For many years we have heard about the good things that will happen if organizations start increasing their agility, if projects become more agile, and if old habits are replaced with an agile mindset. The evidence is convincing. There are plenty of white papers, reports, research etc. that will support the viewpoint that the higher organizational agility the shorter lead times, faster time-to-market, higher customer and employee satisfaction.
In other words, ‘going agile’ seems like a no-brainer, and many companies do the attempt. However, many of those that try, are failing miserably. Not because they are different. Not because the agile method/framework could not work. Not because it’s particularly difficult. So why do they fail?
No management support – no significant agile change
To be blunt it does not matter what method you choose. It will not work if there is no management support and clear leadership, if the culture is bad, the behavior stinks, bad habits are accepted, and change is not welcome.
I know that there are “method fundamentalists” that firmly believe, that if only you use their method, everything will change automatically, but I must disappoint you. Nothing changes automatically, and no method will save you from failure, but a method can indeed help you succeed if you use it as intended.
Change feels dangerous and creates…. FEAR!
‘Going agile’ results in transparency, and it often means that people have to change working habits that are 5-10-20 years old. That’s not easy, and it may affect their self-perception. You may be a current-state-champion but will be a novice just like everybody else when new agile principles are introduced. You may have been a command-and-control type manager, and it may feel like an attack on you, when servant leadership becomes the new norm, and the bearing idea of self-organizing teams is introduced.
Such changes may trigger fear, but not until you get beyond that fear will agile change be possible. But of course, it is possible.
What happens in the real world?
I don’t suggest that my experiences are the only valid experiences, but after having lead a number of agile transformations in both big and small companies, public and private, and having coached many managers and teams on how to transform from classic silo thinking to agile systems, I have experienced the importance of management support again and again. If it’s there, magic may happen, if it’s not you cannot release the improvement potential that lies right in front of you.
It may be easy enough if you are a new company, that have made the decision to work agile from the very beginning. You can just insist that anyone that wish to be employed must work according to agile principles, or else they cannot work in your company.
It’s a very different matter to turn around a super tanker, that has been working according to non-agile principles for many years. Old habits must change. Both on the individual level and the organizational culture on the whole. That’s hard work! And it takes time and persistence.
You also need to determine how you will react if individuals start opposing the new agile structures and mindset. What will you do, if all agree to the rules that everyone should play by, and then you see colleagues neglecting or even obstructing those rules? What will you do if people refuse to be transparent and visualize what they are working on? What if inappropriate behavior and mindset remains unchanged?
These are not examples, that I just imagine might happen. I see them every day, and this has made me realize that unless you have strong management support and sponsorship, you may see minor improvements, but they may not even be worth the investment and the disruption that the agile transformation has caused.
Don’t despair and don’t drop your agile ambitions
Agile change is worth the while, and of course you can make it work, but first you need to ask yourselves:
- What do we want to gain from an agile transformation?
- How can we make sure we choose the right method that fits our context?
- How will we plan the transformation and how will we implement? (Yes! Agile implementations can be planned)
- What will we measure, and how will we determine if we are on the way to reaching our goals?
- What will we do to those colleagues that cannot accept our new agile ways?
- How can we ensure that continuous improvement does indeed become continuous?
- How can we prevent ourselves from falling asleep, when we reach a certain level?
Once you have answered those questions, you are ready to start your agile journey. Full speed ahead!
Want to know more about me and Xvoto? Check us out here: http://www.xvoto.dk