As you might already know, Agility is a set of 4 values and 12 principles, which helps in the adoption and maintenance of an Agile method. It also helps enhance the quality and delivered value by incorporating continuous improvement in all areas. For example, the adoption of TDD, automated unit testing, BDD and clean code practices allow teams to integrate quality and value in their iterative development cycles.

The previous practices have proven to be valuable for organizations that have harnessed their potential, but few have managed to reap the promised benefits of Agile implementations. Why? One of the main reasons is a recurring impediment that has hindered organizations’ abilities to fully incorporate Agile practices in their daily routines: immunity to change (ITC).

ITC is a term coined by Robert Kegan and Lisa Laskow Lahey. It is the difficulty in adopting change in culture, habits, and values at an individual, team, and organizational levels.

As of December 2015, there have been more discussions, blogs, and articles written on this subject than any other aspect of Agility. Yet, organizations, teams, and individuals are quick to dismiss that this is a problem within their Agile adoption. People are simply not ready to be vulnerable and admit having difficulty with changing their habits, let alone their culture and mindset.

As an Agile coach, I have witnessed ITC in every instance of Agile adoption I have worked with. Why is this? The reason is fairly simple; ITC is present in all of us to certain degrees and at different levels. A strong ITC at any level of the organization will definitely make any Agile adoption difficult.

Accompanying a group of Agile coaches for a round at the local pub can be quite a revealing experience. Stories of ITC at individual, team, and organizational levels abound. Most of the comments and observations involve middle management’s struggles in adopting an Agile mindset.

ITC is very present in middle management and this can be explained by the fact that we are literally asking them to go against what they have been taught to do for so many years, which is to manage things and individuals. For that reason alone, I believe Agile adoption to be more difficult for middle managers than other members of the organization. Consequently, they may need to be supported and accompanied with at least as much compassion and attention as any other individual.

So what can be done to reduce the negative impact of ITC in your organization’s adoption of Agility?

  • Clearly identify your organization’s intention in adopting an Agile approach, culture, and mindset.
  • Ensure the intention is aligned with Agile values.
  • Communicate the intention and values to the teams and individuals.
  • Create a support team for the transformation, ideally comprising experienced Agile coaches. A mix of technical and transformational coaches is ideal as they will cover all aspects of the transformation, including ITC.
  • Prioritize continuous improvement as much as ‘‘business as usual’’ activities.
  • Get informed on ITC (I strongly suggest reading Robert Kegan and Lisa Laskow Lahey’s “Immunity To Change: How to Overcome it and Unlock Potential in Yourself and Your Organization” book).
  • Identify areas where ITC is present, including in regard to you.
  • Be there for the teams and individuals that have difficulty with ITC.
  • Encourage autonomy through trust, transparency, and responsible delegation.
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marc-andré langlais

Marc-André is an Agile coach at Epicoaching, member of Pyxis network. He helps build self-organizing teams who evolve in a stimulating and relational environment. Contact him to find out how he can contribute to the success of your teams.

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