Why agile transformations fail (and what you can do to prevent it…)

A 45 minute Case Study by:

Gez Smith


Download the slides

The slides used for this session are available to download here.

About this Case Study

In 2016, someone said to Gez Smith: “Our agile transformation will never succeed while [person X] is in charge.” This got him wondering. Why do agile transformations, with all their budgets, people and expertise, still fail? Can it really be as simple as being the fault of just one person?

Since February 2017, Gez has been recording half-hour interviews with agile practitioners from a wide range of backgrounds, and putting them out as podcasts via www.whyagiletransformationsfail.com. Each interview aims to answer two questions:

  1. Why do agile transformations fail?
  2. What we can do to prevent them from doing so?

Gez has deliberately interviewed as broad a range of people as possible, including developers, scrum masters, product owners, agile coaches, recruiters, HR professionals, people working in audit and risk functions, portfolio managers, and many more.

He's also getting a range of cultural experiences, with participants from the UK, continental Europe, South America, India, the USA, Hong Kong and Singapore. Some ‘big names’ have agreed to be interviewed, including Alistair Cockburn, Jeff McKenna and some others still in the pipeline.

By the time of AITC Bristol, Gez will have gathered more than 50 interviews: around 25 hours of discussion on the topic of agile transformation, across whole organisations and numerous different cultures.

Themes that have regularly cropped up include:

  • Knowing why you’re undertaking the transformation, and how that affects how you go about it. Is it for cost-saving, employee engagement, exploring complex environments, or saving the company from ruin? We now have suggested approaches for each scenario.
  • Do you start small and scale up or go all out for a transformation in a big bang? Are there limits to how far you can scale your transformation? So far, start small and scale up seems to be the winner, and there do seem to be limits to scale, but they’re not just a question of resource numbers and Dunbar. The limits to scaling seem to be much more about the multitude of different cultures, drivers and urgencies you run into as you go big.
  • Does your framework matter? Some framework advocates might argue yes. Interviewees so far seem to suggest not.
  • Can you transform more quickly with contractors and consultants? So far, signs point to no. It seems it matters that you all "wear the same badge" when it comes to transforming an organisation.
  • How do you transform the non-software parts of your organisation: the recruitment process, the appraisal, performance and reward systems, your audit, risk and legal functions, your marketing department, even your facilities and infrastructure people? Oddly, some of them seem to be keener on agile transformation than people working in software development, but what happens if they don’t get on board? We’ve turned up lots of interesting data on this already.
  • How much does culture matter? What is culture anyway? Is it the culture of a team, of a department, of an organisation, a professional grouping or even a country? How do these different cultures impact upon a large-scale agile transformation? So far, the interviews are pointing to this being the most crucial issue, which is frustrating, as it’s also the hardest to pin down.

About the Speaker

Gez has been working with agile for over 12 years, for clients including 10 Downing Street, the BBC Trust, Lloyds Banking Group and Glastonbury Festival. Currently Global Head of Agile at HSBC, he writes and vlogs extensively about agile leadership, transformation, recruitment, HR and communications.


See the full programme

full programme