Seven stumbling blocks on the way to an agile business – Part 1
Executive Education / 3 December, 2019
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Geschäftsführer von HelloAgile
Christian Böhmer ist Geschäftsführer von HelloAgile und Experte für agiles Arbeiten und die Einführung in großen Organisationen. Seine Expertise spielt er vor allem in regulierten Branchen wie im Finanz- oder Healthcarebereich sowie der Verwaltung aus.

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Agile project management has many advantages: customer-driven product development, rapid feedback, efficient knowledge transfer, reduced time to market.

The ultimate goal is threefold: to have satisfied customers, motivated employees and successful products. And yet the path to achieving this goal is lengthy and challenging. Sometimes different departments fail to pull together. Sometimes employees aren’t sufficiently involved or empowered. And sometimes everything appears to be fine – and yet ultimately, the company doesn’t end up working any faster or more efficiently. This blog post highlights the seven key stumbling blocks you may encounter on your journey to agile transformation. In retrospect, they appear entirely predictable – indeed, almost impossible to overlook. But while you’re caught up in the throes of change, it’s surprisingly easy to miss them or only recognise them too late.

1. No culture of trust; top-down leadership style

Agile work is based on trust. Teams trust the product owner to make the right decisions for the product. In turn, the product owner trusts the team to find the best solutions. Together, they trust senior management to find the best way forwards for everyone. But if the Board and senior management team don’t show that they trust their employees – and their employees’ decisions – then the workforce won’t trust senior management either. The result is a downward spiral, in worst cases resulting in generalised defensiveness and mistrust of anything new.

What to do?

Become a pioneer. Show trust, even if you harbour some uncertainties yourself. Show that you trust your workforce by opening up. Give your workforce and colleagues the opportunity to take the limelight. Show that you appreciate mistakes, and encourage your team.

 2. No examples to follow

For employees, transformation means enormous uncertainty. New roles pop up, old roles disappear. Line managers change; people are expected to modify their behaviour. If, at this stage, you don’t provide clear answers to the basic question “WHY?”, i.e. clear reasons for these changes, your employees will be unable to make purposeful decisions. If the Board fails to set clear goals, less forthcoming employees might assume that they can simply sit back and wait things out.

What to do?

Visionaries are leaders who inspire people at an emotional level, imbuing employees with a deeper sense of connection and identification with the company. Especially in times of major change, a vision can convey meaning and a sense of direction, as well as providing clarity and security.

3. No employee empowerment

This stumbling block is found at every level of the hierarchy, encompassing both technical and methodological competencies.

Imagine running a company where everyone rides a tricycle. You’ve heard that cycling is much faster, however, so you’re keen to switch all your employees over to bicycles. So you design new cycle paths, hand out tyre pumps, lay off a few tricycle executives and even commission a special bicycle tailored to your specific business needs.

The day of the changeover arrives. Every employee has his or her brand-new bicycle. The infrastructure is in place, all tyres are pumped up – and what happens? Nothing. You forgot to teach your employees how to ride a bike. What happens instead? Your employees go back to their tricycles and ride them on the cycle paths intended for bicycles. Now that’s inefficient.

What to do?

By switching over to “bicycles” (in this case, agile working methods), you’re asking your employees to engage in new patterns of behaviour. But your employees don’t know how to transition from their old behaviour to the new model. You must be absolutely clear about the skills your employees will need, and carefully consider how best to impart them.

And please make sure you test out the new bicycles yourself, before expecting everyone else to ride them!

The second part of this article covers stumbling blocks 4–7.

For further details about our Agile Project Management certification course, please visit our website.