindtree’s Global Agile Center of Excellence. As an Agile Consultant, Daniel focuses on developing innovative thought leadership in enterprise Agile transformations, Agile cultural adoption, and globally distributed Agile. Daniel has a wide range of experience across multiple industries supporting Agile and Lean transformations. Daniel is also a Certified Professional Scrum Master and SAFe Agilist.