Monthly Archives: June 2009

What Stands in the Way of an Agile Transformation?

Craig Larman and Bas Vodde have published a list of the top ten impediments organizations face when attempting to adopt agile management methods, based on a survey of agile experts at very large companies. Now, I know most of us don’t like to be reminded about what weÂ’re doing wrong, but, frankly, thatÂ’s exactly why I’d recommend taking a look at this. You might recognize some of these anti-patterns. In fact, some may be much too close to the bone. Of course, being aware of the anti-patterns we perpetuate in an agile environment is the first step toward eliminating them.

I won’t spoil the countdown for you, but I will speak to a pair of impediments that the authors mention that were not reported by the survey respondents:

  1. “A culture of individual workers rather than real teams and teamwork;” and
  2. “The gap between people in management roles and those doing the hands-on work.”

Both of these impediments boil down to an issue of “culture,” which I would argue is the single biggest obstacle preventing teams from successfully implementing agile practices. Why? Quite simply, if a team is unprepared for or unwilling to acknowledge the fact that agile is significantly different from traditional management paradigms, then it will continue to operate according to the status quo. For change to truly stick at an organization, all of its employees—from management to “those doing the hands-on work”—must understand the magnitude of the adoption and revise their working methods accordingly. When a culture embraces the changes precipitated by an agile adoption, those values can quickly move throughout an organization and allow process improvements to take place. But if the culture obstinately clings to old, familiar ways of working, thereÂ’s little chance of it evolving.

Organizational Resistance

Over at CIO.com, Paul Krill reports on an IBM-hosted agile workshop that took place recently in San Mateo, Calif. , where various thought leaders discussed the benefits and challenges of agile transformations. Although most of the information would be familiar to most agile users (or even readers of this blog), itÂ’s still a solid introduction to the concepts at stake in agile development. And though it sounds like everyone in attendance was convinced that agile development is a key strategy toward realizing a range of benefits, itÂ’s interesting to note that much of the discussion seemed to remain focused on organizational resistance to change. That is, no matter how exhaustive the list of potential gains the Scrum framework stands to deliver to an organization, there are always individuals within it who oppose change on principle.

HereÂ’s a pair of quotes from the article that illustrate that phenomenon:

Rich Mironov: “I haven’t seen [anybody] go through a transformation where everybody came out the other side happy. You’ll lose some folks because it’s not a style fit or they weren’t very good and you may not fit with agile. Expect some fallout or some people who need to move to the part of the organization that’s not going this way.”

Ryan Grisso: “My experience with agile is there’s a lot of resistance to it because it’s not the way we’ve done things before.”

As you can see, organizational resistance is a widespread impediment to almost all agile transformations. It occurs on the team-level, as individuals often refuse to try new ways of working, often assuming that the change somehow jeopardizes their standing in the company. Likewise, there is also resistance from managers who often fail to see it as an investment for the future, but, instead, an imminent headache.

If youÂ’ve lived through an agile transformation, IÂ’d love to hear about your experience. Were team members wary of change? What about managers? And what strategies did you see employed to combat this resistance to try agile? Did they work?