Written by Kevin Heisey
on November 18, 2021

Organizations are increasingly focused on accelerating Agility adoption to improve their ability to react quickly and deliver value efficiently. According to the State of Agile 2021, Agile adoption more than doubled across software development, IT and non-IT related functions like Finance, Marketing and Human Resources. For any change of this magnitude, there can be friction and roadblocks to overcome. The better you can anticipate and remediate these challenges, the more quickly and thoroughly you will realize the benefits of Agile.

Three key issues that organizations face that can delay or derail Agile transformation are managing dependencies between teams and programs, communication challenges and changes in culture.

Team and Program Dependencies

Agile transformation is not something teams or programs work through independently. It requires simultaneous planning and coordination across teams and programs, which can be one of the biggest paradigm shifts for organizations. Coordination and ongoing check-ins between teams establish an initial collective understanding and validate the impact and awareness of changes and shifts that inevitably occur. Establishing connections and intentional checkpoints between teams and programs accelerate the overall ability to deliver consistently and predictably over time.

Communication Checkpoints

Ineffective communication poses one of the biggest risks to a successful Agile transformation. Information can be delayed, misinterpreted or ambiguous resulting in people filling in the blanks based on their own understanding. Their interpretations can be off target from both a technical and management perspective and lead them in the wrong direction. Effective communication means that information is received and understood the way the sender intended, so communication channels must be developed and maintained with that in mind.

The best way to communicate is face-to-face in person. Regular Standups provide a platform for in-person communication, and many valuable innovations and perspectives can emerge from informal discussions. The classic example is the hallway or watercooler discussion that moves to a whiteboard to be fleshed out and eventually developed into something more formal. Encourage those face-to-face interactions. If your teams are working remote or distributed, leverage technology that allows for real-time, in-person discussions.

Email can be used to memorialize or document the conversations but should not be where discussions are initiated or where ideas are developed. With face-to-face, real-time communication at the root, ongoing collaboration and connection come to bear much more quickly and sustainably. Having that informal communication infrastructure in place eliminates or quickly addresses misunderstandings that can hinder your efforts.

Culture Change

Organizations often underestimate the nature and impact of the culture change that accompanies Agile transformation. There can be a sense that the value and benefit of change is straightforward and that as soon as it is communicated, people will understand and buy-in. Unfortunately, that is not often the case and transformations can fail when the culture does not effectively change to align with the mission.

Culture change is hard and requires sufficient focus. People naturally have questions. Why is this better? Why do I have to change? What does this mean for me? You must make a clear and compelling case for change that convinces people that the new ways are better, not just different.

As much as possible, people at all levels should be engaged in the process and trained with an ongoing focus on how changes align with business outcomes and the organization’s mission and how new processes align with culture.

In any transformation there will be people who resist change. Ensuring that those receptive to change have a solid understanding of what the changes mean and how they align with business outcomes and the organization’s mission is an effective way to bring the resisters along through their regular interactions with peers. Work toward that end with your training and organizational change management approach.

Going Forward

It can be easy to recognize the need for Agile transformation and understand the benefits but getting from here-to-there is a process with friction on the way. You can get there faster and more successfully by anticipating the challenges. Agile features collaboration and communication within and between cross-functional teams. How is that a change for organization and what can you put in place or encourage to make the transition smoother? As things change, effective communication is necessary to keep everyone together and moving in the same direction. Finally, do not underestimate the challenges of a culture change. Old cultures are persistent and new cultures don’t automatically take root. Successfully managing these roadblocks can accelerate your transformation and increase the overall effectiveness of your organization.