Introducing Agile To Your Business

How to best introduce the Agile concept to teams for the greatest chance of success.

Agile adoption is rising, and with good reason. As you’re reading this article i’ll assume this is something you’re well aware of.

Back in 2016, only 8% of companies reported that all or almost all of their teams were Agile. Today, that number is up to 25% (VersionOne State of Agile report).

With the top three most significant challenges to Agile adoption and scaling being (1) Organizational culture at odds with Agile values (53%), (2) General organizational resistance to change (46%) and (3) Inadequate management support and sponsorship (42%), it’s imperative that when you come to introduce Agile to your teams, that you do it right.

What NOT to do

Introducing Agile to your business, or even to an individual team shouldn’t be all fireworks and fantastic promises. It will seem like just another passing buzzword-bandwagon management have hopped on while it’s hot. It won’t be taken seriously — not matter how passionately you speak about it and try to make everyone else see its’ potential.

It’s not to say Agile can’t transform your business just as you’re imagining — but to bring someone round to your way of thinking on their own terms is much more powerful in the long run than appearing over-enthused and irrational about an idea.

Agile is a mindset, not a must-do

Introduce Agile as a cultural practice and mindset — not a new process that must be adhered to.

Educating rather than instructing is a better approach to getting more employees on board. For Agile to be accepted and warmed to, employees should feel it is the right way to move forward.

Agile as a methodology defends itself as the most logical way to work in today’s volatile markets. If introduced as simply a way to approach processes, other more fitting workflows become self-evident.

Just as Agile teaches, being responsive to change and delivering more value with less resources, it’s introduction should be no different.

First, define the key message you want to get across to your team. The benefit at the heart of the change. And repeat it.

“When you get tired of saying it, people are starting to hear it”

Radical Focus, Christina Wodtke.

Repeating this key message throughout the many presentations you may end up delivering to the team helps avoid information overload where most of the content is forgotten.

Stefan Okhuijzen, SVP at SES stresses the importance of repeating this key message, but also of researching change management when introducing Agile to a team (link to webinar recording).

Knowing how to manage the basic principles of organizational change will keep leaders one step ahead and always confident of how to best respond to any reaction from the team.

Introduce Agile, using Agile

Second, bring in new ways of working that fit under the Agile umbrella to bring both these values to life in the organization. Decreasing documentation and increasing productivity is a no brainer. Every business wants that, and so does every employee.

Introduce these smaller changes towards an Agile team gradually — iteratively.

These changes could include adopting a Scrum approach to manage current tasks by breaking them down into smaller, more manageable parts. Another way could be introducing Lean as a process to make better business decisions through prioritizing customer value.keyword

Growing more of a customer-centric mindset is already setting teams on the Agile path, and when it comes to making a more dramatic switch to Agile working, it will all fall into place.

This may seem to be a very idealistic and simplified introduction to Agile for teams. There will be resistance, but this method will reduce the likelihood of any real push-back to the change by shared understanding instead of top-down instruction.

Acknowledge resistance

So what resistance is most common?

Well, first there are those who are simply comfortable with how things are. It doesn’t necessarily mean they’re opposed to Agile or feel it is a bad decision business-wise, they are often just preoccupied with the obstacles preventing such idealistic change. They are also correct.

There are always roadblocks to becoming an Agile team, and acknowledging them is a great step towards having the shared understanding, and a realistic view of what it means for the team.

Roadblocks are particularly present in legacy organizations where departments are separated and reliant on ingrained and often slow procurement processes. These issues are amplified when only one or several teams are making the switch to Agile, while others must stick to traditional workflows.

This is often the way Agile starts, with one Agile ‘pilot’ team. By instilling the mindset and beginning to introduce more productive and value-creating processes gradually, word-of-mouth often takes care of bringing others on board.

Pilot it

Having a smaller team dedicated to an Agile way of working can spur the rest of the organization towards a positive outlook on Agile by achieving quick wins. This could be small advancements towards a current business goal which quickly and clearly demonstrate the value of Agile and help it to gain credibility within the organization early on.

This makes it easier in the future as more of the organization hope to move with the times with new methods and practices. This time with proven success and positive experiences from co-workers.

Taking the time to educate a few on Agile, and bringing them onboard willingly is the best way to create internal advocates for Agile. This will be invaluable for any future plans to roll out the new approach.

Another common form of resistance may come from those who have heard of or are even familiar with Agile. They again may totally agree with it’s teachings and results, but are not convinced of its application to their role or department.

Agile, as we all know originated in software development. This often evokes concern in non-IT teams, and quite rightly. There are simply some processes from this setting that need adjustment to work well for other departments.

It should be made clear that changing some terminologies and selecting the best processes that help and not hinder the team are choices open to the team themselves.

Summary

Let’s review our key points for introducing Agile:

  • Agile is a mindset, a set of cultural values and should be introduced as such. Not as yet another process.
  • Research the basics of change management to best handle your team’s reactions.
  • Introduce Agile iteratively — this is after all a key practice within Agile.
  • Begin with a pilot Agile team to demonstrate value and gain credibility within the business early on through quick-wins
  • Give teams a sense of control and ownership of Agile by making it flexible and fitting for their roles