Changing to Agile: What are the Stumbling Blocks?

Changing to Agile: What are the Stumbling Blocks?

If your business wants to change to the agile way of working, how difficult can it be?

As an agile business analyst I recognise and appreciate that a shift in culture can be a big ask. In this blog, I look at the stumbling blocks on the journey to agile, and plan for changing to agile can look like.

What are the Stumbling Blocks Business Face?

Consumers switch brands all the time and change their buying habits, but for businesses to change how they behave it can be much more challenging.

The change to agile represents a shift in mindset, and this means communicating the aspiration the change embodies.

There has to be an alignment of values across an organisation to enable the implementation of agile.

How will people adapt to change? Here are some examples of stumbling blocks I have encountered as a business analyst working on this type of project:

  • Project managers set in their ways, focused on the idea of a fixed plan, struggling to get to grips with agile’s flexible mindset
  • Employees who have a negative perception of the organisation or enterprise they work in because of poor internal communication and a lack proper channels for them give feedback
  • Leaders who are not fully engaged and therefore not acting as change champions for the project
  • People who actively resist change and look to create discontent within the organisation as a result
  • Confusion and a lack of understanding within teams about what changing to agile means for the business, and what part they should play in this process.

What Does the Culture Look Like?

How an organisation’s culture works, is a significant factor in identifying and then addressing these stumbling blocks.

Here are some crucial questions about organisational culture:

  • How have stakeholders adapted to change in the past? If you look at this, it can help identify which approaches were successful, and how smooth a transition there was.
  • How close is the organisation currently to having an agile mindset? Will changing to agile require starting from scratch, or is there already some flexibility in the culture? This might be demonstrated in how departments work with each other, and the overall operations of the business.
  • How will the organisation manage the transition process? Are the right people in place with the right outlook to drive the change towards agile?

Existing teams may be stuck in their ways, or the organisational hierarchy itself can be rigid and inflexible.

Changing to agile requires teams learning new ways of operating. There has to be a good level of motivation to do this, with a positive attitude towards working on adopting new habits and learning new tools and practices.

People may still struggle to adjust, however much they are sold on the idea of agile.

Embedding culture change requires a degree of organic engagement, not just formal approaches. Workplace cultures do not happen by accident.

But there are ways of addressing the stumbling blocks on the road to agile.

Can You Overcome the Stumbling Blocks To Agile?

A  strong, interactive communications plan is essential to dealing with difficulties in creating change.

This plan should outline the various channels for engaging with stakeholders and employees, and what the key messages will be.

It is about reinforcing the reason why change is necessary, but doing so in a positive tone, with a strong motivational undercurrent.

Sharing is important.

A top-down instruction to change is not an effective way of embedding the idea of embracing it in the organisational culture.

Instead, encourage sharing understanding through teams, to develop a collective vision, and a common toolkit, for conveying key messages.

Celebrate achievements along the way, however small they may appear, and recognise that with every problem comes a solution.

The transition from waterfall to agile should be an engaging, enjoyable  and rewarding experience in which everyone can participate.

How Do You Plan the Transition to Agile?

“You don’t learn to walk by following rules, you learn by doing, and by falling over”Richard Branson

Is a step-by-step plan for changing to agile appropriate, or might it even be anti-agile?

Yes, it’s true that unlike waterfall, agile is not supposed to be a series of sequential stages, where each depends on the completion of its predecessor.

However, you do need some sort of transformation plan.

This should incorporate feedback, which you gather by frequent, retrospective examining of the process. This should enable you to adapt your roadmap for change wherever necessary.

Planning for change is not about following rules as such, but you should ensure that you are dedicating sufficient time and analysis to the project. This will enable you to deliver the right solution for your organisation or enterprise.

What are the Facets in Preparing for Change?

When introducing agile, every organisation will have its own methods, management and culture, but there are major facets you should include when preparing for change:

  • Plan upfront so you can make sure you have the right people, processes, support and tools in place. Consider the role of each team member, and which departments will need to collaborate. Also look at potential barriers the team could face, and the overall environment within which the agile transformation will take place.
  • Train those people who require a clearer understanding of the agile approach. Training is also a useful tool for motivating and engaging teams. If team members and stakeholders truly understand agile, they will be more likely to buy into it and spend the time and effort to help it succeed.
  • Coach to help people in the organisation change their thinking and their habits. Coaching is especially useful in settings where the waterfall approach is deeply engrained and people need help to switch to the agile mindset.
  • Review your progress continually, to make adjustments where necessary.

There are also other aspects you must consider as part of your plan for making the transition.

For example, you will need to decide which agile processes you want to use, such as scrum methodology.

Think about what internal and external resources your team will require to deliver change, and how they will communicate all stages of the process to stakeholders and others.

A Flexible Framework for Change

Making the transition from waterfall to agile is significant, but if you do it within a flexible framework, you can stay in control of the project, and create a powerful, shared and collaborative vision for change.

If you would like to find out more about the agile approach to project management and changing how you do things, please contact me.

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