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What are the challenges when starting with Agile and how to overcome them?

“The only constant in life is change”1. Change is never easy, but it is undoubtedly needed over time. Transitioning from a traditional way of working to an Agile approach is showing interest in becoming more customer-centric, innovative, and adaptable to technological and customer requirements. Although plenty of companies have already implemented that approach internally, getting a fruitful Agile way of working is not always a bed of roses. Here are some challenges companies might face when going into that shift and some advice on how to tackle them.

Lacking clear communication

Effective communication is essential for any team and company, but it can be especially challenging when working in an Agile environment. Companies need to maintain high transparency with their employees about their long-term business objectives, vision, and mission, in order to translate what is the big picture and how they can contribute to it. With Agile methodology, employees are required to be autonomous enough to not rely on a manager or another team to reach their goals. However, that can only be achieved if clear communication from higher management about these objectives is part of the game.

Also, communication between the different squads is essential when working in an Agile environment if you want to keep an innovative and collaborative culture. When so much autonomy is given to the employees, you need to have well-communicated internal agreements to ensure everything goes right. Otherwise, it creates the opposite effect, and it becomes chaotic instead of effective.

A nice habit to adopt when starting with Agile is applying the methodology in the day-to-day work, especially at the beginning of the transformation. It will ensure an efficient way of working and smooth communication. Agile structure proposes different kinds of events or “ceremonies” that help to secure good communication, such as sprints, daily scrums, sprint, chapter meetings, etc. So it is advised to practice some of these ceremonies as they are built to ensure effective communication.

Lack of team ownership

One of Agile’s main goals is to assist employees in taking responsibility and ownership of their work and kicking the habit of waiting to receive instructions coming from managers to know what to do. Indeed, by working without a traditional top-down hierarchy, directives are no

longer coming as a waterfall from high management. It is then easy for employees to not feel the pressure of needing to have ownership of their work. The structural change that comes with Agile might be seen as an opportunity to be less active because they don’t have someone actively delegating tasks to them every day.

Also, when working in an Agile environment where employees shift squads numerous times, they might lack a clear view on what are the key roles and who is responsible for what. They might be reluctant to act or make choices when they are unsure about who is in charge, leading to confusing situations, delays, and increased frustrations. The big picture and the end goal might not be fully captured by the employees either, which will also lead to a lack of ownership.

To face this issue, it is essential to clearly define the roles and responsibilities of each member to make them understand how they can contribute to the project’s success. It is also important to encourage collaboration and clear communication between colleagues while creating a sense of belonging.

Lack of training and education

One challenge that companies might face is a lack of training and education about the Agile framework itself. Transitioning from a traditional way of working to an Agile environment is not easy, especially when people are not familiar with the methodology. To make it successful, the knowledge and understanding of the agile concept itself need to be well assimilated by everyone. If, in the beginning, the foundation of agile is not well built within the company, all further steps will not be as efficient as they should be because of misalignments or misunderstandings.

Companies need to focus on making sure everyone understands the environment they are working in and be strict in following the agile way of working, especially in the first stages. That way, employees will slowly get used to the framework, and it will become a habit to work that way. Agile coaches will help do such a transition. They are a driving force within an agile way of working, active on tribe level, to coach individuals and squads and help them select the right tools and practices.

Another challenge companies working in an Agile environment might face is failing to educate and train their employees enough to make them reach their full potential and help them grow in knowledge. Transitioning to Agile means losing the traditional hierarchy in which you grow vertically and making your people shift their focus on personal growth and knowledge acquirement. But if companies fail to help their employees develop a t-shaped profile with knowledge-sharing and pieces of training, the Agile mindset is no longer respected. Asking the employees to grow this way without giving them the tools to do it properly will not be efficient and will create friction and reluctance. That is why keeping employees trained will not only benefit them but also the company itself, which will have a competent and knowledgeable workforce.

Change in employees’ career path

By working in an Agile environment, the traditional top-down hierarchy is no longer considered. That can be a challenging shift for some employees that might be used to a strict hierarchy with a pre-defined chain of command. Adopting the Agile way of working would mean adapting the internal organization, which can be a hurdle for some people that are used to it.

Getting everyone to shift from a vertical structure to a horizontal one requires explanation, inspiration, and concrete examples of how to grow in such an organization. As the internal growth track will change when transitioning into an Agile environment, a clear career path needs to be well thought out, otherwise, employees might see no perspective for growth in the long run. This will lead to employees losing motivation and interest, and becoming less engaged. Companies must then identify what will be the new roles, and how the employees will grow in this new environment while training them and communicating honestly to help them adapt to the new roles and responsibilities.

Also, for many employees in companies that did not adopt the Agile methodology yet, professional success is measured by how fast you reach different levels of seniority (from junior to senior), where you stand in the company hierarchy, or what’s your official title. When shifting to an Agile approach, it might be challenging to focus more on personal growth and the company’s goals rather than growth in title and salary. That is why explaining how to grow personally more horizontally is crucial to avoid friction.

You must keep training your employees about this methodology while being transparent and understanding their frustrations to adapt to the process. It’s not only the company that needs to be Agile but the people managing the company as well.

A gap between senior leadership and operational teams

A common challenge that we can see in companies applying the Agile methodology is the disconnect between the senior leadership, who does not work Agile, and the operational teams, who do. When senior leadership does not work Agile they might not fully comprehend the processes that the operational teams are working with. This can lead to the operational teams facing difficulties in achieving the business goals and objectives because of the lack of coordination between the two levels. Also, the operational teams will lack the “why” behind the strategic decisions taken by the senior leadership, which will widen the gap even more.

This needs to be prevented by having a leadership that is trained for Agile in order to understand how the strategic decisions will be translated into the actual work. They need to ensure that good communication is in place between them and the operational teams so that the strategy and the implementation really become one. This will also allow all employees to understand their purpose within the company and how they can contribute to the big picture. A change in the company’s culture and mindset

A company’s culture and mindset are part of its DNA, and it can be difficult to face new situations where we get asked to adapt how we act or think when it has already become a habit. Those habits grew into what we perceive as normality, and it can be difficult to face the new reality that Agile brings to us.

Not being flexible enough

Change is not always easy, especially when you already have your marks and your habits. Being flexible is a key characteristic of the Agile approach, but it requires being comfortable and open to uncertainties of what will come next. Agile methodology focuses on constantly having to adapt to quick changes in priorities, rules, or even teams, which can sometimes be challenging.

A constant change of scope can cause a loss of focus for the team members. It can be easy to get sidetracked and lose sight of the company goals and objectives when yours get switched several times. You are also repeatedly changing teams. You get to collaborate with different colleagues with different ways of working from each other, which can lead to miscommunications and conflicts if not handled properly.

Not having everyone sharing the Agile mindset

It is also important to note that not everyone may believe in the effectiveness of the Agile way of working. While Agile methodologists have become increasingly popular in recent years, some still share different perspectives or work habits and may doubt the value of adopting that approach. It is essential to be understanding and open to different perspectives and to find ways to effectively collaborate with those who may not fully embrace Agile yet.

It will be challenging to work with colleagues that don’t see the benefits of the Agile approach because the goals and values will not necessarily be the same for everyone, and it will create friction about how the work should be done. They might resist sharing ideas and insights because that way of working does not resonate with their beliefs and values and could hinder the team’s performance. The problem is even more important when the people with more responsibilities (like PO’s, for example) are those who show reluctance about the Agile approach.

Overall, shifting from a traditional methodology to an Agile way of working is never a simple task. It is essential to highlight the importance of what Agile can bring, not only to the company but also to the employees. The path of getting to a successful implementation of an Agile methodology is not a long quiet river. It comes with challenges and difficulties, but what matters the most is knowing how to tackle them to fully blossom. Don’t hesitate to check our guide if you want some tips about Agile.