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Potential concerns and solutions with the introduction of agile product development approaches

Udo Lange
September 30, 2019

In our last blog post, we outlined what the introduction/implementation of agile product development might look like. Beyond finding and maintaining a structured approach throughout the process, there are many challenges organizations are struggling with. Despite the advantages of continuously increasing efficiency, customer, and employee satisfaction, many companies aren’t able to identify with agile principles and ways of working on a cultural level. Why is it so difficult to create an agile mindset? Which variables play an important role in this respect?

In this article, we will take a closer look at upcoming barriers within the introduction process and will derive initiatives how to deal and prevent them.

With every agile transformation, concerns/barriers appear that can hinder agile ways of working if they are not considered early on.

Mindset: The assignment of new roles and a changed way of working always carries the risk that employees must step out of their comfort zone and do not feel comfortable with their new job. The fear of not being able to cope with a new job is one of the biggest factors leading to resistance in the implementation of agile transformation. The image of an employee with his arms crossed and mumbling softly, “everything worked fine so far” (or, “it doesn’t work in the hardware”) is familiar to anyone who has ever tried to implement a major change in their company. This kind of resistance calls for management. An ad-hoc introduction of new working methods is the wrong approach. Agile methods and roles must be tested in a safe environment before they are rolled out on a large scale. Looser company regulations and less managerial control convey a feeling of security to the employee, take away the fear of making mistakes and should be regarded as a measure to prevent resistance during every transformation.

Agile leadership: When establishing an agile mindset, it is particularly important to ensure that it is driven and lived by managers as role models. The implementation of agile methods means a radical change in roles, especially at management level. As we explained in our previous article, the decision-making power lies within the cross-functional teams (DevOps and Development team). Therefore, leaders are forced to rethink, to get out of their hierarchical way of thinking and into the role of an agile trainer/coach who leads employees as servant leader at eye level thus allowing employees to take decisions, make mistakes and learn from them. Not every executive has the skills to live this new leadership style and many perceive it as a loss of control. If executives don’t adopt the necessary mindset and leadership behavior, an agile transformation will not succeed.

Common understanding: As already mentioned in the last section, agile work is only possible in a team. It is important that not only managers, but everyone in the company has the same understanding of agile methods and roles. If a team member is not sufficiently trained or has a wrong understanding of methods and roles, they can soon feel lost or not understood. This leads to a defensive attitude and resistance. Therefore, all participants in the agile transformation must be sufficiently trained. Furthermore, there must be a constant exchange of knowledge about the understanding of the individual team members with the management.

Communication: In addition to the right mindset and support, you need the right tools. Otherwise, employees may quickly lose the interest in challenging themselves with a new task. At this point, communication is the key to success. Resistance is always a form of communication. Erroneous or non-existent communication leads to fear and displeasure. The integration and provision of reporting software and the definition of communication methods are key to avoiding or counteracting resistance. The use of software applications, such as JIRA and Confluence, make work more transparent and allow for a more open error and feedback culture.

Problems with interfaces: In addition, it is important to ensure the integration of all suppliers. If the processes are agile but depend on external suppliers or other non-agile interface partners, conflicts can arise. For this reason, contracts with all parties involved in the process must also be adapted. If important building blocks for the process are not delivered on time, the allocation of resources within the sprints is too low. This quickly leads to resentment among employees and their return to old patterns of behavior.

Our Agile Engineering Framework (see our second blog post in this series) provides a framework for the holistic introduction of agile process models in product development. We’ve summarized the measures to avoid resistance during implementation in the following critical success factors. (See Figure 1.)

Figure 1: Critical Success Factors for solid agile mindset and a foundation for “being agile”

To find out more about how resistance can be avoided in the introduction of agile approaches in product development and which individual factors are important, don’t hesitate to contact us.

In our next and for the time being final blog post, we will take a look at Automotive SPICE and discuss whether this methodology can be seen as an antithesis or supplement to agile product development.

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If you would like to know more about agile engineering or discuss what we can do for your business, please contact Udo Lange: