Caterpillar to Butterfly

From Caterpillar To Butterfly With Agile

Transforming your company’s culture to the Agile methodology

By Miljan Bajic

In my last blog post, “A Call for Agility in the Age of Constant Change”, I wrote how it is indisputably clear that Agile is becoming a mainstream methodology, and that Agile is winning the race when it comes to completing complex projects. Many organizations have adopted some aspects of Agile in order to become more proficient, customer centric, and reduce time to market.

Transitioning to an Agile process like Scrum can be challenging. Transitioning form a traditional practices towards an Agile methodology is similar to caterpillar morphing into a butterfly. Transformation is powerful and demands a lot of determination and time. Initiating the transformation to an Agile process like Scrum or XP is straightforward; succeeding with Scrum, XP or both and becoming a truly Agile organization is much harder.

Most of the companies that have adopted some Agile practices are partially successful and only see small fraction of the possible benefits. According to the CHAOS Manifesto 2013 (The Standish Group, 2013), only 42% of projects are successful and 49% are late and over budget. About nine-percent of all Agile projects fail completely. These results are still favorable since Agile projects are as three times more successful than non-Agile projects (CHAOS Manifesto 2011). However, the bottom line is that there are many instances of poor implementations of Agile. Unpractical applications of Agile methodology increase the risk of failure because of lack of guidance, limited knowledge, and proper infrastructure.

Embarking on a corporate metamorphosis

Here is my list of 5 things you should consider before you start transforming your company’s culture to being Agile:

1. Mindset Change – One of the most common mistakes almost everyone makes is thinking that Agile is a series of steps and if you learn the steps, you have implemented Agile in your organization. Rather than simply following Agile methods and steps, a company needs to learn to be Agile by restructuring the way it operates and thinks rather than just implementing these specific steps. Agile introduces new ways of doing work and it requires new ways of thinking about that work. Becoming truly Agile is a difficult progression that requires a mindset and culture change within the entire organization. You need to have a desire to fly so much that you are prepared to give up being a caterpillar. You need to do whatever is necessary to change your mindset. It will not happen by chance.

2. Continuous Training – Create a culture of learning. Get your Agile experts to train everyone in the company as well as your clients so that everyone understands the Agile approach and mindset. It is essential to have Agile “evangelists” in the organization who have a necessary knowledge about the processes. Agile can only be successful if everyone understands what it is. An ongoing training and professional development is a key to succeeding with Agile. Transitioning to Agile could save your company and your clients a lot of money. However, without fully understanding the practice and fully embracing the culture, you will only be partially successful and you will only see a small fraction of the possible benefits.

3. Roles and Responsibilities – A ScrumMaster is not a Project Manager. Agile team members are not working within traditional roles. People’s roles and responsibilities are going to change. Developers, testers, designers and business people work together as a closely integrated team, each adding their own viewpoint, but not restricted to doing only the tasks conventionally fulfilled by their old roles. You need to have a plan for changing the roles and getting people in the organization comfortable with their new responsibilities. Furthermore, you need to have an Agile guidance and an adoption strategy in order for people to know what they are supposed to do, and what they need to do to be successful.

4. Physical Environment – Create a physical environment conducive to collaboration. Agile team members flourish when they work diligently together in a physical environment that supports the Agile methods. It is important to co-locate teams in order to foster communication and maximize productivity. Having co-located teams cultivates closer working relationships and provides the opportunity for uninterrupted collaboration. The idea is to avoid silos and delays.

5. Agile Contracts – Make sure your contracts are flexible to align with your Agile approach. The contracts should represent the iterative nature of Agile working. Contracts should require customers and their representatives to maintain involvement with the process for the full duration of the project. Many studies have shown that sustained customer involvement is a key factor in ensuring the success of projects.

Being Agile is key to successfully transforming to an Agile way of working, but not all teams and organizations are equally adaptable. Transitioning to Agile involves high levels of organizational transformation and it requires training and executive backing in order to be successful. Furthermore, transiting to Agile methodology is not a one-time look at a organization’s process, it is an on-going philosophy based on continuous improvement.


Ultimately, a caterpillar needs to recognize his inherent potential and then transform into a butterfly in order to fly. Similarly, when a company realizes its full potential and becomes truly Agile, it will maximize all of the possible benefits.

In future posts I plan to reflect more deeply on each of the topics above, and I would love your feedback, pushback, and/or suggestions on each.