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Agile Transformation: What Mistakes Bosses Should Correct Immediately?

Three challenges hindering Agile transition in your company.

Many CEOs have already recognized the need for Agile transformation in their companies. Wasting no time, they give an order — “Implement Agile!” and wonder why the transition to agility that had to be fast was neither fast nor agile. Besides, the attempts to control the “transition” directly caused more harm than help.

Top and middle managers, despite the industry they represented (IT, banks, telecommunications), come to us and ask frequent questions:

  • We’ve already started Agile transformation: what are we doing wrong?
  • Why is the Agile transition going so slow in our company?
  • Who is the problem? What is the problem? How to fix it?

Of course, business owners are more interested in results, than in methods, — increased income, stronger market position, competitive advantages.

The Agile approach is aimed at “results” precisely, helping to optimize delivery time and process. Due to its “result”, developers release their products and services faster, companies acquire competitive advantages and increase brand value faster.

What is holding back Agile transformations in your case?

Answering this question, Vyacheslav Moskalenko, the pioneer of Scrum in Ukraine, draws our attention to key problems that prevent companies from their transition from the Waterfall to Agile models. We will discuss them in this and the following articles.

Vyacheslav has prepared more than 1000 specialists for agile transformations in various parts of the globe, including nearly 600 Product Owners for such companies as BMW, Deutsche Bank, Singapore Airlines, and others. You can ask Vyacheslav a question directly about the Agile transformation in your company.

So, let’s consider a few reasons why some leaders fail in their Agile-transition attempts.

ORGANIZATIONAL DARWINISM

Are you familiar with the term “Organizational Darwinism”? Dinosaurs became extinct because they couldn’t adapt to the new environment. Likewise, the companies that cannot change in the era of rapid technology growth, not to mention the challenges of the pandemic, will disappear.

Change or die. That is the idea.

You’re welcome to watch Vyacheslav’s video “How organizations can survive in the modern world” here on our “Agile Live” YouTube channel.

Do managers understand their role in Agile transformation? How agile are the leaders themselves? The answer to these questions will determine the future of your company soon.

TWO APPROACHES

Difference between the Waterfall and Agile models

The difference between the Waterfall and Agile approaches does not mean that the first one is not needed anymore. The Waterfall is quite appropriate in projects where “agility” is not always needed.

For example, a skyscraper construction. The architects created the plan, and the builders constructed it. Is any agility needed here at all? It is unlikely that in the course of iterations, the skyscraper is transformed into a circus, a horse racing arena, or a library. What was planned will be implemented — “according to the requirements”, “following the instructions”, “as agreed”, “as approved”, “as planned”, “in due time”, etc.

On the other hand, applying this plain approach to software development could play a bad trick. If the project’s duration is six months, then, according to the waterfall model, the customer will be able to see the final result only upon its completion.

What if the customer doesn’t like what he sees in six months? What if competitors have developed a new technology meanwhile, making the “result” old before it appears in the market?

From the ‘old school’ point of view (waterfall) everything is fine. The task is “done on time”, “following the instructions”, and “according to the requirements”!

There will be only one problem: waste. Nobody will need that product. As soon as it is released, there will be a better version on the market (most likely developed by the competitors who have successfully implemented Agile).
In contrast to the old approach, agile methods provide the opportunity to see the ‘result’ at all the stages of product development (rather than at the end of the project), constantly receive feedback from the customer, and make timely changes in the process, moving naturally and faster from simple to complex.

You will find more insights on this on our Agile.Live website’s media resources.

According to various estimates, agile companies release their products 15-40% faster than their old-school counterparts.

THREE PROBLEMS

The problem occurs when the leaders try to pour “new wine” into “old wineskins”.

This is a fairly common practice: managers demand change from their subordinates, while not going to change themselves. Usually, this problem arises due to the following reasons:

  • Human factor.
  • Lack of knowledge or experience.
  • Directive methods.

Problem 1: Human Factor

Low-speed agile transformation is not necessarily connected with the reluctance of executives to acquire new knowledge or skills. Managers are normal tired people.

Instead of focusing on Agile, a tired leader does not get into its specifics and, as usual, spreads his energy on “management”, control, or all kinds of little tasks.

When colleagues do something wrong, who will correct them? Thus, the boss interferes and shows everyone how to do it right. Otherwise, these dummies would not be able to find the solution without his wise guidance, would they?
A tired leader lacks the focus to acquire new knowledge and a new way of thinking.

Since “organizational Darwinism” already raises alarm, leaders will have to reorganize their time management willy-nilly to acquire the competence needed to implement Agile changes at a system level.

At Agile.Live, we insist that professional training for both top and middle managers is a must for a successful Agile implementation.

Problem 2: Lack of knowledge and experience

After attending a seminar, reading an article, or watching a video, leaders enthusiastically decide to apply the innovations. Due to the human factor, it is not possible for ‘tired managers’ to get into the depths of Agile, so they send their line manager staff to get trained to implement Agile. The bosses put the responsibility for change on the shoulders of their ‘subordinates’. The problem is not hard to predict: soon the whole organization will feel the lack of new knowledge and skills of the leader.

Another obstacle that slows down Agile transformation is popular skepticism.Practitioners’ complain about ‘theorists’ who “read a book, got some training, and now teach us about Agile, even though they have never developed any product themselves!” Well, ‘book coaches’ are unlikely to help, indeed. However, frequent skepticism of the executives can be too costly in the era of rapid growth and constant change. Why not ask Sergey Prokhorenko, a world-class SAFe (scaled agile framework) expert, or Vyacheslav Moskalenko, a highly respected Scrum-guru, for advice?

As founders of Agile.Live, they insist that “practicality” is fundamental for Agile. They consulted Microsoft, Lufthansa, JP Morgan, and other practical companies, indeed.

The third Agile blocker is the lack of understanding roles by a manager: his own and others’ in Agile, especially in SCRUM. Most of the problems occur in the “Boss and a Product Owner” relationship. We will uncover more of this problem in the following articles on Agile.Live. The tension in the “duet” follows the old directive method.

Problem 3: Directive managerial style

It is much easier for a leader to “order” others to change while remaining in a comfort zone. “Let’s go for it! You go first. I will follow. Or maybe not. Just go!”)

There is a popular idea that a vertical style of management is inherent in the former USSR countries. Nevertheless, from our global experience, we noticed that the problem of directive leadership style is international.

The directive style is characterized by the following:

  • The whole organization depends on the decisions of one person.
  • Bureaucracy, procedures, vertical multilevel system.
  • Waste of time agreeing on little details with the boss or at various levels of the organization.
  • The Manager does not understand roles in Agile as a new paradigm.
  • Violation of the framework, interference in the work of employees on the part of the Executive.

WHAT SHOULD BE DONE

To accelerate the transition to Agile, improve it, or implement it correctly, as a leader you should first of all:

  1. Realize your responsibility for Agile transformation.
    There is no magic pill, there are no ‘trained employees’ that would change the situation for the better if the leader is not ready for it.
  2. Improve your competence. One book or seminar is not enough to make the change at an organizational level. For a tangible result, it is worth taking the time to acquire fundamental knowledge and skills.
  3. Understand, accept, and respect the new roles in the Agile paradigm.
  4. Realize “framework” limitations and the “autonomy” concept (more on this in the next article).
  5. Understand the difference between the “old school” and Agile, directive style and agility. This problem will be discussed more on Agile.Live resources, as well.

Join the Agile.Live community to keep up with the latest trends in Agile transformations.

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