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5 Simple Reasons why scrum transformations fail

Any change is extremely difficult. The perceived magic of scrum lures many organizations to move from waterfall to scrum and most often than not transformation initiative turns out to be a complete failure. A few months ago, I spoke in the Silicon Valley scrum summit on this very topic. I have just summarized some of the content below.

  1. Killing two birds with one stone: Combining re-org, (and by re-org, I mean layoffs) with any transformation is like jumping into a volcano. Why organizations decide to do some something like this is a complete mystery. No human is going to keep company success above job security. So, if a transformation means losing their job, people try their level best to ensure that the initiative fails.
  2. Exclusion from decision making – The whole concept of scrum is based on the idea of self-organizing and empowered teams. When a decision to implement a change is taken without consulting “All”(this means all and not the named team leads) the people, it feels like a forced, top down and extremely hierarchical initiative. This goes against the principles that scrum. If the transformation is done using scrum, there is a higher probability of success because it just means that the people involved are interested.  
  3. Assigning roles – The moment you assign roles to people, rather than people opting for it, the transformation gets one step closer to failure.  The general trend is to assign the product owner role to the current architect and scrum master role to the current manager. Everything goes wrong from here because the architect is generally not someone with business acumen and the manager just cannot stop dictating terms to the team.
  4. Square peg in a round hole – Scrum transformation affects not only the development teams but also all the other support functions like marketing, sales, contracting, quality and management. If these teams are not given an overview about how the changes affect them, their work and their processes, it goes to contribute to a complete failure.
  5. Rewards and Recognition – The biggest part of a successful transformation is the change to the rewards and recognition process to suit the agile process. Gone are the days where one super person takes away all the goodies. Everything has to be about the team and the decision to reward individuals has to be taken by the team.  

It’s not like these things are difficult to implement. The thing that stops everything from happening is the willingness to let go of control.

What are your thoughts on this? Have you been involved in a failed transformation? Would love to know from you.

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