How to support a team through an agile transformation

It’s no exaggeration to say an agile transformation at any organisation requires a seismic shift in the way the entire team, from the top down, thinks and works.


It’s no exaggeration to say an agile transformation at any organisation requires a seismic shift in the way the entire team, from the top down, thinks and works.

This type of change never happens overnight. But even when organisations plan for it over many months, there can be bumps in the road. Potential challenges are numerous and can include lack of, or inappropriate training, resistance to change, and poor messaging.

Here, we set out some insights and tips, derived from our own observations, for how such a transformation can be introduced smoothly, avoiding common pitfalls.

Assess your team’s knowledge of agile

Most people know a little about agile – that it means making iterative changes until you reach the desired result rather than working towards wholesale change in one hit. It means testing changes to see what works and making incremental alterations according to the test results.

But over or underestimating knowledge of agile can mean a transformation fails before it has really got underway. In previous employment, we have watched an organisation send out a 100-slide deck explaining how things will change and followed up with a 50-question survey. The transformation was then declared successful as a tick box exercise with no regard for the mindset shift needed for agile, or the impact on company culture. We have seen another initiative fail to give enough time to the transition. In this instance, new processes and ways of working had not been agreed, the change happened suddenly for most team members, and the result was immense confusion and uncertainty. It goes without saying that the change in both organisations failed to set teams up for success.

One of the many great elements of agile is the autonomy it gives every member of a team to make sensible decisions without having to defer up the chain. But people without enough knowledge of the agile process can’t make decisions if they don’t know exactly how it works.

When it comes to training, one size does not fit all. We always recommend persona-based training which involves finding out how much knowledge every individual has and then offering different levels of instruction. You can still get everyone to the same level by taking a varied approach. Failing to do this, can result in a loss of interest before the process has even started.

Support practical and mindset changes

It is human nature to want to visualise an outcome. People need a clear vision of how the organisation will operate and how their jobs will be affected on a day-to-day basis in the new world. This needs to be supported by the leadership team.

We start our training at the top. The leadership team should know exactly how new processes will work. Once they have bought into change and understand it, they can start to take their team on the journey. 

Tell teams about change in a timely manner

Gradually give teams and individuals time to adjust to change by breaking information into sizeable chunks and always be transparent throughout the journey.

Informing teams at the last minute of changes will often mean one thing - the go-live day is chaotic. To avoid a crisis, have target dates but don’t be afraid to change them if they aren’t being met. Give people enough time to perform dry runs of processes. Test and test again, all the time making sure that people understand how things will work.

Finally, make it easy for people to give feedback

In agile transformations, it’s very unlikely the first iteration is going to be perfect. Subsequent iterations are created from data and feedback from your people. 

Open, honest, and constructive retrospectives (agile ceremonies that happen at the end of every sprint) are a good opportunity to allow teams and individuals to discuss what has worked well and areas for improvement across the board. This enables the team to agree a set of actions to tackle any issues.

It’s critical that people feel involved in the process and have played a part in helping to design the new operation. This way they will feel invested in the change and the organisation will have a team that really drives the transformation and wants it to succeed.