This is the Part-2 in the series of posts about Agile Transformation Challenges. You can find Part-1 (Challenge #1: How to get buy-in from senior management for Agile?) here.

Before I talk about the ways you can handle the challenge of resistance during Agile transformation I would like to quickly chat about something that we as Agile Coaches handle on a daily basis. And that something is answering questions. Questions from curious individuals who are excited to move to an entirely different dimension of project management. Something which is so new to them that they sometimes feel scared to step in. And as an Agile Coach, nothing excites me more than quenching their thirst for an answer that can put them at ease or rather fill them with excitement and longing for the next step.

One such question is, “How do we handle documentation in an Agile environment?”. Now, I am not going to go too deep on this topic in this post, but I promise to write another post soon dedicated to this topic. A short answer to this question would be, “We Prioritize”. As everything else in Agile, we prioritize the documentations. We prioritize them on the basis of how frequently they get read. More on Agile documentation in the next post. (I will leave a link here once that post is published).

Back to the topic.

Challenge #2: How do we handle resistance while transforming to Agile.

Agile transformation initiative can face resistance from different directions. Resistance can come from different IT departments, Governance groups or it can come from individuals in an organization. In this post, we will talk about the resistance that comes from the individuals.

So what actually happens? What’s the cause of resistance?

During Agile transformation you will often find various roles in the organization who would rather stick to the “status quo”, and resist to change the ways that used to work, in the traditional environment. For example, there are members of the development team who just want the work to be assigned to them by their managers and then prefer to be left alone, for months. They promise to come up with a working solution to whatever problem we are trying to solve before the deadline. Unfortunately, Agile does not permit the traditional way of developing code. Agile works on the fundamental principles of Collaboration and Feedback, which is only possible when the whole team works together, coordinating and integrating the work on a regular basis.

So how do you overcome such a resistance? Below are a few recommendations.

1. Early Education

The Senior Management must pay special attention and invest in educating the employees on the benefits of Agile for the whole organization as early as possible. I want to stress on “as early as possible” because we really need the buy-in from our employees before starting to teach them about Agile practices and tools. I am a strong believer of the fact that, “Practices without Principles that back those practices, often get replaced by practices which are already familiar and easy to follow“.

I have also seen a few places which sell Agile to their employees in a very command and control way, something like, “Go Agile, or else..”. In my opinion, that’s not the best way to adopt Agile, rather it’s the worst. Some level of education is necessary. You can do this by:

  • Conducting 2 or 3 hour seminars for everyone in the organization. These seminars will help you to teach your employees about the benefits of Agile, about the Competitive Advantage that the company will gain, building some excitement to get the Pilots rolling, getting the people to engage, getting them involved.
  • Doing tours. We have tried this approach very successfully. What we do is invite people from different teams and departments to come visit our team collaboration rooms, look at how the teams are working, hear from their excitement rather than selling Agile top down and just saying, ” you shall do agile because I said so”. So get them engaged in the process where they can actually see the value of it.

2. Executive leadership support and frequent communication of Vision

This is very important. So getting people like CIOs to engage in terms of talking to people about Agile Transformation Vision, explaining the “WHY” behind, walking into the collaboration rooms and asking the team about how they can help, removing team impediments. What else can someone ask for?

Engaging and executive like this works because people then start to understand that there is support throughout the organization.

3. Remove impediments early and often

This is what I call, “walk the walk” and most other people call it, “leading by example“. The idea behind it is that you should not ask people to change when you yourself are not willing to change and by “you”, I mean anyone at any level.

In Agile we talk about things like removing impediments and empowerment. It is really easy to talk about all that and then telling people to go do it, but when the leaders themselves are not doing it, when the Scrum Masters, the Product Owners or the Project Managers are using the traditional “command and control” methods, it will start to fall apart sooner or later.

So there you go. These are my recommendation on how to reduce resistance to Agile. I will end the topic giving you one personal insight. And that is:

I strongly believe that we should give our employees some benefit of the doubt. I mean there are some people who do not want to do Agile not because they hate it, but because they are scared of doing something that they are not familiar with. For example, they are excellent in requirements gathering using the traditional ways, they are excellent at development and execution, they are excellent testers using traditional methods. They are just scared because they don’t know how to do what they do best, in Agile, and they don’t want to look bad.

So I think we need to be aware of this side of the conversation as well and plan for that early on. We need to ask questions like, how are we going to help skill these individual roles on how Agile works for them so that they can have the confidence and comfort that they need to adopt Agile not just as a practice but as a Mindset.

This is Part-2 of a four part series. You can find Part-1 here.

Part-3 of the series will soon be published. Challenge #3: When leaders still use Command and Control ways to lead. (coming soon).