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5 Key Challenges with Agile @ Scale – and how to overcome them.

We reached out to some of our global team at Adaptovate.  Our mission was simple.  To uncover what they have found to be the top challenges with Agile @ Scale.  Then importantly, what can be done to overcome them.

We all know that Agile requires a very different approach to management and leadership.  If this is poorly understood (or ignored) when adopting Agile then the transformation is unlikely to succeed.

There are many challenges that face Agile @ Scale, and understanding how to overcome them is the first step to success to getting it right.

Here’s the answer first up – The 5 ways to overcome these challenges are:

  1. Empowering decision makers
  2. Changing Behaviours
  3. Provide Agile coaching to leadership stakeholders
  4. Build cross-functional teams
  5. Learn new skills in work process

Now, let’s unpack what the challenges are in the first place.

Challenge #1. Leadership unable to give up traditional control.

Mark Barber , an agile practitioner says, “I think the challenges with adopting Agile @ Scale are the same as those with adopting Agile in general, just amplified across more of the organisation. Many problems would likely fit into the categories of leadership, organisation structure and technical skill.

For example, Agile requires empowered decision makers at the team level, so if leadership is unable to give up traditional control they will slow teams down” he says.

Mark believes to make this shift easier, we must focus on alignment and transparency to build trust between teams and leadership. With trust in place, leaders are more comfortable in empowering their teams.

Challenge #2.   Not changing behaviours.

Teams assimilate the methodology rather well, it takes time but ultimately it sinks in. However when it comes to changing behaviors, teams are often lost.” says Gwen Jettain, an Agile consultant.

He believes “After years of being told what to do, the gap towards autonomy becomes hard to bridge. Autonomy is first given through empowerment and trust, it is the role of the newly appointed Product Owner to learn to focus on guiding, as opposed to doing and support the teams in finding their own solutions.”

To put it bluntly – Caitilin Studdert, a principal for ADAPTOVATE, believes the top challenge is as simple as “Communication between teams”.

Challenge #3.  Leaders focused on traditional success metrics.

Leadership Distractions are one of the largest challenges organisations face when embarking on the Agile transformation journey.  Andy Koh, a senior consultant believes “Management typically focuses on internal success measures like cost savings, time savings, process improvement, and a slew of other traditional metrics, when they should be focused externally on driving valuable customer outcomes.”

This manifests itself at the team level in a shift of focus away from the customer and toward internal processes. We measure only operational improvements when we should be measuring business value. To put it another way, we want to build the right things, not build the wrong things faster.

Andy believes that one of the ways to circumvent this “by providing agile coaching to the leadership stakeholders involved, the leaders are able to live and breathe the transformation through advocated interactions with staff and learn through helping them remove organisational obstacles.” When leadership understands the importance of focusing on customer value, they will do more to ensure the teams can do the same.

Interestingly, when leadership and teams relentlessly prioritise customer needs we often see improvement in the internal metrics above as a side benefit of agile ways of working. We reduce work that isn’t needed and we eliminate wasteful processes like unnecessary up front design and hand offs between teams.

Challenge #4.   Silo’d teams.

Mark Barber says that “Organisational structures that create silos between functional areas of the business make it more difficult to collaborate and improve speed to market.”

If we continuously need to hand off work to other teams we are slowed down by queues (backlogs) and prioritisation conflicts.

To counter this we focus on building cross-functional teams that own work all the way from idea to delivery but to do this we need to break down organisational silos.  This isn’t easy but it needs to be an integral part of any Agile adoption.” He says.

Challenge #5.  Sticking to ‘what you know’.

Lastly Mark continues, “Agile ways of working require people to learn new skills, from looking at how we break down our work differently (slicing) to visual work management and new ways of tracking progress to goals. By not investing in learning these new skills we add unnecessary stress and put solid change management practices at risk.

Any Agile adoption needs to include an investment in training, so that the new skills needed for Agile ways of working can be learnt and applied.

At ADAPTOVATE, our coaches are also trainers so we provide an all-in-one experience to learning and development.”

If you’d like to get in touch with Adaptovate follow us on Linkedin. We’re hiring around the world  – check our website for roles currently open.

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