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3 Reasons Why Agile Transformations Fail (And How to Avoid Them)

identify and fix the pitfalls that cause agile transformation failures

17 years since the Agile Manifesto and 96% of agile transformation projects fail because of their inability to rapidly adapt to market and environmental changes in a productive and cost-efficient manner.

In today’s dynamic business ecosystem surrounded by nimbler competitors and demanding consumers, it is becoming a necessity for organizations to work faster and deliver more value.

Agile Transformation promises exactly that. That is why agile transformation has become the go-to strategy for many businesses. Yet, the struggle is real.

In this blog, we have listed a few of the most common reasons for agile transformation failure, which if you understand, will leave you with much better chances of avoiding a fiasco.

Barriers to Successful Agile Transformation and Their Solution

Agile transformation is not that easy as is portrayed by a number of tech juggernauts like Google, Amazon, and Facebook. These companies make the agile transformation process look easy. However, the reality is that for most organizations, this process is hard. And they end up making mistakes, some of which short-circuit the entire process.

1. Lack of ‘Agile’ Understanding

A picture portraying the agile transformation process

First, get the basics right.

Agile Manifesto deals with software development, not business outcomes. Organizational agility, on the other hand, is the capability to adapt to changing market conditions, which was never the objective.

Often, CTOs prefer to look for ways to build products faster and getting to market faster with more innovation. For this, they start to transform their engineering teams to become more efficient. They apply this ‘work order’ to their product development process and claim that an agile transformation is in play, however, focusing your transformation just on product development is suboptimal.

How to Prevent this Failure?

An agile transformation is a far different approach than just improving the efficiency of delivery teams. In a nutshell, it goes beyond IT. Being agile implies being responsive to change, learning while executing and switching on to ‘failing-fast and fixing-faster mode’.

2. Organization’s Culture

Culture is a king and at its core, agile transformation is a mindset. Each corporate culture is driven by a common mindset, evaluation paradigms, and behavioral patterns. One of the major setbacks, whenever a change is brought into an organization is the resistance and mindset of the people, along with ignoring the cultural and change-management implications of agile.

Going agile is a radical organizational change, which means breaking down the traditional silos mentality. Organizations with a strong ‘command-and-control culture’ often overlook it as a challenge and wish agile to “fit-in” their organization culture as is, which results in a failure.

Even the 13th annual state of the agile report states that organizational culture is the major impediment that leads to agile transformation failure.

13th annual state of the agile report stating organization culture is one of the major reasons agile transformation fails

How to Prevent this Failure?

An enterprise agile transformation is a radical organizational change. In order to successfully transform your organization, you have to move away from historically evolved and manifested mindsets towards an ideal cultural set-up that is established and promoted both on a top-down and bottom-up basis.

Remember, just as athletes cannot be pushed to love a particular kind of sport, for instance, rugby—the term “scrum” originated from it—employees of your organization can also be not forced to enjoy agile working methods. Build a corporate culture based on trust, team spirit, and commitment and you will see employees starting to embrace agile work methods.

Netflix and its Cultural Evolution

Netflix aimed to foster innovative thinking and high performance in their organization. And the management decided to bring in the culture of freedom, high-value performance, and responsibility by treating employees like grownups.

Netflix on TV

The objective of Netflix was achieved in the following ways:

  • By assigning trust in responsible behavior and judgment of employees to create space for independency.
  • By the substitution of annual reviews and performance improvement plans with frequent and open conversations with team leads as an organic part of daily work.

Result: It boosted the independence and decision-making power of employees through less organizational complexity and bureaucracy, leading to faster feedback, iterative changes, and cross-collaboration, paving the way for an agile transformation.

3. Copying Others Agile Transformation Projects

How most of the agile transformation projects are currently being implemented?

In most cases, someone (agile coach) is hired from outside the organization and they define your agile transformation roadmap by bringing in a specific, already used set of practices that according to them is best for you. If this is not the case, then someone from within the organization gets inspired by the case study of ING or a video by Spotify and they start using that as a blueprint for their transformation, if not using it as a manual itself.

Copying what another organization did and using it as a cargo cult is an absolutely wrong approach that leads to failure because your organization will definitely have different requirements and priorities than those organizations you are copying from.

How to Prevent this Failure?

Agile, simply put, is about thinking, running small experiments, and improving quickly and easily. Just keep exercising and keep building the muscle of learning.

dictionary meaning of agility

It is advised to build your own internal coaches who can help you lead your organization’s transformation from the inside out. No doubt, you will definitely require the help of an external digital experience agency to kick-start the transformation, but your employees need to own it, which includes making informed decisions about the transformation.

Conclusion

Agile transformations are hard to achieve for organizations and employees. Remember, there is no conventional route for any organization to become agile. You have to find your own way of sustainable improvement and help your organization move on it leading towards agile transformation as a destination.

Getting acquainted with the potential ways that a transformation can fail helps you build awareness of where to start with your agile transformation project. However, many of the challenges you face will be unique to your organization. In that case, feel free to take advice from expert assistance beyond the contents of the blog.

Contact Net Solutions to set on the path of Agile Transformation

Abhay S. Kushwaha

About the Author

A sales/advertising/marketing enthusiast, Abhay got addicted to the Internet in mid-90s and has kept pace with its evolution and technology. This wide and deep exposure has helped him successfully lead multiple teams at Net Solutions. He's also involved in the (F)OSS movement and writes a personal blog about disparate things that interest him, ranging from science to performing arts.

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