“Agile” methodology has become a buzzword in the business world, promising increased product adaptability, development efficiency, and revenue. And yet, numerous obstacles stand in the way of successful agile transformations. Oftentimes, these transformations end in failure, which begs the question – why?
It’s a question that Harry Narang, founder and owner of consultancy Unleashed Agile, has answered. A highly experienced corporate consultant, he has helped major commercial and government entities like Microsoft, Amazon, Best Buy, and the U.S. Air Force, with their digital transformation efforts to meet business goals.
“Software development as an industry is approximately five to seven decades old,” says Narang, “and as this industry matures, we’re seeing an onset of technologies like artificial intelligence and machine learning. More and more businesses are seeing software and technology as a competitive advantage when looking into growth possibilities. In this process, they’re also realizing that traditional waterfall product development practices are not working. They have to make that leap of faith from traditional product development towards what we call agile product development with the hope to accomplish end-to-end business agility, which means they want to serve the needs of the business and their customers and stay on top of changes in market conditions.”
“As we say, we’re living through the most disruptive era in the history of business,” Narang continues. “Things are changing quickly, especially in technology.”
When embarking on an agile transformation, understanding potential pitfalls is crucial to addressing them effectively. Narang, who has worked via Unleashed Agile with 100-plus companies in the last nine or ten years, trained 40,000-plus professionals, and coached 500-plus teams closely, urges businesses to look out for these common mistakes:
- Too Fast Too Soon: Agile transformation is not something that can be accomplished overnight. Most agile transformations take anywhere between 12 to 36 months, and it is vital to inspect and adapt in the process. Narang explains, “One of my mentors used to say, fast is slow and slow is fast, especially when we are driving change of the magnitude of transitioning a company from traditional to agile practices. Start slow, generate buy-in, learn from your experience, and build a customized approach that works within the constraints of your organization. A slow and steady approach will definitely set a company up for success.”
- Not Emphasizing Leadership Buy-In: An essential step in the early stages of an agile transformation is generating buy-in from top leadership to support broader systemic changes. “For these agile transformations to succeed and deliver the hypothesized business outcomes, it is critical to shift how we make decisions, how we think strategy, how we communicate with our teams and with our value streams, how we think budgets, how we think governance,” says Narang. “If all of these things are not aligned with how we want our teams and engineers to work, it will create a major roadblock or even a chokehold on our transformation success.”
- Not Aligning Transformation with Enterprise Strategic Priorities: To successfully employ agile methodologies, a company must understand its key goals and what it wants its agile transformation to accomplish.” How does a team know it has been successful in this effort?” asks Narang. “What are the key metrics or objectives and key results (OKRs)? What are the OKRs or metrics the business is looking to influence?” Articulating these answers keeps a transformation on track to meet its goals.
- Not Training or Coaching People Hands-On: Businesses are using tools, technologies, and ways of collaboration, testing, and automation that did not exist previously. Therefore, training, coaching, and mentoring team members are vital. Narang adds, “When this step is missed, or when organizations think they can wing it through lunch-and-learn sessions and have people read books on their own, the success of their transformation effort is limited.”
- Not Investing in a Team-Centric Toolset and Development Infrastructure: Agile development requires tools to get fast feedback, collaborate efficiently, evolve hypotheses, and track metrics for teams and value streams. This requires investment in automation and collaboration infrastructure. When these tools are missing, teams are forced to continue using previous methods and cannot truly embrace necessary changes, which constrains a transformation’s success.
“Now, as you might have noticed, these things are not rocket science. They are relatively simple to understand,” says Narang. “And yet, they are not necessarily easy. An agile transformation requires deep expertise and understanding of the specific organization, its constraints, and processes, to avoid pitfalls and achieve agile transformation success.”
This is where expert coaching becomes critical. Agile transformations can be challenging, but with the right guidance and support, businesses can overcome common obstacles. Harry and the Unleashed Agile team understand the challenges businesses face during agile transformations and offer comprehensive consulting and training services to address these issues head-on, enabling organizations to unlock the full potential of agile methodologies and thrive in today’s dynamic business landscape.
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