7 easy ways to mess up agile transformation

7 easy ways to mess up agile transformation

Are you truly putting culture first? Planning strategically beyond the pilots? Avoid these common missteps on the path to agile transformation

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Bad habits in IT

5. Not thinking through the pace and strategy for scaling up beyond pilots

Scaling agile requires planning. One must consider factors such as the organization’s readiness, resourcing constraints, leadership bandwidth, and consequently the pace of the transformation, and be prepared to adjust plans based on learnings during implementation.

One midsize global company was forced to extend its five-wave agile transformation to seven waves when, after the first two waves, it found it hadn’t sufficiently considered the demands on leadership and recruitment effort necessary.

6. Not having a stable backbone to support agile

It’s important to recognize that enabling teams to operate using agile methodology requires changes to core management processes and the supporting tools, among other things. Without these changes, teams may find it hard to execute rapidly, which hampers innovation, increases time to market, and so on.

For example, iterative development requires iterative funding. One large North American company found this concept difficult to grasp, requiring up-front, detailed estimates of all investments required and benefits expected upon project completion. This overly dogmatic approach made product owners panic, led teams to fight over hypothetical financials, and caused massive enterprise-wide confusion.

7. Not infusing experimentation and iteration in the DNA of the organization

Iterative development, a trait of agile, often doesn’t come naturally to traditional organizations with multiple established product lines and a reputation of excellence. This often applies beyond their product development efforts to the ways they develop business strategies, recommendations to the leadership team, and product launch strategies. Time is often wasted second-guessing what stakeholders might want to see rather than engaging them throughout the process to get input regularly.

Additionally, the rigid implementation of scaled agile frameworks can limit experimentation. While frameworks can be valuable in providing structure to the transformation, it’s important to always think of how they can be adapted to suit the needs of the organization.

In our experience, these missteps are largely preventable but too often result in agile being written off. Ultimately, becoming armed with the right level of understanding for how to drive an agile transformation, and respecting the complexity of such a transformation, is a first step toward a successful journey — and based on the impact we have seen with companies that have undergone successful agile transformations, a very worthwhile investment to make.

A longer version of this article is available on McKinsey.com, where it originally ran in April 2018. On May 22, author Belkis Vasquez-McCall will participate on a panel at the MIT Sloan CIO Symposium, offering her view on how agile principles can help CIOs set up IT for success. For more information or to register to attend the Symposium, please click here


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