Written by Kevin Heisey
on February 21, 2023

Businesses as diverse as Apple, Barclays, LEGO and John Deere have experienced great success adopting and scaling Agile methodologies. Organizations are looking to their successes and see the promise of agility, but the Agile journey isn’t an easy one and there are no plug-and-play solutions. Each organization is unique and must chart its own course. Many organizations embark on an Agile journey only to stall and stumble along the way. Kent Beck, one of the pioneers of the Agile movement, said Agile Transformations often become “a few religious rituals carried out by people who don’t understand the purpose that those rituals were intended to serve in the first place.”

Beck’s quote highlights a common stumbling block. Organizations enthusiastically start out on the Agile journey but are drawn off course by focusing more on Agile practices and rituals and not the business purpose they should serve. Many lose site of the big picture, that Agile is a way to better achieve business objectives and not an objective itself.

How do you make sure your Agile journey stays on course? Below are five early warning signs to look for that can indicate your efforts may be stalling.


1.    Vanity Metrics

Vanity metrics are defined as “metrics that make you look good to others but do not help you understand your performance in a way that informs future strategies.”

In The Lean Startup, Eric Ries introduced the concept of Success Theater as the work done to give an illusion of success, which is what vanity metrics do. Communicating the illusion of success can be an indicator of underlying issues. Metrics should be meaningful, tied to business objectives and be actionable. Evidence of hollow, meaningless metrics that look good on the surface can be an early warn sign that your Agile Journey is stalling.

2.    Rigidity

If your organization and its teams are rigid in trying to adopt and implement Agile Methodologies, it can be an indicator that they are going through the motions without a good understanding of the purpose driving the Agile journey. Agile methodologies are means to an end and not the end itself, which is a message that can get lost along the way. Rigidity in adoption of Agile practices can indicate that teams aren’t focused on the business outcomes and aren’t adopting the Agile practices that best help them contribute to the organization’s effort to achieve business goals.

3.    Poor Commitment

Once teams have done their Agile planning, they must commit to it rather than falling back into their old ways of working. Commitment means following the process as well as possible. If more time is needed, communicate that you need more time while sticking with commitments to drive towards delivery.

Part of Agile adoption is working in iterations, learning, adjusting and improving. Committing to Agile practices and improving sprint-by-sprint results in predictable, high quality consistent delivery of value. If teams don’t commit to the process and regress to old ways of working, their process improvement will stall.

4.    Lack of Leadership Participation

If leaders aren’t engaged in the process, that can be a problem. If you are a leader, you can’t mandate an Agile transformation, think of it as something your teams will do and be disengaged, reading reports and monitoring progress. You must be involved. Be visibly plugged in, be a fly on the wall and seek feedback. It is important for leaders to champion and be engaged in the Agile journey to encourage engagement and buy in from everyone involved. If leaders are disengaged, it can indicate disengagement and lack of buy in throughout the organization.

5.    Inadequate Feedback Channels

One of the core benefits of Agility is the continuous improvement that results from constant feedback. Successful Agile adoption means more transparency and greater collaboration and communication throughout your organization which means efficient feedback channels. It is easier for everyone to see what is working, what is not and to adjust and improve based on the feedback. If communication and feedback channels are lacking, your efforts will stall and you’ll fail to achieve some of the key benefits of Agility.

For more tips on evaluating your Agile journey’s progress and keeping it on course, see xScion’s on-demand webinar, Transformation Indicators: Measuring Success in Your Agile Transformation.