Thursday, September 26, 2013

Agile Will Fail Because . . .

I was at the Agile 2013 conference in Nashville, Tennessee, in August and had the opportunity to participate in the Scrum Alliance-sponsored Coaches Clinic. Two of the volunteers at the clinic, Dhaval Panchal ( and Michael Vizdos (, put up a poster board with a simple statement: "Agile will fail at my company because . . ." Dhaval had created similar board at the Scrum Alliance Global Gathering in Atlanta (2012) as a way to provide a venting box for conference attendees and to raise awareness about topics that can be addressed at the Coaches Clinic.

I wish I had thought of this at the time: It would have been interesting to have had a board opposite this one with the statement "Agile is succeeding at my company because . . ."

Anyway, about 50 people scribbled on the board, and I took pictures and transcribed the scribbles, hoping to get ideas for blogs and articles. Well, I have one for you now, telling the story of what the scribbles revealed to me. The groupings of items fell into the following categories (the complete list is below):
  • Lack of awareness/No need for change
  • Lack of support/Desire to change
  • Agile is misunderstood/Ability to change
What struck me was how this aligns with the Prosci® ADKAR® model (
  • Awareness of the need for change
  • Desire to participate and support the change
  • Knowledge of how to change
  • Ability to implement required skills and behaviors
  • Reinforcement to sustain the change
Using the ADKAR model, you can see that the Knowledge of how to change did not come up in the poster board notes. This is as expected, giving the volume of information, training, conferences, and consulting companies out there preaching Agile values and offering to help people acquire the necessary knowledge of how to change.

No notes made it into in the Reinforcement category. It's not clear whether this means Agile fails before companies get to reinforce its values, or that when Agile values are reinforced there is a greater chance that it will be successful.

Transcription of the notes from Agile 2013, Nashville, Tennessee:
Lack of awareness/No need for change
  • We think we are "Agile."
  • We have not explained the why.
  • What we do already works!?
  • We only fund capital projects.
  • It does not support secure software (ISO 2700 or Code Analyzers).
  • Because my customer prefers Waterfall.
  • We are different. Just like everyone else who has done it.
  • We can't show the value.
  • No buy-in from the business.
Lack of support/Desire to change
  • We don't want it badly enough.
  • They don't want to change and no Lean leadership.
  • Clashes with current (complex) business model.
  • Jim.
  • Insufficient support from leadership.
  • Because the CEO manages with fear and intimidation.
  • Strong and growing PMO. The traditional structure is being instituted.
  • Duplicitous product owners (ScrumMasters).
  • We lose trust in each other.
  • Because of our culture.
  • My leadership team no longer believes in it.
  • They think it is only a development methodology.
  • Only focused on changes in development teams; not looking at whole value stream (product ideation and management).
  • Our egos are bigger and more important than the company goals.
  • Of me.
  • Because I'm writing on this wall and I think it will so it will.
  • My manager has to assign work to the team.
  • Adoption is done because of convenience not because of conviction.
  • The company wears "Agile" as a label and yet does nothing to remove the bureaucracy and obstacles team face daily while trying to implement change.
  • They won't change ("They?" Maybe this is contributing to the problem).
Agile is misunderstood/Ability to change
  • Not everyone on our team understands it.
  • The concept of being dedicated to one task (story) at a time is not supported!
  • Because Agile is a state of being, not doing. Agile is grossly misunderstood. SADLY!
  • It is counterintuitive & hard to practice.
  • Because failure is good for learning.
  • Too many silos with their own goals that aren't the customer's goals.
  • Different parts of the biz use different types of Agile.
  • Too much focus on the mechanics of the process, not enough on the motivation/passion behind it.
  • Because Agile is not the goal. Agile is simply a means to an end.
  • Re-org will set us back to the beginning again and again.
My overall read from the notes is this: It is not enough to simply espouse the wonders of Agile, it is not enough that we educate people on Agile practices, it is not enough to quibble over which Agile flavor is best for you. If you don't treat Agile adoption as an organizational-change management challenge, and manage it as such, there is a good chance that it will fail.