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Reasons Why Agile Transformations Fail

April 25, 2016

In today’s fast-moving digital landscape, organizations in all sectors and of all sizes are increasingly turning to agile ways of working, with the goal of gaining the speed, flexibility, and responsiveness they need to remain competitive. In fact, Version One’s most recent State of Agile survey found that 95% of software organizations now practice agile development and, in 43% of organizations, the majority of development teams are agile. However, an organization is unlikely to achieve a successful agile transformation simply by rigidly following a defined set of agile strictures. Instead, an agile transformation requires a complete cultural shift across entire teams, structures, and processes.

In this article, I’ll look at some of the most common reasons behind the failure of agile transformations. My hope is that this information will help your organization to avoid its agile initiatives’ falling foul of the same mistakes and ensure that you’re able to reap all of the rewards the approach has to offer.

1. Not Assessing Your Current Performance

A crucial early step in any organization’s agile transformation is conducting an as-is audit. Doing an overarching assessment of your processes and practices will help you identify

  • any blockers and painpoints your transformation strategy needs to address
  • silos and areas of misalignment that could hinder your implementation down the line
  • how much your team already knows about agile
  • how agile applies to team members’ particular roles, departments, and responsibilities

If you do not undertake this audit before you begin your journey toward becoming agile, it will be much harder for you to assess the impact of any initiatives because you won’t have crucial benchmarking statistics to use as a comparison. You’ll also miss out on building an in-depth understanding of your organization’s cultural fit for agile—a factor that is key to determining the eventual success of your transformation, but is all too easy to ignore.

2. Picking a Single Approach and Sticking to It

At agile’s foundation are the key ideas of continual inspection and iteration. Your approach to agile transformation should follow the same principles. Don’t be afraid to mix and match methods from the different agile frameworks to define an approach that is tailored to your needs. Following processes that don’t support your specific goals, requirements, and constraints can harm business performance and make your adoption of agile much more difficult.

Remember, too, that various departments and projects may well be working in different environments and addressing very different demands, so shoehorning each of your disparate teams into a single agile framework is unlikely to deliver the highest levels of performance. Don’t be afraid to implement slightly different variations of the agile approach as necessary—enabling teams to conduct agile rituals in whatever way works best for them. In this way, you can ensure that agile becomes firmly embedded within your organizational culture.

3. Failing to Provide Your Team with the Skills They Need

An organization-wide agile transformation obviously requires the support and input of the whole organization. If you lack a training plan that would ensure your entire team has the necessary knowledge and skills to put your approach into practice, you may find yourself without the capabilities and, crucially, the buy-in you need to implement your strategy.

Your training plan should also address each and every level of your organization—from the C-suite, to management, to individual project team members. A one-size-fits-all approach doesn’t work when it comes to training, so you’ll need to craft relevant training activities for each audience. For example, key stakeholders would likely be most interested in the business benefits of adopting agile, so may require only a high-level introduction to key agile principles. In contrast, agile development teams should participate in practical workshops that incorporate real-world situations to prepare them for the challenges they’ll encounter and ensure they can deliver maximal value.

4. Going Straight for Full Adoption

I highly recommend that you include a trial period in your agile-transformation schedule. Without this initial period of experimentation, you may discover critical issues only once your whole organization has adopted the approach. At that point, it would likely require a significant investment of time, effort, and money to resolve these issues.

Just as important as allowing time for a small, contained trial is choosing the right trial group. If you choose a team that’s not particularly well established or isn’t really open to working collaboratively, you may find yourself spending more time removing internal barriers to uptake than optimizing the approach itself. Instead, you should choose a team that stands to gain a great deal by taking an agile approach. This will enable you to analyze the impact of your transformation initiatives more easily.

5. Seeing Agile Transformation as a One-Off Event

Your agile transformation won’t simply end with an organizational rollout. Failing to invest enough in the on-going review and improvement process could diminish the long-term returns you’re able to achieve from adopting agile.

Make sure, therefore, that you schedule regular retrospectives to assess how well the approach is working for each team. Continue to tailor your agile approach in response to each team’s specific opportunities and challenges, as well as to address any issues they encounter while practicing agile in the wild. In addition to these team retrospectives, conduct broader agile-transformation retrospectives to assess how effectively the agile approach is serving the business as a whole.

Conclusion

With so many different elements to coordinate, there are many potential hazards that can trip you up on your path to agile. However, by avoiding the pitfalls I’ve highlighted in this article, you can be confident that you’re getting off to the best possible start. And, while a host of factors that are unique to your organization will dictate the finer points of your strategy, having a solid foundation underpinning your agile transformation will ensure that it is strong, successful, and sustainable. It will also help increase the rate at which you’ll see returns from your investment in agile.

Finally, it’s important to note that agile doesn’t just mean agile software development these days. Although the agile approach has its roots in the software industry, at Box UK we’ve seen organizations successfully apply elements of agile to a wide range of activities, covering everything from education to event management. So, if you think agile transformation doesn’t apply to your organization, think again. But, whatever your industry, make sure you follow the advice I’ve provided in this article so you can minimize the risk of failure! 

Business Analyst at Box UK

Cardiff, Wales, UK

Allie BrockAs a Business Analyst at the Web and software consultancy Box UK, Allie works closely with clients to understand their needs, define solutions, prioritize development tasks, and support the successful delivery of large-scale software-development projects. Allie is also responsible for providing external training for Box UK and has delivered agile coaching sessions to a wide range of organizations, including companies in the motor industry, universities, and event-management organizations.  Read More

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