Agile, Articles, Culture, General, Posts, Product Owner

Do not throw away the old immediately – the new will not have long

Anyone who deals with Agility as a way into the future for the company, will quickly get the impression that everything has to be thrown overboard. But is that really true?

A typical situation: A medium-sized or even large company is looking for a way out of product development that takes years – but the market demands shorter development cycles, more frequent product releases, in other words “faster time to market”.

The business model, which was still profitable and innovative ten years ago, seems to be more market-driven and has unattractive return targets.

A change is needed. It seems as if the company is heading straight for its end, unless a quick and comprehensive restructuring is undertaken. Here promises Agility, which is as hype in a lot of companies, recovery and rescue. So a project is set up, it should be started small because it is still seen as an experiment by the management and not as a game changer yet. One or two teams are identified who are trying out the new method for the entire company. In a lot of cases we call this pilots (old project thinking !!!) but I prefer the term experiments.

The team(s) selected have as few interfaces to other areas as possible to make this experiment possible. It can almost not fail. It is promising so far, but you have to do a lot for these teams differently. Due to the self-organization, a Product Owner and a Scrum Master as communicators for demand and delivery are enough for the company in the first place. There is no need yet to change the leadership or structure of the company yet.

The team, all volunteers, rushes into the work with enthusiasm and can “produce” undisturbed as it can run as an experiment and has nothing to do with the rest of how the organization is structured or formed.

After about a quarter of a year, first real results are visible and will be presented in the review. Long PowerPoint presentations? Not even close. An Minimal Valuable Product (MVP) is presented. Instead of a meaningless project status report, the progress “live” on the board can be traced. Product Owners and Scrum Masters do everything they can to get the right product and keep the team productive. So far so good.

The successful project should now be rolled out to the whole company with these experiences. And then it becomes interesting. As now we have to deal with the Company Culture, structure, etc. Before I go into the reasons for doing so cautiously and with a view to a healthy degree, here are a few more points on Agility.

How much Agility is necessary?

The headline for this post is a Chinese proverb. That’s why I like it so much, because it describes what happens when you unreasonably dictate Agility.

The principles and values of the Agile Manifesto do not speak of simply throwing everything overboard. It’s about finding the right mix that transforms the business. One is more important over the other but it does not dictate that the other things are not valuable. 

In my view, it is even important to consider how far you want to go with it, because there will always be areas that do not need to be forced to be Agile. Just as you will not necessarily use Six Sigma in the boardroom of the CEO, Agile Scrum or Kanban does not make sense when it comes to clear process flows in the supply operations.

In case of a reorientation or restructuring, the company also examines which resources and skills are available, which one wishes to build up and which financial scope for investment exists. What speaks against doing that when introducing agile methods?

What should be left of the old?

Even if the goal is to create a “new” Agile structured company, it is more sustainable and more effective to check the existing for reusability. So it is real important also to know the current situation. The transition from a classic company to an Agile company is associated with enormous changes. It is not simple an investment in faster pc’s or other tools. And some changes need to be done in steps. To big steps changes are in some situation to complex.

In most cases the effort is to adjust the way employees need to change as they are used to work for a long time in a different way. As tempting as the idea is that employees lead themselves, they are more motivated and more productive: they are people. Nevertheless, or even in times of major changes, such as the introduction of self-organized teams, you need a lot of guidance and guidance on how to do that. (Agile Transition coaches, Culture- and Transformation coaches are being introduced to help to guide the change)

Complement knowledge

Of course you also need to check what equipment the company brings with it, and investments in 3D printers for prototyping are still the most concrete. Here, too, the best way to make the change is to take people on this journey and equip them with further skills. Sometimes it’s simply about supplementing existing knowledge. You will rarely be able to use a designer or a buyer as a software developer. For example in mob programming teams, they can help deliver faster, better quality products. Their requirements and expertise go directly into the product and vice versa they take knowledge about the origin of the product.

Pillars of identity preserved

As in a house that you are renovating, you should look for and keep the load-bearing elements. So long, until the new carries and has replaced the old. These can be people with whom the employees identify themselves, these can be rituals such as a company day, during which employees can get to know each other “privately”. They can be old-fashioned buildings that exude an atmosphere of intimacy.

The transition to Agile is emotional. That’s because people will have to change their mindset. For example, the Product Owner can not give instructions to the Agile Scrum team on how they are going to build a solution. He or she Only can explain What, Why and Who. The Product Owner needs to empower the teams to come with solutions and trust the team that they do. In Design Thinking, brainstorming is about killing your darlings to regain plurality and ideas that best meet customer needs. The change affects all of the values we bring and the experiences we have had in life until then.

Use support specifically

For this reason, external support to help with the Agile transformation can be real valuable. You should get the view from the outside and the knowledge of the possibilities offered by Agile methods on board. A good pilot will tell you what you should focus on and where the runway is to land safe. To say it with different: “For those who do not know the runway, no wind is the right one for them.” Depending on where you are on the journey, practical, operational support can be provided, for example, in method training or as Scrum Master consist. Strategic consulting by Agile transition coaches in an Agile Transition Team (ATT) helps with the implementation on a larger scale.


Agility is interesting for any company, as long as the change happens with a sense of proportion and respect. It is not a formula or business case that can be calculated and returns at a certain time X. It is a constant change to become better and more efficient. But it is a promising path (journey) in a world that is turning to be faster and faster. Properly used, Agility offers the opportunity to combine the best of old and new to act in a fast changing world. Time to Market, being on time is key.



Douwe Attema

As an Agile Transition Coach I am combining more then twenty years of experience in accelerating organizations become more Agile and helped more than 30 companies with their Agile Transformation Journey in different industries. I am helping organizations to achieve measurable and sustainable organizational Agility by being Agile and not just only doing Agile.