The Cost of Coexistence

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There are some possible benefits to allowing both to coexist, too. Consider these:

  1. Comfort. Allowing both to coexist provides the opportunity for the company to stick its toe in the water before diving in completely. This may be seen as a more careful approach for companies without an appetite for major change. The change effort can expand (or not) throughout the organization at the pace at which the organization is comfortable.
  2. Prioritization. This approach allows for value-based prioritization of change introduction objectives. There may be groups that are functioning sufficiently with the status quo. Do we need immediately to change projects that currently are effective?
  3. Focused use of limited guidance. Allowing both to coexist may allow the limited number of available external agile consultants and coaches to focus their efforts on a few groups at a time, preventing the problems associated with just diving in blindly without assistance
  4. Roll Back. Having a contingency plan (usually the old process) may make it easier for the company to fall back, should the agile transition not work or be rejected. 

During the transition, companies need to be wary of stagnation—i.e. the acceptance of average or mediocre performance. The roll out itself is not the goal. The improvements in product quality, decreases in time to market, increased employee morale, and increased customer satisfaction are all the real reasons for moving to an agile paradigm. Forgetting these ultimate goals can result in a half-hearted push to agility that instead follows a required MBO metric, leaving everyone happy with single- or double-digit increases in productivity rather than pursuing the triple-digit increases that are possible with the associated organizational and cultural change that are part of agile transitions. And, the costs of coexistence are not likely offset by single-digit improvements.

Regardless of the cost of coexistence, cultural change is a must if an agile adoption is going to stick in the long term. Leaving it for last only extends the uneasy truce and increases the likelihood that the organization will high-center, or reach a point where hard decisions about organizational change must be made in order for improvements to continue. Ignoring these issues leads to an inexorable slide back into the waterfall.

A transition to agile is much more than just a change in software development practices. It is a change in culture that will have an impact throughout your organization and anywhere else product development touches. Though it may seem like good risk mitigation to support multiple options for product development process, it is wise to consider the costs of doing so.

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