Avoiding Pitfalls in Your Agile Transformation


Being an Agile transformation coach since 2001 at IBM and other companies has taught me a lot about being agile; especially the art of change. Increasing a corporate agile community from 300 to over 3,400, teaching two day courses to over 1,050 people, and consulting with teams were not the only ways I discovered the essence of “being” agile. Leading and coding with my agile team was just as wonderfully painful and educational.


Here is an eight point checklist that will help you save time and avoid common pitfalls.

  • Be Type Aware
  • One’s a Maverick, Two’s a Team
  • Get Executive Cover
  • Expect the Change Curve
  • Lead with Pain
  • Tool Up
  • Create visibility
  • Don’t Dictate – Facilitate

Be Type Aware. The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI™) is used to help individuals understand their preferred ways of working, and to help teams appreciate diverse viewpoints. It lets people discover their most comfortable ways of working. For example, some people refresh your energy by being with other people, and others prefer to read a book alone. Some learn about their environment through models, and some with data. Some decide issues based on impact to people, and some prefer more detached logic. And some prefer spontaneous adaptation versus well laid out plans. Unnecessary friction can develop on the team without appreciation that people may differ not just in technical skill, but also in temperament and working style. This is especially true during the stress of process change. Educating the team in the different styles of workers up front and respecting the differences will side step this pitfall. MBTI™ has served many teams well, but other similar tools are available.

One’s a Maverick, Two is a Team. An agile evangelist on the team can’t work alone. The can be viewed as an outlier. When two people embrace a targeted practice on your team, they support each other, but also publicly show unity of support for the practice. Getting at least two champions on the team for a new change gets people to herald it’s adoption and the reverse is true. A change with only one champion often never comes to fruition.

Get Executive Cover. Change feels threatening to people who are talented in their previous ways of working. They are vested in skills they have developed, and their success as led them to leadership positions. Show them that the addition of agile practices can add fresh tools to their pallet of skills. And most importantly, get buy-in from upper management to support the change initiative.

Expect the Change Curve. Agile will make you more productive. Some organizations may be tempted to mark teams Agile, then reduce their staff due to expected increases in efficiency. This is a trap at the beginning. The Process Change Model by Virgina Satir [1] says that we will first encounter resistance and less productive chaos. Benefits will come, but the cost of change will counter balance the benefits while you are getting started. You have to invest before you see the gain.

Lead with Pain. Instead of announcing the team will be doing a new practice, star by discussion the pain points that make the practices useful. For example, say “We seem to lose a lot when people leave the team”. This may highlight the need for pair programming with rotating combinations. “Sometimes people don’t like what we’ve built, even after careful specification”. The practice of using feedback from iteration demos will become attractive. Showing the problem and need, then bridging to selected approaches eases the team’s changes.

Tool Up. Spreadsheets and index cards are useful for learning agile concepts and are easy to work with, but using a tool designed for agile project management like VersionOne, RallyDev, or AgileZen helps guide new teams through the process. Moreover, it shows skeptics that there is a long history of industry investment. Introduction of tools specifically designed for an agile process is usually a pivotal moment of change.

Create Visibility: Agile shines when the whole team can understand the flow of work, and pitch in to

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