Why ‘Going Agile’ Can Scare People In An Agile Transformation

Why ‘Going Agile’ Can Scare People In An Agile Transformation

I work with a lot of teams and help them to adopt Agile thinking and methods. While I am pretty passionate about Agile and many of the team members are as well, I work with many team members who are afraid of Agile. The suggest that they ‘go agile’ is threatening.

Why would people fear Agile if it is such a great thing? Perhaps it isn’t viewed as such a great thing by everyone. Here are some reasons why they might fear agile, Scrum and the idea of ‘going Agile’.


#1 – Change of Any Type is Difficult

Many of us like to think we embrace change. The fact is, change is difficult for all of us.

In his 2005 book Change or Die: The Three Keys to Change at Work and in Life, Alan Deutschman describes a study in which 90% of the heart transplant patients who were faced with lifestyle change or certain death chose death rather than change.

We even suck at small changes such as keeping our New Year’s resolutions. Barely half of us sustain our resolutions beyond the month of January!

Change in an Agile Transformation is massive! Ironically, the people who are pushing the change are generally not the ones who are most impacted by it! They are trying to get others to change and adopt a new way of working. (This includes Agile Transformation coaches like myself!)


#2 – Agile Is Frequently Used as a Weapon

Some people feel that Agile is used against them. They believe it is really just a way for organizations to get more work out of their employees. There are several discussions online on Dark Scrum and Weaponizing Agile; using Agile Methods to actually abuse rather than empower employees. See my recent article on Bad Scrum.

It can happen that managers preach about the importance of Agile but pick and choose which parts they like and apply. Or they talk a good game about empowerment and then undermine team self-organization.

If managers are not changing the culture and team members aren’t really empowered, then you are not becoming more agile.

At a recent client who is just beginning an Agile Transformation, told the Scrum team was told they were now able to self-organize and make their own decisions. They reported to the development manager who heard the same message.

Unfortunately, she heard it but chose not to embrace the team’s right to self-organize. This manager continues to make decisions for the team, meddle in team dynamics, and try to control everything that happens on the team.


#3 – An Agile Transformation May Make Things Too Transparent

Most agile frameworks espouse transparency as a key value. During any type of Agile Transformation, this transparency may be new and unsettling. It can be most difficult for the team members who may feel exposed or vulnerable, especially in the beginning. Agile teams put it all out there.

The team’s work for the sprint is clearly identified on the task board. Every day they get up in front of their team and share what they are working on and their progress (or lack of progress). Everything is out in the open.

Some Scrum team members like this. They tell me it is great to see what their team members are working on; to work together as a team. Others don’t like it so much.

Managers usually love the idea of transparency, but only for their employees and not for themselves. When it comes to transparency at the management level, there is often some pushback.

They tell me “we can’t let our people know about that”. Why not? Will people freak out? Maybe we don’t think of our employees as adults.


#4 – On A Scrum Team, I am No Longer Special

What about team members with unique abilities? I know I freak people out when I talk about T-Shaped skillsets. Some people feel that they have unique talents and wouldn’t want to “waste” their time testing, for example.

If I am the only person who understands a legacy application, they value me (or they cannot afford to let me go). I am the “key person” on the team. And if I am the key person who knows how to configure Charles River, I have marketability and don’t want to learn other skills. The spotlight is on me.

Generally, with Agile, we strive to reduce bottlenecks caused by unique skillsets on the team. We encourage cross-training to eliminate key person dependencies. We reduce “specialness”.

I remember a particular developer in an organization who had a good reputation as a developer. He declined the opportunity to join a Scrum team because he felt he was better than everyone else and didn’t want to be on a team with those he viewed beneath him. He was an eagle that didn’t want to be stuck with the turkeys.


#5 – They Made Me ‘Go Agile’

In many organizations, agility was sprung on the employees. They didn’t have a choice nor were they consulted. I’ve heard of organizations where someone in the C Suite proclaimed that by year end they would have have 75% of their projects using Agile.

This approach can alienate people and make them feel like victims. For ideas on better ways to introduce Agile, read the Bank of America Agile Transformation Success Story.


#6 – We’ve Seen This Movie Before

Some employees have been around long enough to know that with an Agile Transformation “this too shall pass”. They don’t believe that managers will follow through on the change, so they don’t get too excited about it. They’ve seen the movie before and know how it ends.

Managers get excited about the latest bright shiny object – training on lean 6 sigma and getting your greenbelt, or implementing test automation, Dev Ops or Agile Adoption. Cynical employees know that most managers have short spans of attention and will eventually lose interest in a long-term change initiative like an Agile transformation.

The tyranny of the urgent will dominate and sap the will to change.

What do you think – why do you think employees might fear Agile? Would the suggestion to ‘go agile’ be threatening?

You can get resources about Agile Transformation on our Agile Transformation Consulting page.

This Post Has One Comment

  1. Excellent summation of the
    Excellent summation of the main issues impeding the Agile mindset for both organizations and individuals.

    I have experienced each one of these reasons. In my opinion, the primary cause centers on a suspicious and sometimes poisonous atmosphere in organizations before Agile is introduced. Lack of communication, non-transparency, selfishness, promotion of the individual, and elevation of specialization as a value, all need to be addressed if Agile is to stand a chance.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Close Menu