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By Arun Thenabadu, Head of Engineering, Equiem
It is nearly 20 years since the Agile manifesto came to being in the snow swept mountains of Utah, but the misunderstandings and misconceptions of transforming or adapting to these principles remain.
Whilst this list is without a doubt non exhaustive, I have made an attempt to group what I believe are the common impediments in successfully adopting agile across a business, whether they be in small or large organisations.
Firstly, regardless of agile, any change that an individual or a business undertakes will always be met with resistance. Agile transformations are no different, no matter how or who orchestrated the change.
Change agents should be prepared for this. And there is no silver bullet to eliminate this resistance.
Leaders have to be in the forefront, answering questions, reiterating messaging, confronting the negativity and dealing with the laggers. Change champions need to be identified and tasked with messaging, influencing and resolving actual issues and dampening noise.
It's going to be hard and slow. Embrace the challenge and forge forward.
Change for the wrong reasons.
I have witnessed several companies where the change is instigated top down with limited success. In most of these situations the change is actually driven by the need to be seen as “current or modern” rather than genuine interest or belief in the benefits that will materialise. In such cases, change itself is not facilitated by the leadership, merely instructed and obviously will fail.
However, this does not mean that bottom up driven change will automatically succeed either. Change has to have overall organisation support and buy in to have an iota of chance of success.
Importantly, there needs to be a shared desired outcome of change for success.
Another common pitfall in my experience is the thinking that conducting ceremonies (as against deriving value from the ceremonies) is misinterpreted with adopting agile successfully. It is not.
An organisation is not adopting agile by merely having standups in the morning unless the true benefit of the standup (e.g. removing blockers or transparency on unexpected complexity) are achieved.
Similarly with retrospectives. There is no value in retros unless lessons learnt are passed on to other team and actions taken to remedy problems so as to prevent recurrence. The mere act of conducting a retro will not by itself deliver value.
Path to success
Organisation dynamics and leadership culture go a long way in influencing how successfully change will be. Regardless of these individual characteristics, in my experience there are 2 key elements that drive success.
Firstly, I believe the key path to success is to agree on the outcome that change will deliver rather than the change itself. For example, the release of a product feature should not be the measure of success, rather the expected return from use of the feature by the users should be the outcome sought.
Secondly, the required enablers to achieve the outcome should also be activated. For example, if agile is to be successful, teams need to be empowered and given guidance on the boundary of the decisions they can make. If teams still have to wait to get a decision, then this will inhibit the achievement of the outcome and could erroneously be interpreted as a failure in agile in itself.