Category: Technology Consulting

Leading cause of failed Agile projects? Company culture not aligned with core Agile values

In the 2015 VersionOne state of Agile survey, the top reason for failed Agile projects (46% of respondents) was company culture being at odds with core Agile values.


I’ve experienced this myself. Companies understand they need to get better at delivering software, so they decide to assemble Agile teams and bring in training.

The Agile teams use all the Agile practices, yet leadership sees little improvement. Why is there little improvement? Usually it’s because the company has a philosophy and culture that are at odds with core Agile values.

Below are the core values outlined in the Agile manifesto:

Individuals and interactions over processes and tools
Working software over comprehensive documentation
Customer collaboration over contract negotiation
Responding to change over following a plan

Organizations have to have the ability to adapt to change. The advance of technology and globalization have made this an absolute need to stay competitive.

Adopting Agile is not just about improving how a small project team delivers software. It’s bigger than that. Leadership has to get on board with Agile values and principles. Organizations of the future will be dynamic,  fluid, and need leadership at all levels. The days of a static hierarchy org structure will soon be long gone.

The question remains, what should leadership do to align the company culture with Agile core values? My advice is to not try and change the culture head on. Many have tried and failed. Instead, allow the Agile team(s) to adapt their own rules and culture. Think of them as an organization within an organization. Allow them exceptions to old buerecratic processes. Help them remove any impediments that’s slowing them down. Let them develop their own mini culture.

Once you do this and start seeing success, you can then begin to expand out the new culture. The idea is to start changing the company culture in small chunks, one area at a time.

For large organizations, changing company culture is a monumental challenge. You need leadership at the top to champion the change. You’ll need buy in and a sense of urgency.

Once Agile core values align with company culture, product delivery will go faster and changing priorities will be managed better.

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Leadership vs management – The difference and why one is not better than the other

Leadership vs management. Often you will see people writing about how leadership is better than management. There will be comparisons that say something like “a manager controls a team, a leader empowers a team”.

Businessman Standing on Steps Outside Talking Through a Megaphone, Large Group of Business People Listening and Applauding

I am big on the importance of leadership, but I think we are getting this management vs leadership view wrong. Management and leadership are two different things. They both are important and valuable to an organization.

Let’s start with management. We take it for granted, but management is something that we created just over the past century. The core practices of management are planning, budgeting, staffing, controlling, and problem solving.

Management practices started with the creation of the railroads. They gave us the ability to develop and manage large organizations. Management ensures an organization functions the way it was designed.

Leadership is about having a vision for the future and creating a strategy to get there. Leaders create change, and they do so by getting people to buy into their vision. Leaders motivate and they create the systems, or change the systems, that managers manage.

So it’s not that leadership is better than management or vice versa. They are both critical to the success of an organization. Yet, globalization and technology have forced organizations to have the ability to change. For this reason, there is a now a great demand for leadership. Organizations need to have people who can lead, and not just from the top. We need leaders at all levels, from CEO to team member.

Most of our business schools focus their curriculums on management. Going forward, schools will need to start focusing more on the importance of leadership. In my opinion, organizational hierarchy structures will be a thing of the past within the next two decades. We’ve already seen this happening.

Management will still be necessary, but organizations will operate in a more flattened team based approach. Cross functional teams will be autonomous and empowered. This will enable organizations to adapt to change. The team based approach needs leadership at every level. Organization structure will look more like a mind map than a top down org chart.

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The powerful benefits of value stream mapping – improving your software development process


Value stream mapping is a powerful tool. It’s used to identify and remove bottlenecks in your organizations value stream.  Before going further about the mapping, let me first touch on what a value stream is. I’ll also describe the theory of constraints.

Your organizations value stream is the end to end process used to deliver a product to the customer. For example, it may begin as a request from a customer, and end once the customer has the finished product. The stream contains all the activities it takes to get the customer the finished product. Each activity contains a work time, and a wait time.

The theory of constraints says that the best way to optimize an organization is to focus on throughput. Throughput is the key to generating profitable revenue. The way to increase throughput is to look for the current bottleneck that is slowing things down and fix it. Once removed, find the next bottleneck and fix that. Keep this up and you will have a fast-moving value stream (Goldratt, E 1984).

Creating a value stream map – “Mapping your value stream is a good way to start discovering waste in your software development process. In industry after industry, the process of mapping the value stream has invariably led to deeper insights about how internal processes work or don’t work to meet customer needs” (Poppendieck, 2003).

An easy way to create a value stream map is to have a project team gather around the whiteboard. The process shouldn’t take long. You should be able to do this in an hour or less. Write out all key activities in your value stream. For each activity, write down how much work time it takes, and how much wait time there is.

For example, you may find it takes on average 2 weeks to code for a project, but it takes an extra 3 weeks to move the code to test. This extra 3 weeks is wait time that doesn’t provide any value to the customer. It is waste.

After creating the value stream, identify the biggest bottlenecks in your process. The goal is to increase flow and value added time in the system. Focus on the fixing the biggest bottleneck, then continue to fix the next bottleneck.

In software development, it is common to find that the biggest bottlenecks occur after development and testing are complete. This is why it’s so important for organizations to be moving towards a lean software development model.

Below is a picture of a value stream map from the book Lean Thinking, by James Womack and Daniel Jones.



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Mary and Tom Poppendieck, Lean Software Devleopment

Eliyahu M. Goldratt, The Goal

Leadership is …

This morning I attended a Bethel University alumni breakfast in St Paul Minnesota, hosted by BethelBizBrian Provost, class of 91, gave a great talk on leadership.

During Brian’s talk, he shared a video of kids describing leadership. The kids in the video are from the Banyan Community. Banyan is a Christian nonprofit that helps kids in the south Minneapolis area.

Below is the wonderful video of the kids sharing their thoughts on leadership. I couldn’t agree with them more!

10 proven tactics to successfully implement change

change ahead

People don’t like change. We feel a sense of unease when we have to do something new, something different. In the morning, I park my car in the same area, every day. If I can’t find a spot in that area, it bothers me.

If something as small as changing our parking spot bothers us, think about how we react to a huge change to our jobs. In IT, take Agile adoption for example. People who worked in silos for years, are suddenly sitting side by side. Interacting near team members, and transparency of work, is completely new for them.  It’s not hard to see why a change like this will cause some resistance.

Aside from people not liking change, there are other forces that make change difficult. This is why it’s so important to have a change plan. If you have a good change plan you can overcome the resistance.  Below is a list of 10 tactics that will help you be successful.

Build a Coalition of Support – You have to build a coalition of support for your change effort. Treat it like you are campaigning for office. Talk to people, especially those with influence, and get their buy in for the change. The more people you have supporting the effort, the better things will go.

Create a sense of urgency – You have to create a sense of urgency to get things moving. If people don’t think the change is an urgent need, everything will slow down and eventually grind to a halt. One effective way for creating a sense of urgency is providing data to back up the change need.

Over communicate daily – Under communication is one of the biggest reasons change efforts fail. Come up with creative ways to communicate, and do it on a daily basis. It may feel like you are communicating too much, but you’re not. Use email, web and blog posts, videos, presentations and other creative methods.

Get CEO’s public support – The CEO has less influence on change efforts than you may think. But, it still helps to get the CEO’s public support. (this doesn’t have to be the CEO, it may be a director or VP).

Conduct Private Interviews, particularly with resistors – Meet with people privately to get their support. Talk to the resistors and try to connect with them on a personal level. If you’re faced with someone who is adamant about not supporting the change, go around them. Don’t waste time trying to convert someone who is difficult. Instead, get them out of the way. Check out John Kotter’s video here on dealing with resistors.

Hold Town Halls – Give presentations at Town Halls or All Hands meetings. When presenting, deliver your message in a story format. Tell people why the change is happening, and how it will benefit them and the company.

Recognize Early Adopters – Recognize early adopters, tell them they are doing a great job. People get motivated when they are recongnized. The recognition also provides incentives for others to start adopting the change.

Announce Goals and Deadlines – Set a goal so people align on what you’re trying to do. Back to my Agile adoption example, a goal might be something like the following: In 6 months, a cross functional Scrum team will deliver software in two week iterations. All team members will go through training and be Agile certified.

Tell a ‘success’ story – It’s important to promote success stories. If one team has adopted the change, promote their success to the organization. You can do this in a variety of ways of communication. One fun way of promoting a success story is through the use of video.

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50% of your meetings are a waste of time!


Clutter! It shows up in all areas of our lives. At home, it’s easy to recognize clutter. When I arrive home at night, I can see when clutter starts building up in the kitchen and living room. I blame it on my 3 year old. At work, a different type of clutter happens and it’s harder to recognize.

I’m referring to meetings. We love to fill our calendars with meetings. The problem is that most meetings we attend don’t add value. Yes, when we first scheduled them, they seemed like a good idea. We then discover, after 1 or 2 meetings, they are unnecessary. Yet, we continue to attend them, knowing we are wasting our time.

Think about it. How many meetings do you attend where you provide the same updates, to the same people?

Observe people’s behavior when you are in meetings. Are they engaged and having a dialogue? Or is everyone looking down and frustrated? If the latter is true, there’s a good chance the meeting needs to go.

Time is our most precious resource and we can’t afford wasting it in meetings that don’t add value. Take a good look at your calendar and sit down with your colleagues to review the meetings. Decide what meetings are unnecessary, then get rid of them!

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3 mammoth reasons your Agile adoption strategy is doomed

Over the past decade companies finally realized there’s a better way to deliver software. It’s called Agile. If you work in technology, this shouldn’t be news to you. If you are unfamiliar with Agile, check out the Agile manifesto here. In Agile, the development team delivers software in short iterations. They partner with stakeholders to ensure they are building the right product. The process is faster, more efficient, and more collaborative than traditional software development.


Companies have caught on to the benefits of Agile. Agile began as an organic evolution of software development. It has now become a top down order. Thou shalt be Agile! Executives and managers order their technology teams to go and “be Agile”. They force people to leave the comfort of their cubicles. They put them in a overcrowded pod with no privacy co-located work space. They bring in coaches and expect teams to become Agile out of the gate.

What is the result of this forced top down order to be Agile? Unhappy teams who give off the external appearance of being Agile, but are far from it. They have daily standups, report velocity, and produce burn down charts. They do all they can to show the leadership team that they have become Agile, and the leadership team buys it.

Here’s the thing:    

Moving from a traditional SDLC to Agile is a huge change. Combine that with the fact that people in general don’t like change and you have a major challenge. It’s more than just a changing processes, it’s changing culture. In an Agile environment, team members need to collaborate. They need to be open and honest. They need to sit near each other. They need to actually talk to each other (what a concept)!

Becoming Agile is difficult for employees that worked in isolation for many years. They may feel insecure about being transparent with their work. They may also be afraid that by being more transparent, they will have less job security. They can be quick to judge or find fault with any new processes introduced. All it takes is one team member who isn’t drinking the Agile Kool-Aid to infect a whole team.

Here are 3 reasons why companies fail when trying to become Agile:

1) They don’t invest – Making the change to Agile is an organizational investment. I’m not just referring to a time and emotional investment (which it is). I’m also referring to the cold hard green stuff. Especially for large organizations, if you want to do this right, you will need to bring in help. You’ll also need to invest in the right tool set like Atlassian JIRA or VersionOne. This is where most companies go wrong. They hire one person to come in as an Agile coach. The coach will try to help for several months. Employees are then sent to a 1 or 2 day Agile training course. 

2) They are not in it for the long haul –  Spotify, Twitter and Yahoo had success implementing Agile. They did so by bringing in coaches, implementing training, tools, and organizing practice groups. Their Agile adoption didn’t happen over a matter of months, the transition took years. Leadership teams need to approach Agile adoption with a long term strategy.

3) They under communicate – Agile adoption is a huge change initiative. When taking on any change initiative, companies tend to under communicate by a lot. It is the responsibility of the leadership team to put a communication plan in place. Employees need to understand why the company is making the change to Agile. They need to know how it benefits them and the organization. Some creative ways to communicate include emails, newsletters, meetings, focus groups, and social media. The communication needs to be happening on a daily basis. Below is a great video on communicating a vision for change. The video is by Harvard leadership professor John Kotter:

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Introducing MacIsaac Consulting, a technology leadership company

For our first blog post, I’m thrilled to announce the start of MacIsaac Consulting! We are a new IT consulting company based in the twin cities of Minneapolis/St Paul.

As someone who has worked in the trenches of IT for over 15 years, it became clear to me a change was needed. Most IT firms don’t understand the importance of leadership and collaboration. They staff resources based only on their technical skills. Companies then suffer when they bring on technical resources who can’t work well with a team.

Gone are the days when IT would isolate from the rest of the organization, left to sit alone while writing code. Today, IT needs to engage with the business from the start of project initiation. Cross functional teams must partner early with the business to deliver effective technical solutions. The shift to Agile has made this collaboration an absolute necessity.

At MacIsaac Consulting, we are raising the bar for IT consulting. Our goal is to provide not only best in class technical experts, but also leadership. Real leadership doesn’t come in the form of a title or position. Leadership is when we put the greater good of the team before ourselves. Leaders exude a “can do” attitude and they do all they can to help their teammates. 

Our core values are trust, commitment and results. 

If you are interested in our services, connect with us here. We are strong advocates of Agile software delivery. 

If you are interested in joining our team, email your resume to Mike at [email protected] We are looking for entrepreneurial minded individuals who are ready to change the game!

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Stay tuned for exciting updates from MacIsaac Consulting!

Kind Regards,

Mike MacIsaac – President and Principal Consultant



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