The Art of killing Agile Transformation

Reducing time to market, increasing efficiency and improving overall quality is the need of the hour. And, who doesn’t want to deliver value faster? Being agile is the ultimate answer. Silicon Valley startups and Fortune listed companies disrupted the tech world with rapid innovation and delivery. This made the traditional technical community of the world embrace the agile transformation. While a few achieved limited success many failed and went back to square one. Let’s look at some of the reasons for this failure.

Playing sheep — Following the herd approach –
Adopting agile methodology is easier said than done. We see organizations today want to take the agile route without understanding the fundamentals. It is like waking up one day wherein the leadership decides on following the trend and making the organization agile with an expectation of achieving results instantly like ordering from Amazon-Prime. The process starts with training across the departments and swapping the role of project manager with a scrum master.
What happens eventually? Teams, that are already opposing the change, start following scrum events without understanding the agile principles & values and fail to deliver iteratively.
Though the leadership promotes agile adoption, the same group is hesitant to break the wall of command and control.

In my experience, many organizations I have worked with fail to understand is that being agile is a journey and not a destination. There is a need for a cultural shift in which individuals, teams, departments, and the organization share a common agile mindset.
In my opinion, agile transformation should start as a pilot project. Following the success of the pilot, the same should be spread to other projects with the support of agile ambassadors (the ones who are enthusiastic to learn and practice agile). Thus the transformational journey needs to take place iteratively and not in a waterfall manner.

Pseudo Scrum Masters aka Scrum Managers –
You will find CSM or PSM or SAFe or PMI-ACP certification training in almost every metropolitan city across the world. Managers, leads, technical leads, consultants and many more want to jump on the scrum master certification bandwagon and be a part of the trend.
These agile amateurs acquire a certification but fail to practice agile and scrum values within their teams. They generally do the following:
Focus on perfect burndown chart than sprint value
Micromanage team’s work over self-organization and autonomy
Conduct tedious meetings over time-boxed scrum ceremonies
Introduce unwanted meetings. For example weekly status meetings, program review meetings, sprint closure meetings, internal meetings, problem-solving meetings, etc.
“Learn from yesterday, live for today, hope for tomorrow. The important thing is not to stop questioning.”
– Albert Einstein
A good scrum master is a servant leader and a facilitator. He shall serve and coach his team to be self-organized, learn from their mistakes and adapt to improve. His prime responsibilities towards the development team are
– Guide the team on best agile practices
– Coach team to be self-organized
– Support team to remove impediments
Beyond the development team, scrum master has a service to the product owner to help him to effectively manage and prioritize the product backlog. Finally, he has a service to the organization to introduce business agility and spread scrum adoption at the organization level.

Vision Deadlines –
The organization aims to be agile but deadlines never leave the sight.
The teams are asked to meet the deadline no matter what. Focus shifts from delivering the value iteratively to meeting timelines. What do you have in the end? Inferior working software with a bucket load of technical debt.
Eventually, deadlines are missed and the team asks for hardening sprint to credit some fixes against the debt and sugarcoat the inferior product to make it shiny from the outside.
“Perfection is not attainable, but if we chase perfection we can catch excellence.”
-Vince Lombardi
Perfect software is a myth. Thus, it is wise to deliver MLP (minimum lovable product) i.e. first scrum increment to the end-user and add value iteratively. And this journey rarely halts unless the organization goes out of business, wants to take a break from technological advancement or the product is no longer needed. So keep the vision and delay the commitment to the deadline until the certainty arrives.

Agile Copycats –
Organizations tend to imitate successfully applied agile models of other companies such as Spotify and fail. Simply using names such as squad, chapter or tribe will not necessarily make an organization agile.

“Imitation is not flattery it is a lack of creativity”. — Unknown

The significant thing to learn from Spotify is not their agile model rather it’s agile cultural values. So, what are their values?
– Alignment and autonomy — every team is independent and takes its own decisions yet aligned with the vision of the company.
– Frequent releases — teams focus on small and frequent releases. For that, they invest heavily in test automation and infrastructure for continuous integration and continuous deployment.
– De-coupled architecture — to help teams deploy their releases independently.
– Embrace failures — they believe in failing fast and learning to improve. The retrospective is considered to be one of the most important meetings for them. Some teams have ‘Fail Wall’ to discuss failures in the retrospective.
– Experiment and Innovate — they allow teams to spend 10% of their time brainstorming on new ideas. Fun hackathons are organized to demonstrate new ideas.

In the agile world, one size necessarily does not fit all. Figure out what works best for you. Create your own culture. Experiment-fail-adapt-repeat to improve continuously.
The talk is based on my personal experience over the years working with clients in their agile transformation journey.
It is a compilation of reasons why agile transformation fails and learnings along the way.
There have been failures during this journey which lead me to learn, improve, and partner with clients in their journey.
I may not answer or give the right answers to all the questions out there but the idea is to share my journey and learnings others can learn from.