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When Agile implementations wobble
Paul Gray
Head: Development Technology Solutions at DVT

When Agile implementations wobble

Paul Gray,
Head: Development Technology Solutions at DVT

In every Agile transformation, whether it is at a team or organisational level, there comes a time when useful progress seems to stall. This is a very dangerous time and without proper care could result in a missed or failed transformation or change.


In any new endeavour be it a hobby, a relationship or interest, we have the honeymoon period. Everything is new and exciting, our brains are enjoying the new sensory overload of learning new things, experiencing new things and generally we are on a dopamine high. Then one day it stops. We don’t feel as engaged, as excited or as inspired as at the beginning. For some relationships, hobbies or Agile transformations this can spell the end or at least a slowdown. It does not need to be this way and there are some things we can do about it.


Identify

The first thing we need to do is identify when the people in a situation are reaching their Change Threshold (CT). Every person, team and organisation has a CT and this CT can be variable and is determined by numerous factors. The definition of a CT is the elastic ability of the participants to handle more change. If you think of a rubber band it can only stretch so far, trying to stretch it further will result in a failure or at least an inability to absorb any further pressure.


When it comes to teams and organisations, there is a similar process at play. When the CT is reached or stretched, there are negative consequences.


Symptoms

Symptoms of the CT being reached can be as follows;


  • Lack of positive engagement with the process.
  • Irritability and negative reactions to further change.
  • Disengaging from the process and returning to old (comfortable) ways of work.
  • Excessive questioning of changes.
  • A generally lack lustre team or organisational performance.

Unfortunately, the command and control influence in most organisations will react to these symptoms by pushing harder for change or worse, reverting back to the way things were. The reality is neither of these approaches will remedy the situation and both can have devastating effects.


The Fix

An astute Agile coach, scrum master, trainer or mentor will be on the lookout for the invariable symptoms and have a plan for how to deal with them.


The most crucial thing is not to introduce any further change allowing the current processes to become entrenched and muscle memory. When we learn a new skill, the brain must work very hard until the action becomes second nature - muscle memory, then the task takes little effort and we are able to absorb further change as more space becomes available to think and process new information.


In the same way we recognise the onset of the CT and start the process of entrenching learned skills. As these learned skills become the norm, we can slowly introduce new changes which are inevitable through the retrospective cycle.


Summary

Just as every individual is unique so is every team and organisation.. Some teams may have a very high CT and can be pushed to excel in a short space of time. Other teams may have a lower CT and therefore more care must be taken.


We cannot use a cookie cutter approach and hope that all teams or organisations will react the same way to change. We must use our skills as Agile practitioners to identify the unique situations and circumstances and behave accordingly.


Above all we must realise that true transformation takes time. The Microsoft transformation into an Agile organisation took ten years to get to where it is today. We must not fall into the trap of trying to rush change. It is far more beneficial to allow change to happen at the pace that does not exceed the CT. Once the CT is exceeded the process becomes a lot more challenging and it will slow down the overall pace and level of change.