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  • Writer's pictureEva Jenisch

Company culture is key in introducing agile successfully

Last week I was speaking to an old friend who is a passionate scrum master.

When I asked him how he was doing at the moment, all his frustration burst out of him. He told me how he tries in vain to accompany his teams through the sprints and is confronted with programmers who only want to program and otherwise be left alone and have no desire for retrospectives, with managers who constantly interfere in the details of the work and the non-existent product owner. Wow, this whole system seemed to me to be as unagile as a Prussian administration.

Once he had gotten rid of his frustration, we talked about how agile working really should be done and what the most important factors for success are. What had gone wrong at his company? His company has traditionally been very technology focused. When introducing agile methods, it often happens in such organizations that the focus is on methods, processes, and tools. All employees are highly trained in agile tools, but things still don't become agile. This focus on technical functionality is simply closest to the company's very own culture.

The term agile refers to the ability to move easily and quickly to maximize customer value. However, if an organization really wants to work in an agile manner, it must enable its teams to plan and execute their tasks under their own responsibility - for this, the teams need to have support and latitude. Agile working means continuous learning and development. This is only possible within an organization with a healthy culture of dealing with failure, i.e., mistakes can happen, they are identified and the next time it will be done better - this without personally criticizing employees.

Central to the success of agile methods is the culture of the company. Two important topics are servant leadership and psychological safety, which are supporting the teams in acting on their own responsibility. The introduction of agile methods must start with the culture of the company and its leadership. To paraphrase a well-known saying, "whereas traditional culture eats agile for breakfast - a new culture can nurture agile for success".

My friend now at least has a plan for moving forward: he's going to reach out to his management and agile coach to raise the culture conversation up the agenda.

What stumbling blocks have you encountered when introducing agile working?

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