Agile Enterprise

Cultural blocks to adoption of agile development

A recent article in the New York Times describes the issues of introducing ‘The Toyota Way’ to non-Japanese factories.

Amongst others, these paragraphs caught my eye:

“For Americans and anyone, it can be a shock to the system to be actually expected to make problems visible,” said Ms. Newton, a 38-year-old Indiana native who joined Toyota after college 15 years ago and now works at the North American headquarters in Erlanger, Ky. “Other corporate environments tend to hide problems from bosses.”

Worse, some executives like Mr. Konishi complain of managers at Toyota factories who have not adhered to some of the company’s most basic creeds, like allowing workers to stop factory lines when they spot defects. Empowering factory workers has long been central to Toyota’s quality control.

It strikes me that this is very similar to the problems faced when trying to introduce agile development into large enterprises. Managers are used to controlling what people do and how they do it. Developers, testers and designers have learned that when something goes wrong, covering your back is more important than cooperating to put things right.

In my experience it’s also a big problem when trying to combine agile with outsourcing, especially to suppliers with a corporate tradition of command-and-control management (and – shudder – CMMI level 5). As Toyota have obviously concluded, the answer seems to be a combination of education with a very strong message from the top.

One reply on “Cultural blocks to adoption of agile development”

Great points. I would also include that to have the right tools in place will help companies with outsourced teams implement Agile development by empowering them to gradually reduce controls over the process as trust and quality are improved.


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