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Going Agile: Top Barriers and Accelerators for Team Adoption
By Roger Kastner

So you’ve made the decision to embrace Agile methodology and received approval to start implementing. Congrats! Now the hard work begins.

Many organizations and teams have successfully made the switch to Agile methodology, but not without first resolving some resistance from both the team and outside organization. Understanding these adoption challenges ahead of time is the best way to prepare to lead your team and ready your organization for Agile transformation.

The discipline and methods for driving Agile adoption, called organizational change management, can help accelerate the process. Fortunately, Agile methodology and change management work hand in hand to produce better results because they share many of the same principles:

  • Engagement: Encourage more employees to participate in the development and implementation of leadership vision and decisions.
  • Dialogue: Increase understanding of what changes mean, why they’re happening, and how they relate to each individual through direct conversations.

  • Transparency: Offer visibility into the process and invite input from employees to make them part of the transformation.

Applying these change management principles to your team’s Agile transformation can turn adoption barriers into accelerators, producing better results faster. In this two-part series, we’ll look at classic adoption barriers and accelerators to both team and organizational adoption.

Top Three Team Adoption Barriers and Accelerators

Successfully transitioning to Agile requires adoption by all impacted team members. While many members of your team will probably be excited, others may be reluctant once they realize the shift requires behavioral changes to their familiar roles. Here are three common barriers to team adoption and tips to work around them.

  1. Barrier: New roles for line managers and project managers

    Accelerator: Dialogue

    The transformation to Agile can challenge line managers because they will no longer be able to assign and manage the daily work of their employees. Losing direct control can be a challenge for some line managers, putting their sense of value into question. The shift can also present challenges for project managers, since communicating, assigning and tracking work, and managing the team’s schedule becomes a shared accountability among each individual on the Agile team.

    The question of value can become a significant impediment to a successful transformation, as line managers and project managers may fear—and therefore thwart—the team’s adoption of Agile. This is why the Agile leader should embrace the change management principle of dialogue. Through open and transparent conversation, the Agile leader can help the line manager and project manager define their new roles, discuss the value the new roles add, and identify performance metrics that illustrate the value added. By doing so, both roles feel engaged and accountable, since they were involved in defining their new roles and measures of success. When employees are engaged and feel like their input has been taken into account, they are more likely to not only adopt the change, but be an outspoken advocate for it.

  2. Barrier: Performance transparency

    Accelerator: Vision & process transparency

    Agile provides a transparent view into performance, which might initially be an uncomfortable transition for some team members. Especially if daily report-outs will be part of your Agile transformation, each team member will be responsible for reporting what was accomplished on a daily basis. In this environment, performance, or lack thereof, is fully transparent to all, and the fear of being perceived as an under-performer can sometimes discourage adoption.

    The change management principle of vision is key to accelerating adoption, because team members need to understand that while individual performance will be transparent, the entire process requires transparency, iteration, and flexibility for it to work. Being an effective Agile leader means sharing the vision for transformation with your employees and reinforcing it through consistent behavior. Set expectations by reminding your employees that transparency is required to become measurable, predictable, and ultimately, more successful.

  3. Barrier: Decision making

    Accelerator: Transparency

    In traditional development models, decision making is typically more autocratic with a sponsor or team lead making decisions for the project team. In the Agile world, decisions are more democratic, and the team gets to make decisions as a unit. While prioritization of product scope is still influenced by the sponsor and stakeholders, what gets built and how within each phase, or sprint, is up to the team. This perceived lack of control by sponsors and stakeholders can be an impediment to adopting Agile.

    The challenge with autocratic decision making is that it doesn’t feel fair to those who are not involved in the decision-making process—worse, it gives them an excuse to not adopt the decision (e.g., “nobody asked me”). Agile embraces fairness by clearly delineating when sponsors and stakeholders get to make decisions (e.g., scope prioritization) and when team members get to make decisions (e.g., when and how work gets completed).

To help facilitate the transition, the Agile leader should engage sponsors and stakeholders to better understand the role of the product owner, particularly considering her responsibilities and accountability in project decision making. Likewise, the Agile leader should make the same things clear to the team, letting them know that their participation in decision making comes with a price tag: they are now accountable for those decisions.

Reprinted with permission from Slalom Consulting – © 2015 Slalom Consulting

Roger Kastner is a Business Architect with Slalom Consulting who is passionate about raising the caliber of project leadership within organizations to maximize the value of projects. You can read more articles from the series on “Why Projects Succeed” here.

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