It’s all about change and change is here to stay

Happy New Year and welcome 2017 with all the change that it may bring!

2016 has gone almost too quickly. I have been absorbed in a couple of big organizational agile transformations, and change has certainly happened there. Going from a traditional mindset to an agile is a paradigm shift, and the step is quite a big one. But it can be done, and it doesn’t have to be so difficult.

It’s all about managing change

Resistance to change

Fear of change

Unwillingness to change

But fortunately, there are also frontrunners, and people who are curious about what good things agile might bring. They are your helpers.

But why is the shift from the classic to an agile mindset so difficult? Agile methods are supposed to be simple!!

Just looking at the Scrum guide, or papers about Kanban might tempt you to thinking that being agile is piece-of-cake. I don’t want to spoil anybody’s dreams, but this particular dream is only wishful thinking.

Work with Scrum or Kanban is based on the assumption that teams and organizations live by a set of values. Here they are:


But can we assume that people readily buy into or understand the value of transparency, commitment, respect, focus etc.? No, of course not! Actually, I have seen teams acting quite the opposite to these values and yet believed they were very agile.

They were doing mechanical Scrum or proto-Kanban, but had no real understanding of how agile systems work. Thus, the real benefits did not emerge.

The change of mindset is just as difficult for managers, many being strongly opposed to agile. They may support the shift in words, but in actions they work against it. Though there is massive evidence of improved service delivery or success with projects in agile organizations, they are not tempted to let go of their power. Even for the greater good.

Old organizational hierarchies are working against agile principles e.g. team self-organization, and delegation of decision power. Getting from the old ways of control-and-command to a real pull-system is not trivial. You must genuinely pursue this change, or it will not happen.

Meet team members Grumpy, Skeptical, and Know-it-all

I am currently writing a book about Kanban, and my angle is practical. What do you do, when reality is far from the wonderful picture of the competent team, the always-available Product Owner, the motivated individuals, the supportive managers that e.g. the Scrum guide tries to paint?

What happens when the prerequisites for making Scrum or Kanban work are not meet? Does it mean that you should give up? No, of course not, but you must be realistic about what can be achieved, and you must articulate the end goal.

Agile methods cannot change a bad culture, solve problems or remove complexity, but they sure put the spotlight on those. Then it is up to the organizations/teams how they want to react on the findings. To do nothing is also a choice. Probably a bad one.

The top-5 reasons for not wanting to embrace agility

In my work with customers I have met team members like Grumpy, Skeptical, and Know-it-all. Fortunately, a good many positive people too. But from the three first-mentioned you will typically hear the following reasons for resisting to become agile:

  1. We are SO different. Agile will never work for us
  2. Are you saying that what we have done for the past many years is wrong!!!
  3. We already have the optimal process in place. Agile will make things worse
  4. We are educated people, we have already figured out the best way for us
  5. We have worked with visual boards for ages – you can teach us nothing

I could write a lot about how to react to this, but it sums up to the 3 of them not having understood that they are part of a system that is greater than themselves, and that sub-optimization is bad for productivity.

More “dictatorship”, more action. less talk

Since there are as many opinions about agile as there are members in an organization, it’s likely that you will never reach consensus about your agile approach. Therefore, the people in charge of the change must articulate what they want to achieve.

Together with an agile specialist, they must determine where they want to go and the approach to getting there, and then insist that everyone follows that path. On the change journey, there will be plenty of time to explain how the values fit the approach, how good agile practice will lead to continuous improvement etc.

P.S. A hint: where Scrum is often disruptive and harsh on an organization, Kanban is the humane path to agility. With Kanban you look at the work, and seek to balance supply and demand.

PPS: My Kanban book will give you many more details

About Annette V

Agil specialist og realist. Scrum og Kanban træner, agil coach og rådgiver. Foredragsholder og forfatter. Grundlægger og ejer af Xvoto ApS. Agile specialist and realist. Scrum and Kanban trainer, agile coach and advisor. Public speaker and author. Founder and owner of Xvoto ApS
This entry was posted in Adopting agile, Agile transformation, Change Management, Good practice, Kanban, Management, Organizational agility, Project efficiency, Scrum and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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