Agile transformation brings a superior combination of highly effective, innovative, and transparent cultures; alongside frameworks, methodologies, and best business/engineering practices to deliver the highest value and achieve the next level of agility in developing and deploying software applications. However, while many transformations are successful, some do fail, and here is why.
Why do Agile Transformations Fail?
Before talking about failures, it is important to understand the difference between Agile adoption and Agile transformation. The adoption is about deploying a chosen framework, business, and technical practices with the benefit of doing Agile. Transformation, on the other hand, is about shifting the entire organization's culture, values/principles, people, business, and technical paradigms towards the next level agility—being Agile.
Every organization has a unique culture, and what works for some may not be necessarily true to others. The customization and realistic expectations should be assumed and built into transformation. Transforming the organization is a gigantic effort that calls for a drastic change in people, cultures, behaviors, technologies, and practices, and requires to meticulously follow-through during each step of the change model. Any attempts to do short cuts, oversimplify or underestimate the transformation effort may lead to devastating results. Some of the reasons for failure include:
A group of change agents who orchestrates and implements transformation is not properly formed; change agents do not have broader expertise to achieve transformation on all levels.
Change group is composed of external transformation agents only; major change cannot occur without a deep understanding of internal cultures, people and relationships.
People are not ready for change. The organization is rushed into transformation without unfreezing the existing culture and opening people’s minds.
Lean values and principles had not been seeded before the change initiation stage nor built into the training. Kaizen is not a part of the cultural foundation.
Awareness and urgency for change are poorly communicated across the organization.
The change group failed to agree on a vision for change.
The vision for change is ambiguous, convoluted, and not cohesive with the strategic transformation approach, goals, ideas, and target outcome. Conflicting ideas will mess up the priorities and cloud the vision.
Transformation vision is poorly cross-communicated or delivered to selected domains only.
Change agents failed to form a broader coalition for organization-wide transformation, that would embrace change and prevent resistance.
The critical mass of leadership and management did not buy-in into change (transformation from the top); change agents will face uphill battle pursuing change.
Weak leadership resists culture change, cannot unlock talent, creativity, and teams' potential, and struggles to become an educated partner in change.
The lost sense of urgency kills transformation.
Project managers dominate the changing landscape. You cannot change ‘traditional’ cultures and ways of doing things using ‘traditional’ methods.
Change agents are not empowered or lacking proper tools to energize, motivate and excite members.
Lack of clear justification or disclosing the negative consequences of change will not happen may cause a return to previous behaviors and practices.
Weak, inconsistent, and ineffective training and coaching may cause chaos, resistance to change and indifference, killing enthusiasm and excitement.
Weak members struggle to be re-trained, acquire new skills or attain the ability for transforming ideas and integration.
Lack of skillful human resources to transform happen, or not enough human power to pull off the change.
Change agents fail to identify, escalate, or promptly remove obstacles.
Lack of motivation, empowerment and reward system, like bonuses and performance reviews, built into transformation.
Solid ground for successful transformation cannot be established without initial assessments and value stream mapping.
Portfolio and product management with prioritization and value streams are not at the top of the transformation activities.
Legacy architectures and infrastructure, multiple codebases, and lack of coding standards can negatively impact small batches-emergent design, implementing best business/technical practices, microservices and continuous delivery, and severely jeopardize the entire transformation effort.
Failure to introduce and integrate tools needed to sustain change vision in Sprint 0 or earlier.
Teams are neglected. Agile framework and its attributes, including definitions of ready/done, ceremonies, cadence, disciplined delivery on commitment, small batches, simplicity, emergent design are not properly implemented or followed. Engineering practices, including refactoring, BDD, SCM, CI, CD, and automation were left outside of the Agile umbrella, in a hope that teams will catch up on technology later on.
Adopting Agile by implementing Kanban from the getgo is not the best approach. Likewise transitioning to Kanban as a replacement for failed Scrum may further deteriorate the state of Agile.
Command and control style dominates the cultural landscape and destroys self-organizations.
Failure to ‘surgically remove cancer'—eliminating members who are detrimental and purposely cause harm to the transformation effort.
Failure to build proper expectations and objectively report current happenings, like the decline in productivity, quality, and efficiency, during an unstable state of transitioning to a new framework, tools, processes, practices, and behaviors; can lead to the wrong conclusions and questioning the entire change value.
Change agents were chasing quick wins with low-impact, low value-added projects.
Lack of transparent, value-added metrics and data to measure the progress, improvements, and satisfaction.
Transformation victory was declared too early in the change game.
Customers are not involved in transformation effort as educated partners, refuse to collaborate and participate in change, or transformation is not centered around the customer.
Amplify feedback loops are failed to materialize.
Customer delight is not the ultimate goal.
Value is not defined by the customer's perspectives.
Continual learning is not coming from continuously deployed working software.
Periodic reviews, assessments, and retrospectives bring little value or not happening.
Innovation, experimentation, and ‘fail fast & learn' are not part of the organization’s cultural landscape.
Transformation is not done unless reinforced and sustained. Lack of reinforcement mechanism may lead to the return of previous behaviors and practices.
Knowing some important, if not critical, reasons for transformation failure will help you to foresee negative developments and create a proper mitigation plan with a set of actions to avoid the pitfalls listed above. Sticking to the unified Agile transformation model, framework and executable roadmap (see the previous article) and applying the knowledge on why transformations fail will allow the achievement of the desired transformation outcome.