Mar 29th, 2022

10 Reasons Why Agile Transformations Fail – And How To Fix Them


Agilemania, a small group of passionate Lean-Agile-DevOps consultants and trainers, is the most tru... Read more

In a world governed by "disrupt or be disrupted," organizations need to re-invent themselves and become high-performing and adaptable to thrive. To stay relevant in today's markets, organizations need to build an ability to redirect their priorities and people toward value-creating opportunities quickly. Many larger organizations tend to move slowly and find soon responding to change an insurmountable task, unlike their smaller and more nimble competitors.

The biggest impediment for organizations in their transformation is the bureaucracy based on policy and process barriers inherent to the industrial era organizational structure and management philosophy. Organizations generally start their transformation by piloting Agile frameworks and methods to provide autonomy to developers and product representatives and empower them to make relevant decisions around implementation.

While this does look like a great strategy to experiment with Agile initially, this piecemeal approach leads to sub-component optimization at best.

The Agile methods, which provide alignment, planning, and cadence for small teams, fall painfully short when implementing the same across hundreds of people needed to build very complex products. Organizations must apply Agile values and principles in a large, distributed, or high-compliance environment. They should extend the Agile principles to Agile teams and portfolios, thus providing efficiencies and linking the enterprise's strategy to execution.

Organizations need the knowledge and success patterns critical to bring various departments like business, technology, operations, legal, finance, support, compliance, security, and others to deliver innovative, high-quality products faster than the competition continually. Organizations should integrate Agile-adjacent principles such as Lean and DevOps to support a continuously evolving system aligned to customer needs and the rapid changes in the technology and market landscapes.

In a nutshell, an organization should take a systemic approach that enables the business to deliver innovative products and stay ahead of the competition. Scaled Agile Framework ® (SAFe®) has emerged as the answer for the organizations' quest to succeed in business agility.

SAFe, the world's leading framework that integrates the power of Lean, Agile, and DevOps into a comprehensive operating system, helps enterprises thrive by delivering innovative products and services faster, more predictably, and with higher quality. SAFe supports the full spectrum of solutions, from those requiring a small number of teams to those complex systems that require hundreds of people to build & deliver.

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Top 10 Reasons Why Agile Transformations Fail

  • 1Lack of knowledge and experience with Agile Methods: As per the 15th State of Agile Report, 42% of the respondents reported that one of the Agile adoption challenges was a lack of skills and experience with Agile methods. Organizations that don’t have agile training attempt agile transformation and fail miserably.
  • 2Agile Values at odds with organizational values: This has been one of the main challenges that key decision-makers face when bringing in any kind of transformation, and agile is no different. 43% of the respondents reported agile values at odds with organizational values as per the 15th State of Agile Report.
  • 3Trying to replicate other Agile transformations: The corporate world has many Agile success stories. This influences many organizations to use that as a textbook case study to implement all the best practices followed. This leads to absolute failure. It’s either this or an Agile Coach who suggests changes or implementation of Agile practices from their coaching experience.
  • 4Hiring the wrong people: Agile transformations are driven by people. Not investing time and money in hiring the right people will make agile transformation a distant reality. Do you know the one mistake that organizations commit when hiring? Take a wild guess! It’s hiring only the star performers. What? How is it a mistake? Star performers are always the most sought-after members of the team. The go-to person for any problem or issue is always a star performer. They end up solving others’ concerns, and they end up not completing their individual tasks. Overburdened with tasks, they either suffer burnout or fail miserably.
  • 5 Irregular communication and coordination: The Agile transformation falls flat only because of one drawback. Inconsistent communication and coordination between teams in larger organizations lead to botched agile transformation. One of the main values of Agile is ‘Individual and Interactions over tools and processes.’ But, there impedes because communication between distributed agile teams is irregular. Agile is based on short sprints; if communication is missing, then agile transformation will be a colossal disaster.
  • 6Team opposed to Agile values: What would be the outcome if the team members are not on the same page when it comes to implementing Agile? The unwillingness of the team to follow Agile values arises when they want to be recognized by functions. There’s a conflict when a team member feels their authority is being undermined.
  • 7Improper training: 35% of the respondents in the 15th State of Agile Report cited ‘Insufficient training and education’ to be one of the challenges in adopting Agile. Improper training means either of three things such as nobody received training, not everybody who required training received it, or the training was lackluster. There should be no compromise on the quality of agile training. Saving a few bucks might lead to a loss in billions.
  • 8Misguided belief about Agile transformations: Most organizations believe that Agile transformations happen overnight. In reality, it takes anywhere between 1 to 3 years. The initial benefits may appear, but the overhaul that takes several years is not instantaneous.
  • 9Extrinsic pressure to follow the waterfall approach: 35% of the respondents reported pervasiveness to traditional development methods. In many organizations, Agile teams and waterfall teams would be working under a common head, but the unwillingness to coexist makes it difficult. The leadership personnel must be educated that the pros of Agile outweigh those of Waterfall.
  • 10Confining Agile to Pilots: While starting small is good, many organizations wait for the pilot project to succeed. Pilot projects are small, and they won’t be able to replicate the same success as a larger agile transformation can. Taking baby steps to start a pilot project is good, but limiting it isn’t. Applying agile values and practices throughout the organization will give you tangible results.

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Solutions To Make Agile Transformations Successful

If there are reasons why Agile transformations fail, then are solutions as well. 

  • Opt for Agile Coaching: Investing in agile coaching and proper agile training will help you receive hands-on training enabling knowledge and experience with Agile methods.
  • Embrace Agile Values: Agile is “how you think” and “what you do.” For successful transformation to occur, agile values must take precedence over organizational values.
  • Create your custom plan for Agile Transformation: Just because the organization that underwent Agile transformation happened to be in the same domain, you should not be blindly copying their strategy. The problems and requirements of your organization could be as different as apples and oranges. Agile is practiced by running experiments and learning from mistakes.
  • Right the right people with the right agile expertise: To invest in hiring the right people, you need to hire people with the right mindset, values, and personality. Some agile projects require inherent skills; your focus should be to find them. Don’t hire out of desperation. That will only lead to chaos.
  • Take the leadership team into confidence: Educating the leadership personnel and taking them into confidence will help solve this problem. Team coaching will help resolve the team’s resistance to change. 

Top Myths of Agile Transformation

  • 1Agile transformation is puffery: Agile transformation is real and has been proven through research studies. The results and practices have been drafted into books and guides to help organizations transform.
  • 2Agile transformation works only for IT and Product Development: Agile transformation starts from a company-wide perspective. It does offer better results for some functions. Apply agile values to the parts which can benefit the most.
  • 3Agile transformation is for everyone: Only after an extensive analysis should one decide to go for an agile transformation. Identify the problem areas and decide if agility is the right solution. It should offer a solution rather than complicate things further.
  • 4Agile transformation is uniform throughout the organization: Agile transformation works differently across functions. Drafting a blueprint and identifying value streams and how they prove beneficial is the way ahead for transformation.
  • 5Agile transformation is nothing, but Scrum applied at scale: Agile transformation and Scrum aren’t the same things. It advocates team coordination and flexible changes in plans.
  • 6Agile transformations are possible through more Agile teams and pilots: Agile transformations involve more than just pilot projects and teams. There’s a lot of restructuring involved, such as core processes, building new capabilities, and leadership mindsets.
  • 7Agile transformation is anarchic as it comes at the cost of reliability and predictability: Agile transformation includes stability and dynamism. Scaling agile transformation is only possible when the cornerstone is sturdy in a volatile business organization.
  • 8Agile transformation is only about productivity: Speed and adaptability are the real benefits of agile transformation. While supersonic speed, versatility, and enhanced employee engagement increase output, the main role of agile is to cement a place of strength.
  • 9A massive agile transformation is risky: A massive agile transformation's pros and cons depending on the situation. Complicated environments with rigid structures require changes in increments, while big top-down involves resetting the organization to manage agile and non-agile functions.
  • 10Agile transformations are possible in 6 months: Agile transformations are not possible overnight. Read as 6 months. They could either take 1 or 3 years. The merits appear quickly where there are agile bases and pilots. Full-scale agile transformation takes several years and needs the application of evolving agile practices


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