Why Leaders Resist Agile Transformations and How to Win Them Over

Although executives and managers are the driving force behind embracing Agile transformations, they can unwittingly become the biggest hurdle to accomplishing successful implementation. This puts team leaders and Agile coaches in an awkward position where those who hired them are inadvertently the ones obstructing their endeavours.

Engage the Leadership

Occasionally, what seems like resistance to authority may essentially be a dearth of involvement. Managers may be amenable to the concept of transformation, but they may view it as something that solely influences their team and not themselves.

Mike, an Agilist within the Works network, possessing extensive experience in the domain, has observed that leadership’s insufficient participation in the transformation process may not be a deliberate attempt to hinder advancement. Instead, it may stem from their reluctance to participate.

To ensure the success of organisational agility, it is crucial that the executive leadership actively engages in the Agile transformation. This will establish the precedent from the top, and should be mirrored by the lower-level teams. If the leadership does not partake in the transformation process, even those teams that have adopted Agile principles will be unable to attain the intended outcomes.

Mike asserts that it is imperative for management to continuously participate in the new workflows to remain harmonised with the suggested timing and pattern. Moreover, he warns that if management persists with a weekly approval regime, the expected efficiencies of the new methodology may not be accomplished.

To effectively carry out Agile methodology and ensure that all parties are committed to the endeavour, Mike suggests that companies establish distinct requirements for leadership’s engagement. This should be documented in the agreement by designating the specific personnel who will be involved and explicitly stating that their involvement is compulsory. This will elude any misapprehensions where the leaders assume, mistakenly, that their team will become more productive without their active involvement.

As decision-makers, it is critical to invest in and endorse transformational initiatives that do not rely solely on their direct engagement. Mike stresses the significance of prioritising agility. If executives do not make agility a priority, it could compromise its success as it may erode resources that are required for its fulfilment.

Decode Agile Principles and Jargon

Even though Agile has been adopted extensively by development teams, there is still a considerable shortage in comprehension of it among business executives and managers. Upon initial exposure to Agile principles, such as accommodating to alterations instead of stubbornly following a plan, and prioritising usable software over thorough documentation, it may appear unfamiliar and peculiar. It is crucial to provide education on the significance and benefits of Agile to these individuals to enable them to grasp and embrace its methodology fully.

George, a seasoned project manager, Certified Scrum Master, and DevOps engineer with considerable experience with startup companies and Fortune 500 corporations, sustains that resistance to Agile transformations stems, primarily, from a scarcity of comprehension. George states, “Executives may not fully grasp the concept of agility, or they may have disparate expectations from an Agile transformation.”

It is imperative for all members of an organisation to grasp the significance of Agile and understand that its principles cannot be modified. It should be remembered that Agile must be implemented comprehensively; areas that present complications or are challenging should be given the most consideration. Thus, it is of utmost importance that everyone involved in the process must receive the necessary education regarding Agile and its foundational principles.

Mitchell, a Product Manager, elucidated to his patrons that they have probably been integrating Agile methodologies into several aspects of their occupational and personal spheres, already.

He illustrates agility by asking his team to visualise themselves walking into a house after a substantial gathering. He then poses the question: if they had eight hours to clean the house, what would they focus on, and what would they do if their timeframe was reduced to two hours? He stresses that the difference between the two responses exemplifies agility inevitably, as it necessitates selecting deliverables based on the available resources and prioritising the most consequential outcomes.

Numerous individuals become baffled and apprehensive due to the jargon associated with Agile methodology. In my experience, this often creates an obstacle for organisations contemplating an Agile transformation. To make it more approachable, I have found it useful to alter the approach of the conversation. For instance, instead of using the term ‘Agile’, I refer to the process as ‘enhancing our job proficiency’. Likewise, I might refer to daily standups as ‘daily briefing sessions’ and sprints as ‘cycles’. By changing the words used in this manner, I have found that leaders are more receptive to the notion of an Agile transformation.

Demonstrating Value through Experimentation

Demonstrating the advantages of Agile methodology in action can be an effective strategy for resolving the issue if leaders do not appreciate its benefits. There are two ways to go about this: adopting a team-oriented approach or a leadership-oriented approach. Irrespective of the option selected, it is vital to consider the modifications as an experiment.

In the case of leadership, my approach typically involves presenting a succinct, one-page written proposal, summarising the proposed modification, the reasoning behind it, and the anticipated outcome. This allows leaders to ask questions and express their viewpoints.

To obtain their authorisation, it is crucial to establish a lenient threshold for approval and clarify that this is a short-term experiment. Individuals are usually more amenable to the concept of “trying” something as opposed to committing to it since it affords them a greater sense of security. Typically, I seek the leadership team’s consent by posing the question, “Are there any possible hazards associated with this that we ought to be aware of?” Rarely does anybody respond in the affirmative. The employment of sociocracy, which is founded on consent instead of a voting system, has been a significant factor as to why they are open to the prospect of experimentation. Even if they do not entirely concur with the plan, they are willing to test it out.

After receiving consent, the group bears the responsibility of establishing the parameters of the experiment, along with determining the day of evaluation, by which their progress will be evaluated, and a determination will be made to either discontinue, continue, or modify the alterations.

If feasible, conducting experimentation at the team level can be advantageous. Allowing teams to undergo a trial period with Agile methodologies can facilitate their growth and development, and the outcomes of this period can be utilised to inform leaders and aid them in making critical decisions. Pragmatically, I advocate that teams utilise Scrum for several sprints as a means of exploring Agile methodologies. This allows teams to gather factual data supported by evidence and present it to management, instead of relying on subjective opinions. As it provides a factual basis for decisions, such data is more likely to persuade leaders.

Assess both Emotional and Practical Requirements

As per Bobby, who works as a Project Manager at Works Agile, it is essential to acknowledge and cater to not only the standard operational requirements of an organisation but also the tensions and emotional unease that executives may undergo throughout the transition phase.

During an Agile transformation, leaders may undergo sensations of terror and vulnerability. This is because it requires them to make significant changes to the way they perceive their roles, as well as the power and control that are typically associated with those positions. Hence, Agile transformations mandate that leaders undergo a transformational shift in their professional identities.

To guarantee that leaders are at ease throughout the transition to Agile, it is crucial to address their apprehensions directly. According to Bates, engaging in a series of conversations at the commencement of each project, highlighting the advantages and hurdles of Agile, is critical in assisting individuals in preparing for the transformation. He underscores that it is common for individuals to feel uncomfortable in such a context, but there are steps that can be taken to alleviate their worries and make them feel more empowered.

According to George, the initial stage of the transformational process should involve comprehending the underlying reasons behind the transformation. Following this, it is crucial to appraise the implications of the transformation on each participant, including how it may affect their role and alter their powers and responsibilities.

He conveyed his misgivings regarding the abrupt appearance of a novel group of individuals in whom he lacked trust, and their unfamiliar implementation of Agile methodologies that he was not acquainted with. He further added that these individuals were in charge of establishing the regulations.

On occasion, the obstacle does not necessarily stem from resistance to Agile methodologies, but rather from the resistance to any sort of modification. This is a prevalent response, particularly within corporate culture. When a change is necessary, leaders may be particularly susceptible since it could imply that they have not been successful in certain areas, while managers may become emotionally attached to a status quo that they helped establish. As a result, endeavours toward organisational transformation may be perceived as a personal affront.

Patrick, who works as a Professional Scrum Master and Project Manager at Works, places great emphasis on understanding the specific circumstances of team members when addressing a concern. He emphasises that every person has their own unique viewpoint, and that empathy is a vital attribute when it comes to recognising the diverse paths that people traverse. Furthermore, he notes that individuals nearing retirement may be particularly unyielding to change owing to their lack of incentive in doing so.

Ms Saini effectively incorporated leaders into her latest transformation initiative by highlighting the significance of a positive mindset over concentrating solely on Agile. She observes, “At first, we conveyed the reasons why change was essential. Although the present methodologies may have resulted in success and the company may be thriving, we had to make them comprehend that transformation was inevitable. People were apprehensive that the transition may lead to failure; hence, we stressed the potential for innovation that the changes would bring and presented it as an exciting opportunity to progress, rather than a critique of their current processes and structure.

Determine and Tackle the Underlying Causes of Resistance

As you embark on your next Agile transformation journey, it is crucial to bear in mind the challenge of leadership opposition and give it precedence. Leadership resistance can hinder the advancement of the transformation and undermine the labour and energy invested in other areas of the organisation.

It is crucial to acknowledge that opposition to Agile methodologies is frequently indicative of a more fundamental problem. Hence, it is imperative to scrutinise the underlying components at the outset of a project that may be triggering the resistance. These may encompass insufficient knowledge about Agile practices, disinclination to adopt new methodologies, or concealed anxiety. To triumph over any opposition effectively, it is essential to exercise patience, empathy, and effective communication skills. These attributes are all crucial for an accomplished Agile coach.

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