This post was originally published on October 14, 2016, and updated most recently on January 30, 2021.
Many companies claim they run an Agile work environment, but most struggle to take the philosophies to heart. If you’ve ever read the Agile Manifesto, it’s probably no surprise implementing aspects of this working style can be a challenge. Disrupting the status quo can be uncomfortable. It’s hard to break old habits, especially in times of stress. And many people simply don’t like change. Consequently, a lot of companies fail to see the kinds of results Agile is capable of delivering when properly implemented.
To truly adopt an Agile environment takes commitment and a willingness by all involved to let go of the old ways of doing things. Transitioning to Agile isn’t just learning a fun new meeting style and a few buzzwords; it’s a business transformation.
If you want your business to benefit from all the things Agile methodologies have to offer (like greater productivity, faster delivery, and lower costs), you can’t have one foot out the door. If you’re ready to go all in, here are eight ways to ensure your experiment is a success.
1. Strengthen your shared vision
Most companies are good about creating financial and operational goals, but those tend to be more motivating for leaders and upper management than the average worker in your organization. Company transformations need to do more than re-establish KPIs; they need to connect everyone to a deeper sense of purpose. They need to make people want to drink the kool-aid.
Step away from the financial charts and projections, and start thinking about where the heart of your business is. How does your product/service contribute to the world and the people in it? What would your company’s success mean for your customers and your employees? If you want your employees to become proponents of big changes to the business, the goal can’t just be money. People, namely your customers and your employees, have to be at the core of your mission.
2. Keep your employees in-the-know
Some changes will be welcome, and others will face resistance. Education and transparency will be key to aligning your workforce.
Employees want explicit goals that support their company’s vision and a clear understanding of how their roles contribute directly to that success. When faced with an individual or team holding back due to fear of change or pure stubbornness, it will be much easier to get them on your side when they know exactly where you’re coming from.
3. Provide extra support
Make sure that as you’re disrupting routines people have depended on for years, you’re also enabling them to succeed under your new framework through proper training and development. Provide new skills training and invest in new tools that will give your employees an edge as they adjust to these new ways of working. If you’re going to use Scrum as an Agile framework, make sure you have a dedicated Scrum Master with experience working with teams new to Scrum.
Moreover, don’t stop educating or investing in your employees once the transition is complete. Now is the time to instill a culture of continuous learning. Your new Agile work style will never be successful if people have a one-and-done mindset. Agile success depends on an ongoing commitment to listening, learning, and continuously adapting.
4. Create a detailed transition plan with clear milestones
Function follows form, which means for these changes to produce real business results, you’ll need to make sure your Agile workforce is structured to facilitate your company goals.
Create an agreed-upon layout for how your organization will look. Your plan should include specific transition initiatives with measurable outcomes, and there should be a protocol for following up on the results.
If you want, you can even use an Agile framework, like Scrum, to conduct these changes. List each of your transitions as a User Story, carry out Sprints to deliver them, and hold a Retrospective to gather feedback. This can be a great way for employees to begin dipping their toes in the Scrum process.
5. Be inclusive
For Agile to work, all employees must feel comfortable bringing forward their ideas and observations to the group. This means that decision-makers and facilitators should actively seek out feedback, encourage debate, and create change when appropriate.
If you want people to speak up, you need to ensure those good ideas aren’t just congratulated but adopted. And those idea creators are both credited and rewarded.
6. Stay flexible
Don’t just directly copy someone else’s structure and assume it will work for you. Agile isn’t a “one size fits all” kind of solution, and what works for Google or your biggest competitor, or your uncle’s successful real estate business won’t necessarily work for you.
Every business is different. As you begin using Agile practices, you’ll see ways others have used it that work for you and ways that don’t. When appropriate, adjust your plans to fit your business and your people.
7. Give everyone time to adjust
Rome wasn’t built in a day, and your company certainly isn’t going to transition in one, either. Moving groups of people from a project-based system to a delivery-based system comes with a learning curve.
You probably already have a few large projects in motion, and it’s best to let those ride out. Don’t try to convert every piece of business to Agile overnight. As soon as those projects are delivered, then you can establish a new working model for perfecting them.
8. Seek professional help
If your business can afford it, you should employ an Agile practitioner with change-management skills. I hate to break it to you, but sending your best Project Manager to a Scrum Master seminar isn’t going to cut it. You need someone who’s helped others through this transition before. They will not only have the experience your team lacks but the outside perspective to give you new insight into how your business functions.
Why you should quit waterfall
Now that you know how to transition to Scrum, we’d like to present just a few reasons that waterfall is a way of the past.
1. It’s non-responsive. Waterfall doesn’t allow you to check or change the process while you’re working. You have to finish the whole thing only to find out at the end if you were successful.
2. It leaves out your end-users. Waterfall focuses so heavily on internal processes and progresses that it entirely excludes your client from the process until the very end. At that point, if there are changes to be made or marks missed, it’s far more expensive and less time-effective to make any fixes.
Like any major organizational change, there are going to be missteps, some people aren’t going to like it, and the adjustment phase could be a little stressful. Don’t let this scare you off. The work it takes to implement an Agile work environment is well worth the potential it provides for greater productivity, product quality, and employee happiness. And with the right Agile tools, it doesn’t have to be quite so difficult.