Agile needs no introduction in today’s world. The term gets used more often than ‘computer’ in business context. Organizations are increasingly looking at “Agile” as their default approach of software delivery. As larger organizations attempt to apply agile software development methodologies at enterprise-level, I am attempting to list down top 3 challenges/blockers/barriers below:
- Lack of Executive Commitment
- People and Culture
- Neglecting the need for Technical Excellence
Let us elaborate briefly each of these challenges in the section below.
1. Lack of Executive Commitment
By its very nature, an agile transformation programme affects large numbers of people in the organisation and it’s a change that needs to be managed effectively at all levels. One of the top priority is to establish an effective working relationship between all those that have an interest in the successful outcome of the programme. It sounds simple but hard to achieve. More often at executive level the boundaries of communication and political dynamics result in lack of involvement. Most executives get excited during the starting phase of such programs and initial pilots, however – their engagement levels drop only to monthly status meetings as the program proceeds beyond pilot phase.
Executive behaviour and actions set the tone for the rest of the organization and hence executives have the responsibility to continue to act as a visionary for the programme, engage with the working teams on a regular basis and encourage the uncertainty so the teams stay committed and, ultimately achieve the desired results for the business.
2. People and Culture
Every organization claims that people are their most important asset however, only a few practice this philosophy. Organizational culture plays a key role in maintaining this philosophy. While most organizations have multiples types of culture, there tends to be one culture-type –“the way things get done around here”– that influences the vast majority of people working in that organization. In organizations with rigid top-down matrix structures (hierarchies), agility is super hard. People are fearful, less driven with low morale – upper management & bosses usually holds the key to next actions, decisions and innovations. In such environments, fostering agile requires more than trainings and coaching. Based on the organizations maturity in handling change, management techniques are required to introduce, induce and instil agile processes.
3. Neglecting the need for Technical Excellence
Being agile represents a way of working that drives a collaborative culture with supportive processes and tools. In agile adoption programs, focus is well observed on common “ceremonies” like Daily stand-ups or daily scrums, planning meetings, pair programming, and product demonstrations. However, Technical excellence is considered as an afterthought and usually deferred through excuses such as tool availability, skill availability and sometimes timelines.
Delivering faster and better requires focus on technical agile practices. Software craftsmanship (code reviews, pair programming, unit testing etc.) along with technical excellence (CI/CD/Infrastructure Automation etc.) can infuse agility within software development lifecycle. In my experience working with multiple teams in a single codebase, developers can feel victim to a legacy codebase if only a few people are writing clean code or refactoring; guiding them on how to decrease technical debt while delivering their projects helps unblock other agile practices.
An agile transformation in any enterprise takes time and grit to execute. Organizations which are ready to embrace the changes are those who are taking steps to learn / un-learn / re-learn new processes and agile way of working.
It is not an all or nothing equation. Organizations need to structure the transformation programme in iterations with clear goals and KPIs – these goals and KPIs should be aligned with organization’s performance goals. These KPIs should be refined based on how the programme progresses over a period of 12-18 months. Senior leaders are responsible to foster a culture where mistakes are treated as learnings and employees are encouraged to innovate.
I would welcome your feedback and thoughts on this article. If you are starting or planning to start an agile transformation initiative, do reach out for pragmatic advisory services.