Companies often fall prey to the allure of Agile for its purported benefits on projects with unpredictable changes and the need for adaptation, however many of them adopt Agile without understanding the nuances required to effectively integrate it. There is a lot to gain from implementing frameworks such as Scrum or Kanban, but what many leaders often miss during their transformations is the mindset and cultural shift required to achieve optimal benefits. Teams that have traditionally worked in a leader-follower environment often find themselves engaged in new rituals (e.g. daily standup), but using them to fulfill the same traditional hierarchical needs as before. While Agile calls for self organizing teams and encourages collaboration, traditional methodologies often relied on status reporting and more isolated work units. It’s due to these traditional mindsets that introducing Scrum events doesn’t seem to offer any real benefits while still providing the illusion that the team is Agile.
Ultimately, Agile means team empowerment and iterative improvements (of both product and team). However, a lot of cultural baggage can, and does, often impede the transformation in subtle but sinister ways:
- Reliance on architects and tech leads to enforce decisions
- Leader-follower relationships suppressing team participation (lack of empowerment)
- Obstacles in the ability to implement CI (continuous integration) due to outdated infrastructural setups
- Reporting practices that take too much time and don’t serve the objectives efficiently
Moreover, it can take a lot of context, foresight, and help from experienced coaches to identify the problems that often cause teams to operate poorly under an Agile framework. Managers can, and do, often erroneously blame Agile for its failures to deliver value while missing the fact that their teams aren’t truly Agile at all.
What Can Managers Do?
The Agile Manifesto is clearly laid out in 12 principles and 4 values. Managers and teams should read through each and understand why these principles are valuable to their working arrangements, and discuss what potential gaps there are in their application of those principles.
Knowing why we do things is an important prerequisite for deriving actionable solutions.
Keep team size small.
The larger the team, the greater the potential friction, making it more difficult to get work done collaboratively. Software components should be split in ways that makes it easier for small teams to work independently to complete parts that form the cohesive whole.
Break the monotony
Tradition’s most sinister attribute is the continuous mental entrenchment of habits that should always be challenged. Challenge processes and encourage brainstorming with your teams, even if it produces silly ideas. Learn to pivot, and accept that discomfort is often a necessary symptom of growth.
One interesting facet of agile transformations is the viral nature in which teams adopt the principles. It requires leadership from team members in a way that is not dominant in the traditional sense, but encouraging, open, and inquisitive in nature. When one or two team members adapt the collaborative nature of Agile, it should eventually spread to the rest of the team.
One of the central pillars of Agile is the need to continuously look back and employ introspection to drive improvements. When your team gets used to discussing challenges they’ve faced (openly and without judgment), there will be more opportunities to find creative outlets that push things forward.