Getty Images

Agile transformation continues to be a goal for many organizations. The old sequential approach to product delivery (Waterfall) is no longer adequate. To respond to change and compete with the speed of globalization, companies must move to an Agile model. The goal to improve agility is not limited to the tech industry. Financial services, retail, healthcare, and many others are all on board with Agile.

Many companies find the shift to Agile difficult. As a consultant, I know the challenges firsthand. Some of the problems are more difficult than others. For example, companies with a culture at odds with Agile values is a major problem. No number of Agile consultants will be able to come in and change a company’s culture. Other, more avoidable problems are due to managerial decisions.

This article is about how management can destroy an Agile transformation in three easy steps. To be clear, this is what not to do.

1- Put a non-Agile person in charge of the Agile transformation

I know this sounds ridiculous, but I have seen it happen many times. A CEO, who does not understand Agile, provides a bucket of money to a senior leader, usually in IT. The CEO says, go off and do that Agile thing you keep talking about. Unfortunately, the CEO does not realize that they put the wrong person in charge. It is difficult for people who spent their whole career working in a traditional Waterfall setting to change their mindset. They might claim on the outside that they are for Agile, but often their behavior conflicts.

There is no surer way to destroy an Agile transformation than to put a Waterfall person in charge. My recommendation to companies is to create a new position for the role of the Agile leader. Look within the company to find the right person, someone with an Agile mindset, to fill the role. If the right person does not exist within the company, then hire one from outside.

2 – Keep using a balanced matrix organizational structure

The balanced matrix organizational structure is suitable for Waterfall, not Agile.  Agile is about using stable cross functional product delivery teams. Work gets flowed through the teams, as opposed to forming teams around work. Agile organizations use a Product delivery model, not a Project model. For more on how the balanced matrix organization conflicts with Agile, see my post “Why Middle Management Is The Ultimate Agility Killer“. For more on the importance of changing from a Project to Product model, see my post “Why Product Focus Is So Important“.

3 – Force teams to use specific tools and processes

In Agile, individuals and interactions are valued more than processes and tools. The traditional PMO mindset loves processes and tools. Some of the clients I have worked with would have meetings upon meetings discussing processes. You need processes but PMOs bogged down with processes and bureaucracy kill agility. The same is true with tools. Forcing all teams to use the same tool, like Jira or VersionOne, is not good. Often management will want teams to use the same tool for reporting purposes. This is wrong because Agile teams need to be empowered and have autonomy.


If you want to improve your chances of having a successful Agile transformation, do the following. 1) Put someone in charge of the transformation who has an Agile mindset. Do not use someone who has worked their whole career using Waterfall. 2) Do away with the balanced matrix organizational structure. Put in place stable product delivery teams with single line management structures. Start delivering using a product model instead of a project model. 3) Let teams be autonomous, do not impose rigid compliance to processes and tools.

About the Author: Mike MacIsaac is the principal consultant for MacIsaac Consulting. Mike provides leadership as an IT Project and Program Manager as well as an Agile Scrum Master. You can follow Mike on Twitter@MikeMacIsaac or subscribe to Mike’s blog.