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So, you’ve decided you’re going to “do Scrum”. Transitioning to Agile is an evolving exercise– both for the development process and for the cultural change an organisation must go through in order to achieve it. By “it” I mean the oft-quoted statistics regarding speed of delivery, reduced defects, and time-to-market.

Notice, I didn’t mention cost. By all accounts, especially at the beginning of an Agile journey, costs will probably be higher than the current method of work. But they will decrease as the organisation gains experience.

Businesses naively think that Agile is just a software development process, and having development teams use it is all it takes to make that happen. False. There are two major factors at play here:

1. People must learn their new roles relative to the environment

One common response is: “if we need a Scrum Master, I’ll just have our Project Manager do it. After all, it’s the same job, right?” Another favourite is: “Yes, our Product Owner will have the ability to make project decisions. They’ll just have to submit their ideas to our PMO and get approval from the cross-functional governance committee before committing it to the team.” Basic misunderstanding of the roles and responsibilities of the business in Agile projects is the quickest way to sink a project.

Successful Scrum Masters are not managers. They are servant leaders, focused on maintaining the team dynamics and eliminating the barriers to getting things done. Product Owners must be enabled by the organisation to make decisions on its behalf, directly and swiftly. Business analysts must become skilled at breaking large bodies of work into user stories that are both concise and developable.

Scrum is indeed a framework to adopt to your business’s heart’s content but it isn’t all variable. There may be other frameworks that fit your needs better — whether it is an issue of focus and gauging work-in-progress, or when there are many moving pieces that need to be coordinated outside the development process.

2. An organisation must be invested top-down, in the changes required to make Agile, successful

Even in the most Agile of organisations, there are always going to be processes that require touch points and approval. Empowering teams and individuals to make decisions and be responsible for these processes, can remove many of these hurdles. Traditional command-and-control management must evolve to fit these new ways of working. When turf wars crop up – and they do at the beginning of an Agile journey –reinforcement of the message from top-down, is the best way to resolve conflicts.

It takes time for an organisation to adapt to these new roles and responsibilities. Since the end goal of an Agile journey is to collapse as much work as possible into development sprints, it makes sense to map how changes to its current way of working will enhance business value.

Some tips to becoming more agile:

  • Start by allowing some of the requirements to be relaxed during the design phase, so that there is some variability in scope for the development team to work with.
  • Train your developers in automated test creation to program as much of the testing effort as possible.
  • Give your team leads and product owners some authority to make decisions on the organisation’s behalf.
  • And above all, recognise that failure isn’t an end-state but the seeds for change that will improve your organisation’s processes and practises.

At Mindtree, we recognize several different frameworks that are evolving steps to the Agile journey. This knowledge has come at a cost — Less-than-stellar results in projects that tried to bite off too much, too soon. The progression from waterfall to Scrum doesn’t have to be a sudden one. The organization will ultimately be more successful if you give it time to adapt interim enhancements to your methods of work.

In summary, determine where you are, decide what you want to become, and build a roadmap that gets you there gradually, not all-at-once. Learn the why of Agile methods rather than simply the what. And when issues arise, continuously, work their solutions into the process. Lastly, don’t be afraid to ask for help.

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About the Author

Russel Wetmore
Senior Technical Manager, Agile

Russ is a technically experienced professional with 37 years of software engineering and three software patents, having made seminal contributions to several core technologies. He has directed architecture, development and strategy for teams spanning Europe and India as well as in the U.S. Today, Russ is based in London where he leads European Agile pre-sales and marketing efforts for the Mindtree Global Center of Excellence.

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