The death of Agile

Agile bonesMany organizations want to become agile, but few understand this is a long process that requires everyone to change his mind. Being agile is about mindset, rather than tools or frameworks. I want to tell you a story about two cultures. Dev is a small IT company of about 13 people. It has been on the market for more than 10 years consulting other companies from different branches – insurance, ferry companies, housing administration, mobile operators. During all these years Dev has always been a small company, ranging from 5-6 employees to a maximum of 15-16.

Being a small company has its distinct characteristics:

  • Stronger feeling of being a team
  • Moving fast
  • Working in diverse areas

Small organizations tend to be more agile – this is critical to their existence. If you are slow, you simply die. Moving fast can potentially cause chaos to a certain extent, as there is not enough time (and willingness) to put everything in order. But this chaos is part of the game and small organizations learn to cope with it. Furthermore, such companies apply flat hierarchical structure – i.e. no manager for every 3 persons. This enables the company to spread information faster and more precise from one person to another.

Small consulting firms have one problem though – it is difficult to get new projects in the company. The competition is harsh, so one has to find the golden middle of quality, time, and money. Dev has been living a hard but happy life – working on a variety of projects, delivering working software on regular basis, being close with the customers, until one day things changed.

The change

One day the company Adv – a big advertising agency – decided to buy DevAdv creates typical advertising materials – magazines, flyers, posters, films. It is a reasonably big organization, it has around 70 employees. Adv‘s HQ is situated in another city which is 1.5 hours away from Dev‘s HQ by train.

From offline to online

Adv has been mainly doing offline materials, but has realized the online world has big potential. Instead of opening an IT department, hiring specialists, and making them work together as a team, the advertising agency has decided to get everything at once. Thus, acquiring a small IT company with experienced employees seems like a reasonable solution.

The clash of two worlds

Two cars bumpingAs a bigger company Adv also has its own specifics. Big companies tend to be slow, more bureaucratic, and hierarchical. One hardly knows all the people in the company – what their names are, how they look like, what they do in their everyday. Although, Adv is not as big as firms like Samsung for example, all these features are inherent to it. This will inevitably lead to clash of two worlds and a questions is raised: who is going to change the other first.

Everything should be in order

Adv has a separated tool for everything – where employees do time registration, e-mail archive, internal communication, even a place where people can RSPV for team-building events. Moreover, a project without a decent documentation can be executed at no means. Dev on the other hand used to rely on 3rd-party tools for its needs (f.x., Google). Dev‘s employees had to learn to be more structured and precise when doing time registration and when working on a project. Furthermore, there is now a different person to be contacted for different cases – i.e. a manager on every possible level.

Deliver what you are supposed to deliver

The deal between Adv and Dev is that Dev is slowly going to fade away as a brand, i.e. become a true part of Adv. This means that people are supposed to work together, as colleagues. The real situation was different though. New online projects were typically managed by Adv where the IT part was done by Dev. The relationship between these two groups of people resembled that of a customer to the IT company he pays to and requires to deliver what it is supposed to deliver without engaging in the process himself.

Communication done rarely cannot harm anyone

As most of the employees of Adv are in the HQ 1.5 hours away from Dev, the communication is done via e-mail, phone calls, Skype, or Lync. Face-to-face communication is left behind as it requires people travelling around – both an exhaustive and expensive activity. What happened is that both parties continued doing stand-up meetings separately, while trying to keep the other party up-to-date using e-mail afterwards. This lead to lost details, a lot of misunderstandings, and heightening the feeling of two separate teams.

I don’t know what you do, but I have a lot to do myself

Employees from both companies had a lot to do at work themselves. There were no initiatives to get to know each other better. Management from Adv had no idea what people at Dev work with. The same was valid in the other direction. This strengthened the separation of the two companies in all aspects. The only time where people could talk between each other about that was at team-building events with a glass of wine in hand.

The end

Cut a ropeThe clash of these two cultures would inevitably lead to something bad. People at Dev started leaving the company one by one. Too much bureaucracy, not enough challenges, feeling remote to the new working culture were some of the reasons that made developers and others from Dev choose a better for them option. From 13-15 people before the acquisition, there were only 5-6 left. One day Adv decided to put an end to everything – Dev was fired.

Final thoughts

Being agile requires changes in the mindset. One cannot apply old thinking and hope to see new, better, results. Big companies struggle to become agile due to their slowness and bureaucracy. Many of them try to hire external consultants and hope they will change them, but what happens in reality is that a lot of money and time is spent without any positive outcome. This leads to the death of Agile for these companies.

Credits: The second photo is taken from, while the third one – from