5 pitfalls in Agile adoption that hinder digital transformation

February 17, 2023

If you work in a large company experiencing a digital transformation, you’ve already heard about Squad, Daily, Sprint, and Scrum. Am I right?

Many companies use the famous term digital transformation as part of their strategy, using Agile as a primary catalyst to promote new, more adaptable ways of working. Agile can help make digital transformation a success. Learning and developing new competencies and behaviors is crucial to compete in a competitive market.

It’s been 20 years since the creation of the Agile Manifesto. Powerfully influenced by the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic, there was a growth of 86% in company adoption of Agile between 2020 and 2021 (15th State of Agile Report). However, there are still many discrepancies in the understanding and application of agility within organizations. This results in delaying the progress of digital transformation.

Improving digital product creation requires the application of new working methods and more organic and empirical organizational structures for an increasingly quick and competitive market.

To help you and your organization currently undergoing or planning to start adopting Agile, here are 5 common pitfalls that cause friction and resistance to organizational change.

1 – Agile to deliver faster

The first and most common pitfall on our list is the misunderstanding that the same deliveries will be completed quicker using Agile instead of waterfall (a traditional project management method with a fixed scope).

That would be great, right? Unfortunately, this is a myth. Agile does speed up business and reduce the time to market for companies. However, we now have priority deliveries completed ahead of time in smaller packages during short timeframes and with continuous delivery cycles (days, weeks, or months). Agile accelerates solution hypotheses validations and reduces the complexity of new functionality activation. It also enables greater adaptability as the strategy evolves along the needs for changes based on feedback from clients and users, as stated in the manifest: React to changes more than follow a plan.

2 – Sprints are sufficient to be Agile

Sprints became well known due to the spread of the Scrum framework, which is used by 87% of the companies that responded to the 16th State of Agile Report launched in 2022.

Sprint is the centerpiece of Scrum, labeled a closed “time box” that can take from one to four weeks (the most common in many companies is a 2-week sprint) and that provides incremental deliveries at the end of each sprint.

Many companies merely adapted their project calendars to determine how many sprints are needed to conclude a project without obtaining the real benefit of using sprints. The real benefit is the ability to adapt to changes in priority and provide continuous improvement to each new sprint rather than just doggedly following a closed plan that no longer makes sense.

Besides Sprints, Scrum has other Events, Papers, and Artifacts that, when applied correctly and consistently, provide complex problem resolution through empiricism (learning through doing and decision-making) and from Lean thinking that strives for continuous improvement and waste reduction.

Agile is not a thing you buy. Agile is a thing you are.

-Unknown author

3 – “Squadification” of teams

With the dissemination of the term Squad in the market, mainly in the technology and startup fields, many companies adopted a way to organize their teams that became popular based on the Spotify model (even though the founder states that it is not a model).

Squads are multidisciplinary teams formed by individuals with complementary specialties to build a project, provide a service, or undertake a project.

You could be asking yourself, but isn’t having Squads good? And the answer is that yes, it’s excellent! The pitfall, in this case, is believing that the creation of Squads will solve all our problems. Forming Squads is just the first level of maturity according to KMM (the Kanban Maturity Model). In an organization that aims to have more organizational agility and to continue evolving, it’s essential to have a vision from end to end of the value chain of the product or service being constructed. In other words, we need to have a comprehensive vision of the needs of our clients through the business departments, connecting with technology, operations, and support, amongst other areas, so that there is a continuous flow of value delivery to the organization’s clients.

Otherwise, we will have “agility” in only one stage of the value chain without business agility, which will really make the organization adaptable and competitive, delivering results for the company at the end of the day.

4 – Nominate Scrum Masters and Product Owners without training

Adopting Agile frameworks like Scrum and SAFe that detail different roles and actors like Scrum Master, Product Owner, RTE, and Product Manager, among others, made companies establish a “FROM/TO” translation of their current functions to these new roles.

Overnight Project Managers started to act as Scrum Masters or RTE. Coordinators or Department Managers received the responsibility to be Product Owners or Product Managers with no previous training from those professionals, which creates a distorted view of expectations from each of these roles compared to previous efforts.

This change, without effective change management and a development plan, generates a lot of differences and conflicts between individuals because of an inadequate understanding of the new role and gaps because fundamental tasks for the correct implementation of new ways to work end up not being done.

A situation I experienced within a large company that uses the adapted SAFe framework involved a Senior Manager who hired a new Project Manager with no experience in agility for the role of RTE (Release Train Engineer). However, at that time, another RTE was already acting within the same team structure, which created numerous conflicts. There was a difference in understanding and ways of acting since the Manager wanted greater control over the deliveries due to not understanding the new method of working and not going to the “Gemba” (where the work takes place).

To use an analogy from the world of sports so that it’s easier to understand: a coach may not have been the best player, but they need to know precisely where to place each player to obtain their maximum potential so that the team reaps the rewards in its games. They don’t move a goalkeeper forward to attack if they have never done that.

This is an example of a common pitfall that negatively impacts the professionals’ productivity and satisfaction, adding more complexity and weighing on the needed agility for a company’s business operations.

5 – Projects with rigid scope, time, and costs

In traditional project management, better known as Waterfall, the project scope is defined so that it’s possible to estimate the project’s timeline and cost. 

In projects that build digital products that are highly complex, the structure is different, where the scope is estimated and variable within the defined time and cost, to make it possible to adapt it based on feedback from the users and the market.

It’s natural for human beings to want to anticipate everything that will occur ahead of time, and with digital projects, it’s no different. Our mind tends to plan linearly, wanting as much information as possible at the planning stage, with execution guaranteed by a controlled environment where the challenges are foreseen and resolved. 

However, in this case, the pitfall is wanting the benefits of using Agile projects while maintaining traditional project management’s tight control and bureaucracy.

The perfect plan does not exist; we must lead and react rapidly to challenges. The bigger and more inflexible the plan is, the more significant its complexity, unpredictability, and, hence, the risks. This is where agility works incrementally, with small batches making it much easier to react to challenges and reduce risks during the project.

Accepting and dealing with the unknown is mandatory when working on a digital transformation; experimenting and validating hypotheses are critical components. These factors allow an agile organization to quickly adapt to the market, strategy, products, services, and projects.


Have you encountered at least one of these pitfalls during the transformation process within your company?

Suppose you are looking to leap forward in your organization and business processes to have more organizational agility and adapt to the market changes happening increasingly quickly and frequently. In that case, you must look for the pitfalls listed above to ensure a successful digital transformation


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In the fast-changing business environment, it is critical for organizations to be able to adapt, develop resilience and rapidly discover new possibilities during times of uncertainty. The Agile Organizations studio enables organizations to evolve sustainably and progressively to remain relevant in a game that never ends with ever-evolving rules.