Developing an Agile Company Culture

Developing an Agile company culture can be a major obstacle to successfully implementing an Agile development approach; however, it doesn’t have to be that difficult.

  • Some people make the mistake of thinking that you have to change the entire culture of a company in order to adopt an Agile development approach
  • I don’t believe that is necessarily the case. A company’s culture should be designed around whatever business they are in and
  • That may or may not be well-aligned with implementing an Agile development approach

See my previous blog post on “Agile and Corporate Culture” for more discussion on this.

Agile Company Culture
Organizational Culture Word Cloud on White Background

Impact of Agile Company Culture

The nature of the company’s business can have a big impact on the implementation of Agile. Agile works best:

  • In companies that are in the business of developing products or
  • Where software product development is directly related to their primary business

In other companies where the relationship is more indirect, it can be much more difficult to implement an Agile development approach. In those companies, an Agile development approach may not be as well-aligned with the company’s primary business objectives. Check out this article for more on that:

What Are the Most Important Factors?

Here are a few of what I think are the most important factors in developing a corporate culture that is consistent with Agile:

1. Transparency and Trust

In many large corporations,

  • There is somewhat of a contractual relationship between the business users and the people who deliver Information Technology solutions.
  • The business users may be under intense pressure to reduce costs and want to get firm commitments from the solution providers on the costs and schedules of projects

That is one of the major factors that has can be a big obstacle to implementing an Agile development approach. Sometimes it even creates somewhat of an adversarial relationship between the two organizations. The key to getting past that obstacle is:

  • Companies need to realize that this is not an “all-or-nothing” proposition to totally give up all control of projects to become Agile
  • There are many ways to blend traditional project management principles and practices with Agile principles and practices to develop the right balance of agility and control

See my blog post on a Hybrid Agile framework here:

Developing a spirit of trust, partnership, and collaboration between the two organizations can require some strong executive-level leadership to break down some of the traditional barriers that exist inside of companies. The strongest driving force for making that happen is that it requires a more collaborative partnership approach to focus on rapid innovation.

2. Focus on Continuous Improvement and Innovation

A focus on process improvement and continuous innovation is certainly not new to Agile:

  • It has been around a long time and many companies have successfully adopted continuous improvement approaches based on Six Sigma and other process improvement methodologies
  • A similar thing is happening today with Agile. Companies who take the time and effort to understand Agile at a deeper level and adapt it to their business are probably more likely to do it successfully

3. Respect for People and Self-organizing Teams

This principle is also not new to Agile. It was a key element of Dr. Deming’s principles that form the basis of the Total Quality Management (TQM) approach. I can remember a strong focus on this when I worked at Motorola in the early 1990’s. It’s another thing like Six Sigma that some companies forget about when the pressure gets intense to deliver business results:

  • They sometimes take a superficial, brute-force approach to try to drive business results rather than
  • Taking a systems-thinking approach to understanding the factors that drive business results and the role that people play in achieving those goals

Overall Summary

If you only focus on those three things about a company’s culture, I think you will have a pretty good foundation for implementing an Agile development approach. Those three things are somewhat common to all companies regardless of what business they’re in.

Additional Resources

You will find much more detail on this in my Online Agile Project Management Training.

2 thoughts on “Developing an Agile Company Culture”

  1. Hat dies auf markusernsten rebloggt und kommentierte:
    As there are so many variables in companies and their cultures the least important is that the Management has the willingness to look into Cultural Change (or even to develop a productive Company Culture) ….

  2. Pingback: How Do You Choose the Right Agile Approach for Your Business?

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