Agile adoption failure patterns

Craig Cockburn
4 min readOct 16, 2019


A short list of the main reasons for agile adoption failure, with references

Surveys, Consulting groups, individual coaches, newspaper articles


Version One 13th State of Agile report (2018)

  1. Organizational culture at odds with agile values
  2. General organizational resistance to change
  3. Inadequate management support and sponsorship

Business Agility Institute

Business Agility Report, (2019 edition: 453 respondents from 274 companies)

  1. Respondents indicated that, by a large margin, leadership style is the biggest challenge to business agility adoption faced by most organizations. Related to leadership, qualitative analysis revealed the challenges of lack of buy-in and insufficient support for the Agile implementation.
  2. Change management and culture
  3. Agile Mindset
  4. Alignment

In some organizations, leaders continue to use leadership styles and behaviors that are consistent with the legacy culture, and not the new culture that the organization is trying to instill. This sends a mixed message to the rest of the organization. Leaders should strive to be aware of how they are modeling the new culture and Agile mindset and be mindful of their leadership style to ensure that it is consistent with the goals that the business agility journey is trying to achieve.

Consulting groups


  1. Not having alignment on the aspiration and value of an agile transformation
  2. Not treating agile as a strategic priority that goes beyond pilots
  3. Not putting culture first over everything else

Boston Consulting Group
1) Restricting agile to just the “IT dept”.
2) Not delegating empowerment
3) Lacking sustained leadership commitment

Individual Coaches

Jasper Sonnevelt, Director of Global Leankit Consulting Services
From a talk at #LLKD19 (BCS Agile Specialist Group, London Lean Kanban Days conference 2019)

1) our inability to explain how it benefits the organization as a whole
2) We fail (or refuse) to comply with processes that others need, but we might not agree with
3) Winning the battle becomes more important than winning the war

Michael Sahota, Thought Leader, Enterprise Coach, Author and Trainer.
1. Culture is the #1 Challenge with Agile Adoption
2. Agile is not the goal
3. Lack of management support / leaders not going first, too much push, not enough pull

Ian Mitchell, UK based Agile Consultant

  1. Not recognizing the immediate significance of organizational culture
  2. Thinking that agile change is technical
  3. Trying to delegate responsibility for change

20 failure patterns in total on Ian’s blog article below:

Newspaper Articles

Raconteur report, The Times, Enterprise Agility

“In my experience, most organisations are fake agile,” says Mark Holt, chief technology officer at Trainline.

“It’s not uncommon for a company to experience a contradiction where programmers employ agile software development techniques, while the wider organisation cannot provide adequate agility to support the programmers in achieving their goals or even effectively evaluate whether the project is worth continuing.”

Real agility cannot be purchased off the shelf, he believes. It is about continuously searching for innovative solutions to problems and implementing them rapidly and efficiently. Agile businesses focus on the results new technologies or processes offer, while remaining alert to changes that open new opportunities.

“Business agility needs to be part of the mindset of a company’s leadership and embedded in its broader culture, covering all aspects of its operation,” says Mr Bisnought. (Firm: Excello Law)

This is a useful read and also quotes from the McKinsey and Version One reports mentioned earlier.


Summary of main points (mine)
1) Lack of effective leadership including not having a clear understanding of the value — why are we doing this in the first place?
2) Not starting, growing and maintaining success at a sustainable pace
3) Not recognising the factors that get in the way — dysfunctional structures and networks, lack of experience, old culture, lack of role models, naive copy mode.. These structures often resist change or make change harder, e.g. trying to run an agile team within a waterfall governance organisation.
4) Not recognising the balance between points 2) and 3) and where you are at now.
5) Lack of situational awareness — what is our landscape and climate and what should we do in the specific context that we are in now and where we aim to be (see point 1).



Craig Cockburn

Freelance IT Professional, Lean Agile Coach. Wrote UK's first guide to getting online. Non Exec Director. From Dunblane, Perthshire.