Overcoming hurdles when leading Agile transformations

Agile is a mindset, not a goal, that is the bottom line of this post. The previous post was about assessing how Agile you are. This one is about how to support the change process within your organisation. Although people often link Agile working to IT-projects, it can be applied to almost every situation. Therefore, this post is applicable to every change process that aims to introduce agility to an organisation.

Unfortunately, there is no single best recipe available. Different situations will demand for adjusted approaches. A method like Scrum is not necessarily suitable for every situation, especially not when you have rather repeatable projects in i.e. construction. But one thing is for sure, this post is not about if you should become Agile, but how to do it.

Agile values appealing to most of us

Having a look at the Agile Manifesto, probably everybody would like to be Agile. The four values might suit you as well:

  1. Individuals and interactions OVER Processes and Tools
  2. Working software (for non-IT a working solution) OVER Comprehensive documentation
  3. Customer collaboration OVER Contract negotiation
  4. Responding to change OVER Following a plan.

How to understand these values is probably worth a post on its own and for sure in the 7th post I will dig a bit deeper, but for now we take it as it is.

Henk Jan Huizer (click for LinkedIn profile) shared some respondent findings regarding the benefits of Agile working:

  1. 61% cheaper
  2. 83% fewer defects
  3. 24% faster delivery

These benefits make an Agile transformation even more appealing. Who wouldn’t like to deliver results faster, cheaper and with less defects?

Beware of some hurdles

Unfortunately, achieving these benefits seems not that easy, it means quite some hurdles must be taken according to the same respondents:

  1. 52% indicates the ability to change the organizational culture is missing
  2. 41% feels general resistance to change
  3. 33% lacks the availability of skilled people
  4. 31% didn’t experience (the right) management support
  5. 26% claimed project complexity or size was a blocker

Once you manage to overcome these and other hurdles you can start working on the level of agility you would like to achieve for now.

How deep does Agile go?

Becoming Agile as a person or even an entire organization goes through the following stages or levels of agility:

  1. Process implementation: start using a method like Scrum after reading a book or attending a training.
  2. Apply best Practices to support the processes: you can search for lessons learned online and adopt them.
  3. Adopt the Principles as mentioned in the Agile Manifesto [link]. If you don’t get the principles, you can use the practices, but you will not fully profit from it.
  4. Live the Values: they represent the underlying behavior, you need to feel it, and therefore it will be harder to change/adopt to this.
  5. But being really Agile is basically a Mindset. How do you look at this world? How flexible and adaptive are you? This is not something you can just learn. It’s the hardest part of the transformation and an essential one to become Agile by nature.

When considering an Agile transformation, it is of high relevance to sync with the people involved at what level you are and what you aim to achieve.

With the implementation of Processes and Practices you will be able to improve the organisation. In general, this is about 20% of the change effort. Adopting the Principles will start the change process, unless your organisation already lives according to them. The real transformation starts with adopting the Values and Mindset. These will have most impact, but are hardest to implement.

Most common mistakes made

As mentioned before and as the above probably already shows becoming Agile might be harder than you will realize at the start. To prevent issues, it is very useful to have a look at the 8 common mistakes organizations that want to adopt Agile frequently make:

  1. Mechanical implementation of processes and practices. Becoming Agile is a lot more than just implementing Scrum, or adopting some rituals like a standup. Having standups alone doesn’t make you Agile. Nevertheless, it is very good to implement Scrum completely according to the book, before you start cherry-picking.
  2. Lacking discipline especially among smaller companies. Realizing self-organizing teams will demand a lot of discipline from the individual team members, even in case of panic. The team has to deliver what is being requested by the Product Owner, the strategy and guidelines are being decided by the board. How they will have to work has often been decided by others (including regulators). This makes that Agile teams have limited freedom, less than often is being claimed.
  3. Underestimating impact, thinking it’s easy. At a certain moment, the Agile teams do no longer fit the former/existing organizational structures (financial reporting structures, HR procedures, etc.) The organization has to be ready for this change.
  4. Avoiding necessary but painful changes.
  5. Not measuring the why. Becoming Agile is not a goal, but a way/tool, you will have to be able to show the results.
  6. Just get the teams to do it without sufficient management support.
  7. Just tell the teams to do it, a top down transformation.
  8. Not having ‘done’ results.

How to get started

Change is not easy and takes time. Adjusting a single habit or process can take 60 days; changing the organization’s mindset possibly 4 years or more.

In practice, starting bottom up with implementing i.e. Scrum or Kanban as a new work process is often how the Agile transformation starts. Especially IT teams feel the need to adjust their delivery process, because they want their delivery to be more reliable and increase the value they add to the business. Once the IT department manages to deliver reliably, the organisation’s curiosity often increases together with the readiness to adopt Agile.

But ….., or may be I should say And ….. as managers you will have to experience it yourselves: do it and learn, be super disciplined, visualise your change process and be transparent. Prepare the context for people to stimulate the change (new office, new team, other rules). Live the mindset. Without the right management support no organisation will ever become Agile.

Feel free to ask questions, share your opinion, etc below! For more personal questions, please contact us.

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Aspire Blog Team

Aspire Systems is a global technology services firm serving as a trusted technology partner for our customers. We work with some of the world's most innovative enterprises and independent software vendors, helping them leverage technology and outsourcing in our specific areas of expertise. Our services include Product Engineering, Enterprise Solutions, Independent Testing Services and IT Infrastructure Support services. Our core philosophy of "Attention. Always." communicates our belief in lavishing care and attention on our customers and employees.