Undertaking an Agile adoption has almost become an imperative for organizations. Unfortunately, many of those recently beginning their journey have little understanding of the risks involved. Worse, the two most popular frameworks (Scrum and SAFe) ignore these risks – not even mentioning them. The pretension is that becoming agile is de rigueur, so go with the most popular. It seems the safe route to take (no pun intended).

Undertaking an Agile adoption should be focused on improving value delivery according to the needs/desires of the stakeholders.  It should not be focused on just adopting a framework. These two are distinctly different.

Regardless of how you look at it, there are risks to any improvement and/or adoption initiative. Therefore, one should consider the start of this initiative a type of project. And, as with all projects, you need to be aware of the risks, eliminate those possible and mitigate/manage the rest.

While Agile approaches attend to the risk of building the right product, most avoid the conversation about the risk of undertaking them. It is perhaps the only type of project where risk is ignored. This is dangerous given that Agile adoptions are high risk, as indicated by the high failure rate of Agile adoptions.

If we agree with Einstein’s definition of insanity – “doing the same thing over and over again while expecting a different result,” we must conclude that adopting Agile without attention to risk is insane. A short perusal on social media quickly finds companies starting and restarting Scrum and SAFe adoptions.

While people pushing frameworks may not want you to think about the risks their approaches entail, you certainly should. What other project do you undertake without considering the risk of it? What other project is as important as this? Being truly able to deliver value quickly, sustainably, predictably, and with high quality is a competitive edge. Learning how to do it is not trivial.

Understanding the risk of Agile adoptions is best served by collaboratively learning about them. Also, not all organizations face the same risks. Therefore, we have set up a virtual board where you can learn more about the risk of Agile adoptions, ask questions, and learn both from Success Engineering and your peers. You can find this board here. The following are a few of the risks identified. Being aware of them will significantly help you on your way. But don’t expect all of those people selling you an approach to tell you about them.

Success Engineering offers two classes of services. Our Disciplined Agile workshops and our Collaborative Engagements incorporate both risk awareness/mitigation and navigating complexity in them.   

In this article, we list out a beginning set of the risks facing an organization adopting Agile methods. Some risks are inherent in adoptions, and some have more to do with the chosen method. These risks are organized in the following categories:

  • Adoption risks of frameworks
  • General adoption risks
  • People risks
  • Practices and theory

When viewing the following risks, you’ll notice that most frameworks don’t even mention them as risks or tell you how to deal with them. But ignoring risks only increases the chance that they will manifest badly.

 Adoption risks of frameworks

Frameworks have their own particular risks because they take a preset approach which may or may not apply to the organization adopting it.

  1. Some people in the organization will insist on implementing it uniformly across the organization.
  2. The framework will be misunderstood and/or adopted improperly.
  3. The framework is being adopted blindly.

General adoption risks

  1. Not moving fast enough and missing opportunities.
  2. Being disruptive when you don’t need to be.
  3. Not working on the real problem.
  4. Not attending to the entire value stream and/or getting only local optimizations.

People risks

  1. Management does not understand what they need to do.
  2. Management won’t let go of command and control.
  3. People don’t have the skills to make the transition.
  4. The approach does not fit the culture of the organization.
  5. People have the wrong attitude about the initiative.
  6. Lack of engagement and/or resisting the initiative.
  7. Overwhelming people with the initiative and/or experiencing change fatigue.

Practices and theory related risks

  1. Not providing fit-for-purpose practices.
  2. Not having a way to fill in the gaps when new practices are needed.
  3. Using timeboxing when flow would be better (and vice versa).
  4. Useful value creation structures are not being provided.
  5. The approach is overly simple and requires people to recreate known practices.
  6. The approach is overly complicated, and simpler solutions are available but not presented.
  7. Being provided a limited range of practices because the people providing the approach are not familiar with alternatives that would be useful.

You’ll find more at our Miro board on the risk of Agile adoptions. Please join us.