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Uniform Agile Transformation: the “one size fits all” pitfall



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3 minutes


Jeroen Nollet


Uniformity, one size fits all, consistency... (Almost) every manager has a soft spot for expressions - and more specifically: workflows - like these. But is it really what you need when making changes in your organization? Find out the danger of uniform Agile Transformation, and our advice on how to do it better in this blog!

About 'uniform' Agile Transformation

I have had customers that did a small proof of concept of their Agile transformation with a small number of teams, just as I mentioned in the blog on Big bang Agile Transformation. Because of these teams’ accomplishments, the management decided to continue to roll out this new way of working throughout the company. 

Unfortunately, herein lies a new pitfall. The organization is tired of waiting and won’t gradually propose this new way of working to the other teams. Instead, they plan to roll out that successful way of working of those ‘pioneer’ teams to all the remaining teams.  

The danger in it

This “one size fits all” approach is dangerous. The strength of an Agile team lies in the ability to work autonomously, in a way they think is efficient. In large organizations, it’s normal to have multiple domains, each of them with their own complexities. It’s not straightforward to push the findings of one or two teams towards the entire company. 

When you carve the entire end-to-end process in stone, there’s no margin to make any adaptations (without the approval of a centralized team), and the Agile transformation will feel like a burden. Every time you think you’ve taken a step forward in your process, you’ll notice that somewhere in the organization, people have slowed down because of it. 

How to save the day

Give each team the time to make the switch and the ability to implement their complexities. They must have the freedom to adapt. The idea behind agility is to learn from the feedback a team receives and to change its way of working. 

A little advice on uniform Agile Transformation

My advice would be to choose a uniform approach on the higher organizational levels (Program/Portfolio), but to provide teams with enough freedom to make decisions that apply to their workflow. 

An example

The usage of Jira.
This tool has gained a lot of popularity in the past ten years because of its claim to support agility. Unfortunately, it all depends on how you configure it. I’ve consulted multiple clients that had their flows fixed, leaving only one way of working for all the teams

To make things worse, only one person or team was responsible for evaluating requested changes and implementing them (when approved). When promoting agility, it’s irrational to force everyone into one way of working and have a central approval process if a change is requested. 

A suggestion, out of experience

My approach would be to provide each team with some trained team members so they can change the workflows of their Stories to match their needs. They cannot, however, modify workflows that relate to Epics, Features, or other components that are more cross-domain because data is gathered upon them to report back to management. For those workflows, a centralized team could make sense.

With all of the above in mind...

Provide your employees with the freedom to decide how they want to work. To the management, this might sound scary because they are afraid of a ‘cowboy’ mentality or even complete anarchy. But the same is true for your employees. They receive a lot of additional responsibilities they are not used to because of the previous way of working. 

“With great power comes great responsibility.”

Nothing is more true. When providing your employees with more accountability, everyone must understand what it includes AND the responsibilities that come with it. Agility does not mean creating an environment where everyone can do as they like without bearing the consequences of it.

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about the author

Jeroen Nollet

Jeroen Nollet is Scrum Master and Agile Delivery Lead at The Value Hub. Certified as a Professional Scrum Master (level lll) and Professional Scrum Product Owner (level lll), he coaches teams in their Agile transformation challenges. By deeply examining team dynamics and designing practical solutions for specific problems, he helped out many customers in the scaling of their Agile workflow before. His technical background as a Java Developer turns out to be one of the biggest assets too in working with technical teams and issues.

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