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Top Challenges to Agile Transformation

And how we overcame them

17 October 2017

We have embarked on our journey to Agile transformation after getting buy-in from executives. However, it hasn’t been as smooth as we hoped it would be. In this article, I describe the major challenges we have encountered on our Agile journey and how we overcame them. One of the things that I want to highlight is that the challenges may be similar across organizations.

Here are the two major challenges that we faced and how we overcame them as a team.

Mindset change

One of the biggest challenges I have faced while driving the Agile transformation is the mindset change — or resistance to change. The resistance wasn’t from only the team but from key stakeholders (middle management and architects). From what I’ve observed, resistance to change is “fear of the unknown” and “losing control.” This is the biggest barrier to transformation.

Let’s break the mindset change into two parts: resistance from core stakeholders (middle management, architects, business analysts) and resistance from the team.

Resistance from stakeholders

Given my experience, I can state that Agile transformation and continuous improvement are not possible without marrying the top-down with the bottom-up approach. Aligning and getting buy-in from middle management is the hardest part. Management are either passive or active blockers. Coming from a traditional model, they are more used to micromanagement and only now are coming to terms with the idea of a self-organized and an empowered team.

Resistance from the team

Below are some of the more common challenges that I have encountered concerning resistance from the team.
  • The team was used to getting instructions from a senior member of the team.
  • Members often didn’t speak up during the stand-up and inform others about blockers and challenges.
  • Members said yes to everything.
  • Members didn’t have a perspective on the big picture of what they are trying to do.

Overcoming the challenges

A mindset change can’t be a drastic change because, as we have observed with drastic changes, the resistance is powerful. Here are a few practices that we put into place. To some extent they have helped us achieve success.

Middle management

Work slowly but steadily with middle management, and introduce the process to them gradually. This approach has helped them understand the broader perspective. They need to know that their role is still valued, especially while they themselves are still uncertain about the value of this transformation.

The team

With the team, it’s a different ballgame. We did the following:
  • Ensured that the team underwent training in Agile and Scrum before kickoff
  • Arranged for an offsite team-building session for the team to gel and mingle
  • Made the team feel empowered by ensuring that they participated during kickoff and had a view of the product vision and the benefit the business was trying to gain
  • Ran interactive retrospectives and ensured that action items were being addressed
  • Conducted games, simulations, and soft-skill trainings regularly so that team members could open up and feel comfortable with the new methods

Distributed teams

Although a colocated team is preferred, sometimes we have to work with a distributed team, with half of the team spread across different geographies. Apart from the typical challenges related to time zones, which can be overcome, the key issue was trust and how to build cohesion/collaboration within the team.

Overcoming the challenges

The biggest challenge for a distributed team is that team members don’t see each other, so communication becomes the biggest barrier. To overcome the barrier, we did the following:
  • Invested in the infrastructure (webcam, headphones, visual board, and other effective communication channels).
  • Ensured that all ceremonies were held using the visual board and webcams.
  • Rotated the team among geographies in a planned manner to help people get better acquainted with each other.
  • Implemented remote pairing. We paired members to work on critical issues together. When one team member in a particular location logged off, the individual handed over his or her activities to the team member across the globe to work on it. This helped with team members becoming familiar with each other, thus building cohesion.
The keys to a successful Agile transformation are focus, continuous improvement, transparency, a supportive atmosphere, and, most important, buy-in from all stakeholders.

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.

Article Rating

Current rating: 4.2 (9 ratings)


Vivek Yadu, CSP,CSM, 10/17/2017 5:13:30 AM
This is quite an interesting look at the current challenges that we face when it comes to the transformation. We agree with the points made here such as that same organization are not yet ready for using agile. Thank you for sharing this useful artical.

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