Resistance to Agile? It Can Be Overcome.

To some extent, everyone fears change.

We see this in all aspects of our life, so it’s understandable that we’ll see it during something as potentially difficult and complex as a full organizational Agile transformation. It’s to be expected, and it doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re doing it wrong.

But, resistance to Agile does need to be properly handled if your organization is going enjoy a successful transformation.

What does resistance to Agile look like?


Resistance can crop up slowly and subtly, only coming clear after several Sprints have failed or products aren’t being completed as expected. Or, it can be in-your-face from day one.

Either way, the symptoms are generally the same:

• Agile projects being shoe-horned into waterfall planning and delivery schedules (or vice versa)
• Constant scope creep because one or more department keeps adding deliverables
• Almost nothing reaches the true definition of done
• Those who are trying to support the transformation becoming increasingly frustrated and burned out

Resistance to Agile can come from above when an executive or manager doesn’t fully understand or want to change their requirements to support the new process. It can also come from below if development team members feel threatened because their career paths have been changed. Either way, the end result is the same: the transformation is slowed or even halted, and the organization starts falling back toward “business as usual.”

Why might there be resistance to Agile?


In most cases, resistance to Agile is simple: people don’t like change.

We all fear change to some extent, and moving from more traditional development models to a fully Agile framework is a huge change that impacts practically everyone in an organization.

When the transformation is first proposed, there will automatically be some level of apprehension and it will affect morale and productivity. As the transformation progresses, it will have a dramatic impact on productivity, at least for a limited time.

These are not just possibilities, they are going to happen.

However, if the change is managed proactively and strategically, the negative impacts can be kept to a bare minimum and the transformation can quickly move on to successful completion.

How to overcome resistance to Agile:


To effectively manage a major change like the move to Agile development processes, four key roles need to be established and filled with qualified, knowledgeable, and enthusiastic supporters of the change within the company.

1. Coach – An individual from outside the development team who steps up to offer guidance and a “big picture” view of the change. This person will serve as an impartial voice of reason as the transformation progresses.
2. Supervisor – An individual to whom others report, who is responsible for allocating resources, guiding and monitoring current and future performance, and has the authority to demand compliance.
3. Sponsor – An executive-level individual with proven credibility and the ability to influence people. A firm supporter of the change who is willing and able to be the organizational voice of progress.
4. Team Member – Anyone who is impacted by the change. Their main role is to negotiate on their own behalf and to provide real time feedback as the change progresses.

These individuals must work together to achieve three main goals if the transformation is going to be successful:

1. Conceptual Agreement – Everyone impacted by the change needs to agree on exactly what the change is about and what it means. This doesn’t mean everyone wholly agrees, but that they understand what they are disagreeing about.
2. Competence and Capability – Everyone impacted by the change will need to learn new skills to some extent. The organization needs to support these learning needs by providing training, tools, and adequate time away from normal work to receive and apply this training.
3. Continuity – As the transformation progresses and after it is technically completed, the infrastructure, cultural shift, and executive support needs to be there to back up the new processes rather than allowing things to revert to “business as usual.”

The good news is, although we all fear change and may put up some resistance to it at the outset, that doesn’t have to spell disaster.

For more information specific to overcoming resistance to Agile, we recommend the webinar “Overcoming Resistance to Agile”, available as part of your cPrime Learning Center Subscription.