Agile Book – Culture

For the final blog post in our series about our upcoming book, Introduction to Agile Methods, we are going tackle the cultural impacts of an Agile implementation.  Agile is a simple set of concepts to understand (once you read the book, of course) but that doesn’t mean it is easy to implement.  It can be challenging for organizations to adopt principles like self-organizing teams, continuous improvement and frequent delivery.  This chapter examines creating an Agile culture from the perspectives of a team member, manager and an executive.

Learning Objectives

  • Understand organizational culture and why it matters in an Agile implementation
  • Dive into ways things might be different in an Agile organization from a developer, manager, and executive viewpoint
  • Look at successes and failures in behaviors to see the cultural impacts
  • Understand how the Agile principles drive different behaviors in an organization
  • Investigate the healthy team dynamics of self-organization teams, continuous improvement, frequent delivery, effective seating arrangements, incorporating virtual resources, and adapting to the changing environment
  • Explore how an Agile workplace differs for managers and the ways that they must change with regard to teamwork, trust, and transparency
  • Review the role of executives and how their behavior can position an Agile transformation for success with executive alignment, respecting priorities, creating supportive environments for the teams, and driving the right behaviors with metrics

There is so much great content in this chapter, it is hard to pick one excerpt to spotlight.  We chose the executive viewpoint and how important it is for the executive sponsor to embrace the change and provide consistent leadership.

Staying the Course

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An Agile transformation is challenging for most organizations. Some command and control managers will fight the change, offering dire predictions of failed projects as examples of why this is a bad idea. Developers may not embrace the increased accountability and transparency, and some may choose to leave the organization. There are new expenses in the form of seating arrangements, training, and Agile tools that may stress the budget. Agile transformations also have a history of bringing chronic issues that the organization has ignored for years to the surface where they must be confronted. All of these are reasons why an executive might abandon the effort and simply revert to what is comfortable (but ineffective). Any change worth making is going to require effort, and Agile is no different. The strong Agile executive will work through these issues without wavering on the commitment to Agile.

Let’s examine these instances individually to identify the best reaction by a truly Agile executive.

  • The command and control manager is uncomfortable. This often takes the form of bringing up the multitude of ways that Agile could fail—the teams cannot self-organize, our clients are too demanding, our software is too complex, we are impeded by government regulations, our business partners are too inexperienced, and so on. Each of these hurdles, and many others, has been overcome by organizations with Agile. The Agile executive needs to resist the urge to slow down the implementation and carefully think through every possible scenario. Instead, he or she should embrace the “inspect and adapt” mantra of Agile by moving rapidly and carefully forward and learn from every decision. Do not let fear of what could happen delay the positive outcomes of what will happen.
  • Developers self-select out of the organization. There are certainly people in every organization that we believe we cannot live without; their domain expertise or years of experience make them assets to the organization. Agile supports these experts and provides them with opportunities to contribute in ways they may never have before. The employees that see and desire the collaboration and accountability associated with Agile are critical to the longevity of the organization. Those that are threatened by Agile and want to withhold their expertise or refuse to try new alternatives will ultimately hold the organization back. Certainly, their departure is disruptive, but it can and should be managed by an Agile executive. Creating an environment of continuous learning involves identifying and rewarding those who want to join the transformation.
  • New expenses. Agile does not break a budget, nor does it come for free. If you are truly committed to changing an organization’s culture, then spending money on training and tools and possibly even new hires is an investment—not an expense. Asking an organization to convert to Agile without any additional budget is not demonstrating the necessary commitment to the change. Agile executives need to “put their money where their mouth is” and authorize the appropriate expenditures to ensure success.

An Agile executive will stay the course when confronted with issues and concerns. Making an Agile transformation cannot be optional to the organization: Either the executives are committed or they are not. There can be no wavering, because the minute an executive indicates that it is acceptable to continue with the old ways of doing business, many people will fall back into their old, comfortable patterns that will not deliver the desired results.


The cultural impacts of an Agile transformation can certainly be profound. Our textbook is designed to describe Agile in a relatable way for students and professionals to learn about many elements of Agile such as  RolesRequirementsTechnical Debt,  Tracking and Marketing.  Our chapter on culture includes topics such as team dynamics, physical work spaces, the changing role of management, evolving requirements, prioritization, sustainability, technical excellence, commitments and much more.  Our chapter includes an interview with Scott Ambler, author of Disciplined Agile delivery: A practitioner’s guide to Agile software delivery in the enterprise.

Sondra Ashmore and I hope that you have enjoyed this blog series of excerpts from our book.  If you are inspired to do so, please feel free to buy the book, available on Amazon.

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