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5 min read

How work management practices can support agile transformations

How work management practices can support the culture shift need for successful agile transformations.

Embrace a new way of thinking

Agile transformation may have started as a set of principles for efficient software development, but it's evolved into much more. Adopting agile values and principles involves embracing a new way of thinking, and agile transformation encompasses the entire organisation. This human process requires unjudgemental conversations and a learning period by testing and feeling comfortable with this change.

The promises of agile transformation are enticing for many organisations; if done right, agile ways of working can bring numerous benefits to businesses, including faster time-to-market, increased efficiency, improved collaboration, greater flexibility, reduced risk, enhanced customer satisfaction, better resource management, competitive advantage, improved team member engagement, and continuous improvement. According to our partner Scaled Agile, scaling agile with SAFe® can result in 30-75% faster time to market, 20 - 75% improvements in quality and 10 - 50% happier, more engaged employees.

But wanting to be agile and being it are two different things. A study by The Harvard Business Review found that nearly 90% of those surveyed had struggled with rolling out organisation-wide agile transformations. Furthermore, in our recent Productivity is not a place work management survey, we asked respondents if they agreed the agile mindset is embraced and practised within their team, department, or organisation. Of those surveyed, 33% agreed it had been adopted and practised, while none of the respondents strongly agreed.

So, what are some of the reasons agile fails to take root? And how can work management practices support agile transformation? Let's investigate.

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Why do agile transformations struggle?

Undergoing an agile transformation requires a large-scale change in company culture. For it to succeed, organisations must overhaul most of their systems and processes and discard others. Crucially, successful transformation necessitates buy-in from all levels of the organisation. All corners of the organisation must embrace agile values and principles, especially those in executive leadership positions. The key here is to embrace, not force, agile on a team by being condescending; a more human approach works best - one that does not dehumanise the organisation and triggers resistance early on.

With that in mind, agile transformation isn't an overnight success story; it takes time, patience, and dedication to reactivity, flexibility, and collaboration. People can end up feeling lost and submitting instead of embracing agile. We can avoid the pitfalls by understanding some of the reasons why agile transformation can falter. So, what causes organisations to stumble during agile transformation?

Agile is more than just a process or a methodology

Agile is a mindset, a culture, a way of working and thinking that requires an ongoing commitment to people and interactions from all corners of the organisation. Those who set out with this understanding will find things fall into place more quickly than if they were to approach agile as a tool, just a framework or a process.

Culture is a key ingredient in agile transformation.

Culture is a crucial motivator when asking teams to adopt agile practices. Establishing a strong culture around building and supporting 'thriving teams and not simply 'driving teams' will enable your core values, behaviours, and practices to find a foothold. Successful transformations require change at the team level and how the executive level operates.

Lack of support from leadership

Top executives set the precedent when it comes to establishing change. Put simply, if leadership is not actively supporting the agile transformation or remains indifferent or half-hearted about adoption, the transformation will fail to take hold. Include leadership in the journey; it doesn't happen around them but with them. To get grassroots team member acceptance, your leaders must strongly commit. They need to get involved and even admit if they don't get it immediately. 

Fear of failure and resistance to change

Fear is a part of life. However, doing agile well requires the acceptance of failure and learning from that failure. The risk of failure can mean that teams may naturally wish to avoid adopting agile principles. To encourage risk and experimentation, the organisation must be fearless and present experimentation as a norm. Fear may be one reason some team members resist new agile processes or methodologies. Nobody likes to fail or to be seen to be failing, even if this failure was out of their control. People want to feel good about what they are doing and learning, not guilt or shame that they are failing. They may instead prefer to stick to traditional ways of working. This resistance could slow down progress and create friction within the team.

Insufficient training or coaching

Changing old habits is a big undertaking, and adopting agile requires a shift in skills and thinking. If teams are not provided with proper training or ongoing coaching to meet the demands of agile transformation, it may prevent them from adapting to new practices and revert to old habits. There may be a mixture of conflicting opinions and views from experienced or inexperienced RTE's, coaches or leaders, all of which end up causing confusion and delay.

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How work management can support

Work management can support organisations in driving cultural change and embracing agile practices. It provides a holistic way of connecting the dots between teams, streamlining cross-functional collaboration, and providing clarity.

Good work management tools, like Jira Work Management and, eliminate guesswork and provide clarity. They can make an agile transformation stick by providing support with introducing and scaling agile practices and data-based decision-making. For instance, tools allow you to lean on data rather than instinct, which is useful when determining how to schedule work or measuring progress over time with OKRs. Using a work management tool, you can identify who can take on new projects and align work with the people, technology, and resources available.

Work management tools can measure agile transformation so you can glean valuable data. You can establish the metrics you want to measure and start tracking using tools. Some examples of metrics you can use with work management tools include:

  • Team member engagement: anonymous, honest feedback clarifies whether employers are more satisfied, willing to engage more, or feel their projects have a purpose. 
  •  Customer satisfaction: understand whether your customers are happy with your products and services
  • Team member satisfaction: measure how satisfied employees are with their new processes and ways of working
  • Quality: gauge whether the quality of your products and services are meeting market expectations or going above and beyond

By implementing a tool to support agile practices and approach project management, your teams will realise the benefits of a more flexible, responsive, and collaborative way to work. Plus, increasing efficiency allows more time for innovation and creativity.  

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Leverage a  technology solution to move faster

With a good solution, you can unify and centralise cross-team collaboration, workflows, and content management, facilitating organisational agility and increasing performance and productivity. Still, it's essential to find the right tool to suit your needs and take time to consider your requirements and goals before you align a solution.  

It's easy to feel as though new technologies are a constant and evolving feature of the modern workplace - that's because, in many ways, they are. But those who fail to embrace new tech risk getting left behind. Tools and technology like e-signatures and productivity apps can streamline productivity and support agile practices - and they are worth considering. You can integrate technologies like automation and machine learning into your business to increase speed and flexibility, and a good work management tool will have a robust built-in automation suite.

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Next steps

Transforming into an agile organisation is challenging and can't be rushed. Adaptavist can help you break away from outdated, hierarchical ways of working and adopt a lasting agile mindset across your organisation, using work management software to support your agile transformation.

Speak to a solutions expert.

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