Power-up your agile transformation by avoiding these 6 anti-patterns


Eduardo Alvim

6/8/20214 min read

man holding two brown wooden rings
man holding two brown wooden rings

Being a consultant and trainer on agile and digital transformation is quite an interesting exercise, to be honest. I get to see many companies, many different contexts and, one of the activities I like the most: Get to know people!

This possibility of talking to people in different positions and levels in the organizations give me the ability to gather many stories from the trenches, some of them funny, some of the not at all. But it is also an opportunity to try to demystify some things, to learn others, but specially to see reasons why companies are failing on their objectives of transforming their business and their ways of work.

I have compiled a list containing 6 anti-patterns many companies are falling into, with regards to their transformation. Here you have them:

  • Agile has to be bottom-up: This one smells so early 2000s, where we believed that all the agile initiatives should be starting from teams, completely ignoring the other levels and, especially management layers. In fact, we need both bottom-up and top-down approach. If only bottom-up, teams will bring agility to a certain level, but there are many more organizational constraints that they won’t be able to solve, jeopardizing any potential good result they could experiment. Let only to top-down, it’s an imposed practice that won’t have any buy-in from the teams will be, effectively, doing the work. Both need to meet in the middle.

  • Renaming old practices: Also known as “changing without changing”, which, in practice means a bit more than nothing. Companies like to avoid disruptive changes on their way of work. It’s natural behavior or human beings and, the company as a leaving organ, inherits this characteristic. However, in order to embrace the change, we need to acknowledge they exist and act on it. Vocabulary and new practices in place are the best way to mark the start of a new era/new way of work. This is how people, part of the organization, will recognize that changes are happening, and they will do their best to fit on these new times.

  • Everyone needs to be agile: Either we have everyone working in agile, or nothing is going to work. Organizations fail to recognize that agile is a tool, not an end on itself and, as such, we need to “diagnose” where we can benefit from this tool and where we it won’t bring any benefit. It’s not one size fits all, but rather an adaptative approach, knowing your context and using the needed remedy in order to solve one (or more) specific problem. If you need, use it. If don’t need it, don’t use it. Simple as that.

  • Multi-tasking is key: Have you ever wondered why people are starting a lot, which gives you a false sensation of progress, but, in the end, nothing seems to be finished? Or even, many of your items get carried over during a lot of time, from one iteration to another, and another? If that’s your case, take a look at how your teams are performing, if they have many interruptions and, beyond that, if they are doing many things (2+) at the “same time”. Multitasking is the most efficient way to be inefficient, as people and teams lose focus on what really matters, so they start a lot, and finish a few. Task switching requires time to disconnect from the old task, reconnect to the other one and start performing. Many studies suggests that you lose around 20% of time when you need to task switch from one task to another and vice versa. Now, put this onto scale for a team, a big team of teams (100+ members), and you’ll see the amount of inefficiency you are adding on your organization just because you ask your developers “Can you add this field here, it’s really quick and our customer need it for tomorrow morning”;

  • Agile is the art of hugging trees: Please don’t get me wrong, I love nature but, many companies are hiring very dogmatic agile coaches — they act as if they are part of the “Church of agile”. Agile has nothing to do with dogma, or sect. It is an adaptative way, based on experimentation that will focus on what values the most to customers, organization and people involved. If you feel like your meetings and events are becoming a “ritual” rather than productive work meetings, take a deep look into it. Then adapt.

  • Being busy is key: A good number of managers are focused on ensuring that people always have things to do, so their personal backlogs are full until the end of the year. Have a serious conversation with your people, asking them about their accomplishments on the day, the last few days. Many will let you know that they have worked on a huge number of things, being very busy all times, but real accomplishments are rare. They feel like they’ve worked like hell, but they did nothing. Being busy is not what really matters, but work smart is. Work on what really matters, focus on those few things that will add a lot of value, sequence the job, do not multitask and give your people time and means to learn, improve and innovate.

And on your company, have you recognized any of these anti-patterns? Or, what anti-patterns have you experienced so far?

Wish you great agile winds!