B2B Articles - September 26, 2023

Why do business teams struggle to become agile?

Organizational dynamics and the challenge of shifting mindsets frequently hinder business teams in their quest for agility.

agile business teams struggling

Three major hurdles surface as we delve into the complexity of transitioning to agile frameworks. These teething problems often disrupt new agile teams, making it challenging for them to adapt to the new processes effectively:

  • Established corporate culture: It can be challenging to adapt an entrenched corporate culture to the new ways of working that agile requires. This includes breaking down silos, encouraging cross-functional teamwork, and promoting a flexible mindset.
  • Resistance to change: Humans are inherently resistant to change. Introducing a new working method can lead to fear, confusion, and resistance among team members.
  • Lack of training & functional support: Teams can struggle to implement the agile methodology effectively without adequate training, experience, and understanding.

The journey to becoming an agile team is often fraught with difficulties, primarily due to apprehensions about abandoning conventional methodologies and the steep learning curve associated with the agile approach.

Many companies abandon the path to agility, but by focusing on key factors, the journey can be made less perilous. These include the importance of leadership support in driving Agile transformation, effective communication in promoting Agile principles, training in equipping teams with Agile skills, and the impact of organizational culture on adopting Agile methodologies. We will also explore potential solutions to overcome the identified barriers to Agile adoption, leveraging Agile-centric tools and technologies, promoting a testing culture, and reimagining traditional hierarchical structures to support Agile teams.


Lack of a support system

A significant roadblock business teams often encounter on their journey to agility is the lack of training, support, and knowledge of agile methodologies within the workplace.

The lack of adequate training, support, and hands-on experience makes it harder to transition into agile when problems arise.

Transforming into an Agile team requires a shift in mindset and a comprehensive understanding of the principles and practices underpinning Agile. Unfortunately, many teams lack the training to understand and implement these methodologies effectively. Additionally, the absence of ongoing support and mentorship can exacerbate the challenges these teams face, leaving them feeling ill-equipped to navigate the complexities of Agile. Furthermore, without prior experience with Agile, teams may struggle to foresee potential obstacles and adapt their strategies accordingly, leading to setbacks and frustration. Thus reinforcing the importance of comprehensive training, continuous support, and experiential learning in adopting Agile successfully.

It can be challenging to implement agile practices effectively without adequate training and understanding. Furthermore, the absence of adequate support from the management and the organization can exacerbate these struggles. Therefore, fostering an environment of continuous learning and robust support systems is crucial for a successful transition towards agility.

Mindset shift

Agile and traditional teams often embody different mindsets towards teamwork, project management, and problem-solving. Traditional teams usually operate within a hierarchical structure, where decision-making is top-down, and roles are rigidly defined. They follow planned, linear workflows, known as the Waterfall model, where change is seen as a disruption to be minimized.

On the other hand, Agile teams thrive in a flat organizational structure, emphasizing collaboration, self-organization, and shared decision-making. Their mindset is one of adaptability and continuous improvement. They view change not as a disruption but as an opportunity to improve and deliver value faster and more efficiently to the customer. Agile teams follow iterative workflows, where adaptability is key, and feedback is used to continuously refine and improve the product or service.

Examples of mindset shifts

An example of this shift in mindset can be seen in a software development team transitioning from a traditional Waterfall model to an Agile approach. Previously, the team had a clear and rigid workflow: first, they would thoroughly document requirements, then design the software, code it, and finally test it, with each stage depending on the completion of the one before it. The change was seen as a disruption, often leading to delays and cost overruns.

Transitioning to an Agile mindset, the team works in short iterations or 'sprints'. They focus on delivering a working piece of the software at the end of each sprint, usually spanning two weeks. This allows them to incorporate feedback and make necessary changes along the way, viewing these changes not as disruptions but as opportunities for improvement. In this new way of working, cross-functional collaboration, continuous improvement, and adaptability take center stage, replacing the rigid, linear workflow they were used to. This embodies the mindset shift necessary for Agile - from viewing change as a disruption to viewing it as an integral part of the process that leads to a better end product.

In traditional project environments, teams often face a deluge of urgent requests and 'scope creep,' with unplanned work constantly overtaking planned initiatives and pushing them to the back burner. This reactive approach is driven by the mindset that urgent tasks, regardless of their strategic importance, should take precedence over planned work.

However, shifting to an Agile mindset requires a reevaluation of this approach. Agile teams prioritize their work based on its value and alignment with strategic goals rather than merely its urgency. This way, backburner initiatives, if seen as high-value, can take precedence over urgent but low-value tasks.

In an Agile environment, requests are not automatically acted upon but are carefully evaluated and prioritized in the product backlog. The team then works on these tasks in order of priority in iterative cycles or 'sprints.' This approach ensures that all work, including 'backburner' initiatives, is addressed in due time, based on its strategic importance and not just its urgency.

This shift in mindset—from a reactive approach to a more proactive, value-focused one— is key in avoiding scope creep and ensuring that important initiatives aren't perpetually consigned to the back burner. It enables teams to deliver high-value work continuously and efficiently, aligning their efforts closely with the organization's strategic goals.


Switching cost

Is there a "switching cost" when teams move from traditional project management to agile methods?

Yes, there is indeed a "switching cost" when teams transition from traditional project management to Agile methods. This cost manifests in several ways.

Firstly, there's the direct financial investment in new tools and technologies that support Agile methodologies. Secondly, there's the cost of training team members in Agile techniques and principles.

But perhaps the most significant cost is time. The shift to Agile isn't instantaneous; it requires a gradual change in mindset, work practices, and organizational culture, which takes time. This adaptation period can initially lead to decreased productivity, a cost. However, it's important to remember that these costs are typically short-term and are usually offset by the long-term benefits of increased efficiency, productivity, and team satisfaction that Agile methods promote.

A common concern among teams contemplating a shift to Agile methods is the potential for ongoing projects to stall or for progress to be lost during the transition. Under traditional project management methods, the underlying fear disrupts the status quo and affects existing projects' momentum. This fear is encapsulated in the sentiment, "There's never a good time to reinvent the foundation." This mindset mirrors resistance to change and a preference for preserving existing methods and structures, even when they may not be the most effective or efficient. It is often driven by a desire to avoid the uncertainty and perceived risk associated with significant change, even when that change could lead to significant long-term benefits.

Testing is a foreign concept.

Another obstacle to becoming agile often lies in a team's working culture where there is no established tradition of testing.

Traditional business models may not prioritize regular testing and iteration, but in Agile practices, continuous testing is critical for effective implementation. The absence of a testing culture means teams may miss out on the feedback and learning opportunities that constant testing provides, slowing down their progress toward agility. This lack of emphasis on testing underscores the need for a fundamental cultural shift towards integrating testing as an integral part of the work process.

Hierarchical structures

Hierarchical structures in many organizations inhibit the fluid team dynamics necessary for Agile to thrive. Additionally, there can be resistance to change, as shifting to an agile approach requires a radical transformation in work practices and mindsets.

Clear communication and lack of training in agile methodologies also pose significant challenges. Lastly, the failure to adopt and adapt to agile-centric tools and technologies can further impede the transition to agile.

Agile teams in non-agile environments

Agile teams often hit friction points when they operate in non-agile environments, which can complicate several crucial functions. For instance, traditional budgeting methods, typically based on fixed plans and detailed long-term forecasts, conflict with Agile's iterative, flexible nature. Likewise, traditional reporting, emphasizing particular outcomes and metrics, may not accurately reflect an Agile team's progress, focusing on continuous improvement, adaptability, and customer value.

The procedure for approvals can also become challenging in a non-agile setting. Agile teams thrive on rapid decision-making and minimal bureaucracy, but they may face difficulties in environments where approvals take time, go through many levels, or require substantial documentation.

Furthermore, securing executive buy-in can be challenging. Executives accustomed to traditional management styles may struggle to understand and support Agile teams' less hierarchical, self-organizing nature.

Lastly, cross-team functions often face hurdles in non-agile environments. Agile teams' collaborative, cross-functional approach may clash with the traditional siloed structure of organizations, causing misunderstandings and inefficiencies. Thus, shifting an organization entirely to Agile or finding effective ways to manage these friction points is essential for Agile teams to thrive.

In Summary

  • A significant roadblock business teams often encounter on their journey to agility is the lack of training, support, and knowledge of agile methodologies within the workplace.
  • Resistance to change can be a significant barrier, as Agile requires a transformation in work practices and mindsets.
  • The lack of clear communication and training in Agile methodologies often poses challenges.
  • Failure to adopt and utilize Agile-centric tools and technologies can further hinder the transition.
  • Another obstacle to becoming agile often lies in a team's working culture where there is no established tradition of testing.
  • Switching costs pose a significant hurdle. The fear of transitioning from one method to another can create resistance and reluctance.
  • Hierarchical structures in organizations stifle the fluid team dynamics necessary for Agile.
  • Agile teams operating in non-agile environments face obstacles such as lack of support from management, misalignment of organizational culture, and inadequate resources, which prevent them from fully embracing and implementing Agile principles and practices.

It's worth it.

Transitioning to Agile methodologies presents challenges, including initial financial investments, the necessity for team training, the requirement of time to adapt new methodologies, the absence of a robust testing culture, and the potential friction of operating in non-agile environments. Additionally, the hierarchical structure of many organizations and the lack of clear communication can pose significant obstacles. Despite these hurdles, the shift to Agile is immensely worthwhile. Agile fosters a proactive, value-focused mindset, promotes continuous and efficient high-value work delivery, and aligns team efforts with strategic goals. Furthermore, once the initial transition period is over, it leads to increased efficiency, productivity, and team satisfaction. The process may seem daunting, but the long-term benefits outweigh the short-term challenges, making Agile an effective approach to project management.

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