March 26, 2015

Big And Agile: 6 Problems Large Organisations Should Watch Out For When Going Agile

In today’s blog post I focus on the six most common problems that companies face when they decide to implement agile on a larger scale. A lot of the theory presented in this article is based on the six adoption patterns first mentioned by Richard Durnall in 2009.

I’ll round off the discussion by outlining the three main areas which organisations should be prepared to invest plenty of attention and resources into before they’re able to handle the transition to agile smoothly.

Taking the decision to adopt agile on a larger scaling

We’ve talked about agile, the benefits and potential pitfalls, before on the ReQtest blog, as well as how to successfully navigate the change from waterfall-based to agile in your company.

Whether large or small, any organisation that is considering the possibility of introducing agile practices needs an adoption plan which can guide teams to tackle this change in a controlled manner.

When creating your agile adoption plan you should focus especially on the previous successes and failures of companies similar to yours that have switched to agile processes already. Taking care to replicate the strategies and behaviours that lead to success, and avoiding those that lead to failure, is a sure-fire way for your company to ease into agile with the minimum of hassle.

Richard Durnall noticed that whenever a company decides to adopt agile methodologies the same six kind of problems tend to emerge, in a largely predictable order. No matter the specific industry it operates in, or the location, size and prevalent culture in the organisation, these six problems are the ones that virtually always show up.

Large, lumbering companies that are traditionally more conservative mindset than start-ups and have a lot more money on the line cannot possibly afford to mess up their transition to agile. Knowing the six common agile adoption problem patterns gives leaders and managers the ability to detect and rectify issues the moment they emerge.

5 agile adoption problem patterns

#1 People Problems

The first symptom of an agile transformation process gone wrong in a large organisation is that team members start feeling disenchanted with the whole idea. You will start hearing a lot of grumbling and complains about how ‘the old way’ was simpler and easier to follow.

Just like technology, ideas tend to follow an adoption curve: with innovators and early adopters being the first to accept new work processes, and the rest of the team resisting at first and then jumping onto the bandwagon after they become used to the new method.

To help organisations deal with people problems, Richard Durnall suggests using a model like the Dreyfus model of skill acquisition or other change management approaches that lead team members through distinct stages of agile theory and practice proficiency.

#2 Tools Problems

Once the people in the organisation are on board with the change to agile and the team leaders start to register improved overall levels of performance, the next thing to start breaking down is normally the existing development and testing tools and platforms.

Traditional tools are as much of a problem as a mindset that is still locked in the traditional waterfall mentality. Very often the tools your people are using are the very products of a waterfall mentality and thus it is time for the organisation to start filling in its toolbox with instruments created specifically to take advantage of agile methods.

You will need tools that can facilitate collaboration in small iterations, ideally without breaking the bank. An example of an agile tool is our very own ReQtest software, a testing and bug tracking solution which we fitted out with all the tools and functionalities that agile testers need to dominate their work flow.

#3 Governance Problems

As the team members settle into the new system, it’s now the team leaders’ and managers’ who are getting edgy.

Although they were initially the most fervent supporters when the rest of the team was stumbling around, these governance groups suddenly find themselves overwhelmed with the amount of new data coming in as the team members become more proficient in agile methodology.

If the organisation has both agile and waterfall work processes operating in parallel, leaders have to mentally switch from one system to another and handle all the information that is coming there way appropriately.

This can become a serious time- and resource-waster for companies who do not have the foresight of setting up a model for consolidating information and having proper guidelines that show how to interpret this data and respond to it effectively.

TIP: Agile calendars are one way leaders ensure they never lose sight of their goals.

#4 Customer Problems

Okay, so by now your team leaders and members should have gotten their act in order. Things are going smoothly in the office and everybody’s floating on a cloud of agile bliss. And then the phone rings.

It’s a customer and they can’t really participate in a fifteen-minute daily meeting with you. As your company picks up steam, as the velocity of your operations increase, oftentimes it is the customers who are left behind.

Don’t blame them however, they’ve been dealing with waterfall-type businesses for too long to know any better.

It is your duty as well to start thinking about your business engagement strategy and start finding ways to leverage your customers’ interest or loyalty. You need to give them solid reasons to make them become your committed partners in helping you successfully deliver projects according to agile standards.

#5 Money Problems

The fifth problem pattern to emerge is related to finances. Money problems typically emerge as you start diverging from the traditional cycle planning process.

Agile gives your team permission to experiment and adapt and this usually entails a different relationship with money, one where you want a stream of small amounts that are spread over five or six differed products which are market tested in parallel. Accordingly, both your cycle planning and product pipeline has to change in order to reflect the new realities.

#6 Organisational Problems

Agile is usually introduced from the ground up in a company and at a management and executive level, people start underestimating how useful agile can be for the organisation.

Eventually, the very people who came up with the idea of training their staff in agile become the only group in the company who aren’t using it. organisations that implement agile vertically as well as horizontally are those that typically get the best return on investment.

One method to visualise the challenges that can arise when introducing agile to all levels of the organisation is performing readiness assessments before initiating the change activities. This process helps identify and plan ahead for any barriers that the organisation is likely to encounter.

#7 Assessing your organisation’s readiness for agile

Forward-looking companies undertake readiness assessment as a means to clarify their strengths and growing edges prior to adopting a change in their way working. This gives them the opportunity to fine-tune their internal structures in such a way the organisations becomes change-ready and seamlessly transition into the new regime without a hitch.

Richard Durnall suggests structuring readiness assessments around three main areas: people, processes and technology. Each area will have its own in-built barriers to change which present specific challenges that need to be resolved before adoption can occur successfully.

  • People – People come wired in with a lot of a capacity for change, but their perceived ability is often constrained by their present conditions. Empowering people to become more independent and autonomous in their individual tasks, whilst fostering more open communication channels in group activities helps cultivate the proper mindset before introducing agile.
  • Process – Measuring the current process capability helps set benchmarks against which the news system can be compared. Selecting the right metrics, keeping an updated balanced scorecard allows the organisation to know how well their business is running, and whether it’s operating at desired levels. It is important that these metrics are carefully designed by those who know the process most intimately.
  • Technology – Assessments of technology are best focussed around reviewing the architecture strategy and standards used in the organisation to identify any potential improvement areas. Understanding whether the current systems can support you when you go agile and later on when you scale your efforts is crucial to determine whether it is time to adopt an agile system.


With a complete readiness assessment in your hands you’re in best position possible to take your first tentative steps into agile before a full-scale implementation.

All the information discussed in this article should be very easy to gather. As you assess your organisation’s readiness for agile you’ll discover a lot of insights into your current work processes and acquire in-depth knowledge about your team members and customers that will help you devise agile strategies tailored to your organisation’s needs.

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