Doing Agile Wrong
Doing Agile Wrong
Agile is not a magic quick fix. When companies expect it to be, they often make one of these three common mistakes.
Most big companies find it difficult to innovate. They are weighted down by the structures and procedures of bureaucracy. Done right, Agile helps companies reshape and improve what they offer their customers, how they operate internally, and the work their people do.
We count ourselves among Agile’s biggest fans, but we also recognize that too many companies have signed on to an Agile transformation before they even understand what such an effort might truly entail.
Agile is not a magic wand. When companies expect it to be, they often make one of these three common mistakes.
Agile helps companies innovate in part because it avoids bureaucracy, but bureaucracy develops for a reason. Consider the adverse consequences of encouraging wide variation, on-the-spot experimentation, and decentralized decision making—all hallmarks of Agile—in areas such as food or drug safety practices, or antidiscrimination and harassment policies, or accounting standards. To run a business well requires balancing Agile innovation with bureaucratic structures and procedures where appropriate.
We have seen this many times: Top leaders plan an Agile transformation for their subordinates. They create a high-powered program management office that generates detailed budgets, milestones and execution roadmaps to ensure conformance to plans. The office then creates a slew of Agile teams, typically led by managers with a minimum of Agile training. The top executives don’t change their own behavior, however, and their tools of top-down management don’t work in an Agile environment. For Agile to work, senior executives have to really understand it, love it and use its methods in teams of their own.
Copying the approach of Agile pioneers is a popular approach to Agile transformation. But it’s unusual that another company’s customized approach will work equally well for your company. Managing Agile teams is a complex undertaking. They are cross functional and require a matrix organization. It takes time to develop the skills to adapt, customize and harmonize all the elements of a particular operating system. Agile transitions are never-ending journeys, not copy-and-paste projects.