Agile Pitfalls

How to Avoid 3 Common Mistakes in an Agile Transformation



By Michael MacIsaac, PMP

For the past 10 years, I've helped organizations become agile. Working with a range of companies across industries, I've noticed their agile transformation struggles tend to be similar. Here are three common pitfalls I see time and time again and how organizations can avoid them.


It's amazing how many organizations set off to become agile with a goal like “to be better at delivering software.” This aim provides no direction or inspiration for employees. It leads to a frustrated staff and an unhealthy culture, and it gives agile a bad reputation. Instead, leaders need to take the time to define specific goals that align with the organization's strategy. A useful goal for an agile transformation might be: “Double our production releases from four to eight per year to get new innovative products to market faster, meet customer demands and increase market share by X.”


Agile transformation is about changing the entire culture of an organization. It requires leaders to remove organizational impediments and promote openness and trust. I've found that executives often underestimate how much their involvement is necessary for a successful agile transformation.

When executives aren't fully on board, middle management becomes afraid to give delivery teams the autonomy necessary for agile. Delivery teams, in turn, get confused and frustrated that the shift to agile isn't happening, and this can lead to employees leaving the organization in search of more autonomy.


I've found companies are usually quick to put agile processes in place. They set up task boards with sticky notes, they adopt standups, and they use popular agile software tools. But if you look deeper, you sometimes find that their behaviors and mindset have not changed.

Agile values individuals and interactions over processes and tools; this is the Agile Manifesto's first principle. This human element in agile is critical yet often overlooked. For a truly agile organization, employees need to work closely together, and they need to be open and honest. Managers need to shift their mindset from command and control to coaching and mentoring. Organizations embarking on agile should develop, promote and hire for social and emotional intelligence. They need to remember that agile is not process.

Most people think of agile as a way of developing software, but it is much more. Agile is a different way of thinking and behaving. Changing an organization's mindset won't happen by decree, but by keeping others' lessons learned in mind and putting in a lot of hard work, you can help put your organization in position to adapt to the changing world. PM

img Michael MacIsaac, PMP, is founder and principal consultant at MacIsaac Consulting, Edina, Minnesota, USA.
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