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Adopting Agile Successfully

3 steps to starting it right

9 March 2016

Paresh Deshpande
Tavant Technologies

It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent, it is the one that is the most adaptable to change. — Charles Darwin

In trying to adopt Agile quickly, companies make a good attempt at putting their best foot forward. They hire external coaches and consultants and spend big bucks without really being ready for the transformation internally. In many cases, they fail. The failure conveniently gets blamed on the Agile framework or the coaches.

Here are the three steps you can take to start a transformation the right way.

Step 1: Plan

An Agile transformation is a project in and of itself, and, like any other project, it needs everything from planning to tracking. Before transformation officially begins, you should have a checklist of things to get done as preparation for the upcoming organization-wide changes.

Identify, educate, and prepare

Let the employees know that the transformation will happen and that management should start answering questions related to it. A strong message from management and a constant emphasis on its importance will create the environment ready for change.

Build team and roles

Create the teams and the roles of a ScrumMaster and product owner, and ensure that they are colocated with the team as much as possible.

Check existing human resources policies

Look into existing HR policies that conflict with the transformation and determine which changes can be made to support the transformation. Ensuring that the appraisal system focuses on the team goals rather than individual goals will help facilitate the transformation.

Identify an Agile point of contact

Have a point of contact for the transformation when hiring third parties. The point of contact should be someone who is easygoing, has influence within the company, and can access the highest level of leadership for quick decision making or approvals.

The transformation can begin when you have ensured that all of the above activities have been properly handled.

Step 2: Prepare to face the obstacles

Just like any project implementation, Agile transformation will encounter obstacles regularly. A successful Agile transformation is one in which the stakeholders are prepared to overcome the common hurdles and be ready to resolve them quickly.

Top 3 hurdles

  1. Resistance within teams: Very few teams are happy to change the way they have been working. Paul Strebel's Harvard Business Review article "Why do employees resist change?" says, "For many employees, change is seen as disruptive and intrusive." While the initiation is always begun with training, there has to be constant encouragement and interaction with management as well. When a problem is identified, it's best for management to fix it immediately so as not to fall for the Broken Glass Theory.
  2. Middle management: The fiercest opposition comes from middle management, because they seem the most confused. No transformation will be successful if management feels they have no role to play and that their job is threatened. The best way to start any transformation is to include training for managers and explain what their role is. The job doesn't end there. Throughout the entire transformation, coach your managers, and tell them how they can help teams and stay in the loop. The Moving Motivator game is a powerful medium to help managers introspect within their teams and among peers to see how their motivation has undergone changes by adopting Agile.
  3. Reverting to original ways of working: When under stressful situations, teams will always go back to their original ways, not because they want to ignore the new process but because that's where they feel comfortable. Don't start the transformation with critical teams; start with teams that have more buffers in their work and don't have strict deadlines. Always showcase a successful team transformation within the organization to ensure that other teams are aware and they too feel inspired to transform.

Step 3: Track the transformation

Data will always give you more clarity and a better understanding of the transformation. It also gives you the ability to ask the right questions. The diagram below shows how every Agile transformation starts with training and usually picks up over time as more problems are uncovered, thus changing the adoption rate.


By checking with teams on the rate of adoption and knowing the problems they face, their delivery patterns can be weighed.

For example, while in a transformation, we decided to look into the adoption factor from a different perspective. We came up with a set of basic parameters that were required to ensure that things started out well. As things progressed, we decided we would add more to the set.

To illustrate, you'll see in the table below that we covered the basics for our start. Each parameter had a weight assigned to it (not shown here) so that we could see how things were generally moving.
Type Subtype
  Agile awareness
  Agile workshop
  ScrumMaster training
  Team member identified
  ScrumMaster identified
  Communication to team
  Thirty percent of the team worked together in the past
  Average experience of the team is more than 5 years
  The Agile Management tool is available in the company
  Team received training on the tool
  Tool adoption is more than 1 year
  Backlog created
  Rank assigned to all backlog items
  Backlog refinement complete
Release Planning  
  Release planned for the next 6 to 9 months
  Sprint duration finalized
  Sprint planning done before sprint starts
  Sprint locked for planned work
  Two-and-a-half sprint backlogs are ready
  Demos conducted for each sprint
  Demos conducted within planned sprint duration
  Feedback of demos recorded as backlog items
Scrum Master  
  ScrumMaster selected using ScrumMaster checklist
  ScrumMaster is transparent about project status
  ScrumMaster is shared over multiple projects

To even consider whether the transforming team or organization is in positive or steady state is a lot of work and does not happen overnight. Here are the top 3 things you can try:
  • Look at the data- metrics isn't about complicating the process; it should be about triggering the thought process and enabling the change.
  • Focus on the people not the tool- more than often everyone gets obsessed with the tool and how to use it. Instead of starting with the entire suite of tools and the reports and metrics, it would help to start with something very basic and then scale up. Sometimes, using a simple white board works best, so the focus is on the change not the tool.
  • When you fail, have the guts to admit it- not everything goes smoothly in a transformation. When things aren't going as planned, have the guts to stand up and ask for help. Then find ways to rethink the strategies and get it done. Our most common problem is denial and in denying we miss the chance to learn and grow.
So, being ready to adopt and transform is just the beginning. Don't be afraid to react, regroup, and restrategize when needed.


Opinions represent those of the author and not of Scrum Alliance. The sharing of member-contributed content on this site does not imply endorsement of specific Scrum methods or practices beyond those taught by Scrum Alliance Certified Trainers and Coaches.

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