Why Some Agile Transformations Fail?

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Do you think Agile Transformation can be achievable at all?

It turns out changing a whole organization is extremely difficult. Agile promises a huge pile of super cool extras. In many cases though this means people, used to the “Traditional Project Management”  – Fixed or Plan-based – approach to change their Mindset, their work habits, and their ability to cope with situations. 

And changing people’s mindsets is easier said than done. Trust me.

It looks like this “Traditional Project Management” is so deep implanted even in non-managers brains, that it can suffocate every attempt for introducing agility and adaptability.

By definition:

Project management is the planning, organizing, and managing of the effort to accomplish a successful project.
– Free Management Library

Nowadays, most organizations that claim to be Agile, have tried adopting Agile or have implemented “their own Agile”.

Unfortunately, most of them have failed. Badly.

You want to know why? This post is focused on a specific example of how some companies start their Agile transformation.

This is how it goes:

Agile becomes more and more popular and the magic stories of companies that boost and perform like crazy go around super fast. It promises so much great stuff like:

  • You’ll get hyper-productive.
  • People will become happier.
  • You’ll gain a competitive advantage.
  • You’ll be able to release every two weeks, instead of once a year.
  • Agile is the panacea that will make your business more successful than ever.

It feels like you’ll look like a moron if you’re not doing Agile.

It’s not clear if these famed stories, a personal talk with some Agile guru or visit of some conference is the reason, but one day the Manager of the company comes and says super confident that Agile is a very good thing and must be implemented right away! Everyone had to start doing it and the magic will happen! 

100% sure! – Really?!

But how to start an Agile transformation?

The answer to this question very often is:
“Well, Scrum will make you Agile. There is no other way to become an Agile organization if you’re not doing Scrum, duh…”

“Ok, let’s start doing Scrum!”

And usually, this boils down to form the following 3 roles defined in the Scrum framework:

1. A development group sized up to 10 people.

OK, I have teams already, they are about 15-20 people right now, so it wouldn’t make any difference to leave them like that. Agile says not to follow by the book, after all.

2. Scrum Master – A person who is responsible for the working process. He ensures that Scrum will be done right. He facilitates all the meetings and helps the team to resolve impediments. Teaches everyone the right way to work following the Agile principles and values.

Hm… a person who is organizing and managing the effort to accomplish a successful project.
Oh, I know, these are the Project Managers, so now we’re calling them Scrum Masters. Cool!

3. Product Owner – The Product Owner is responsible for the product. He is the one who optimizes the delivered value and the one and only person to determine the priorities. He’s communicating with stakeholders to collect feedback. And he’s the one working directly with the development team, explaining priorities and business rules. The Product Owner represents the client.

Sounds like he’s also planning, organizing, and managing the project. Again – a Project Manager!
This is what I need to do – to have two project managers, just change their titles and that’s it!
But wait, why two project managers? One should be completely enough. This is how we’ve worked till now. We are becoming Agile, so we don’t need to do everything by the book.
Let’s call the Project Manager a “Product Owner” and a “Scrum Master” from now on.
Oh, great I even save money! I don’t have to pay an additional salary.

Ok, I understand this is a bit exaggerated. We know the managers want the best for their employees and company and they do what they can.

However, this is not entirely a fake story and we’ve been observing similar approaches in the past few years. Some organizations are jumping into “Agile transformation” blindly, without really understanding what it means or how to do it properly.

I’ve asked so many people “How did you decide to adopt Scrum?” and the most common answer I get is:

The Manager said so!

Then I usually ask – Is there any difference?

Not really. This Agile thing is bullshit.

This is sad!

Becoming Agile is not a destination. It is a Journey. No checklist needs to be covered to call yourself “Agile”. You need to make real changes.

Just calling people “Scrum Master” or “Product Owner” will not make you Agile.

So what do you do?

This is a huge topic that couldn’t be covered in a single article. We will explore in more detail how to perform a successful Agile transformation in our future posts. But here are some basic guidelines that you can follow:

First, you need to surround yourself with people who’ve adopted the Agile mindset. Who follow the Agile principles and values.
Who are not willing to (micro) manage and trying to keep everything under their control.

Second, you need to become one of those people.

Finally, get help from specialists in Agile Transformations who are going to support and guide you through the process.

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About the Coaches

Bogoy Bogdanov

Agile Coach

Nikola Bogdanov

Agile Coach

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