Home > Articles

This chapter is from the book

Typical Problems When Adopting Agility

It is relatively simple to achieve agility with one team that has all the needed competencies and technical skills; however, many larger organizations usually have multiple teams that need to work together on a single value proposition or product. They need to scale Agile across all those teams so that they can become adaptable at scale. But scaling what works so well for individual teams working separately to larger groups working together turns out to be a different and more difficult problem to solve. While each separate team might be Agile locally, that doesn’t mean the group will also be Agile. An important reason for this difference is that the more teams there are, the more likely it becomes that they will specialize in a single function, skill, or technology—for example, product management teams, marketing teams, IT teams, development teams, or manufacturing teams. In an organization with such a structure, interdependencies typically exist between the teams. The unfinished product moves from one group to the other, with each group adding something before the product is delivered to the customer.

Specializing the teams facilitates integration within the specialization but complicates integration across the groups. Why? The teams are responsible for completing their part and then handing the product over to the next unit; therefore, they do not feel the need to communicate frequently with other teams. When they do communicate, they might even have difficulty understanding the other teams’ perspectives. Numerous problems can follow from that. For example:

  • A lack of customer and market information from the business teams makes it difficult for development teams to deliver successful products.

  • The development teams might not necessarily focus on the requirements that the business department believes are the most important.

  • The development teams might ignore requirements regarding manufacturability that increase manufacturing time and cost.

The more the teams specialize, the more likely it becomes that they cannot deliver end-customer value, but only provide a part of the desired value. All these parts need to be identified, planned, integrated, and coordinated to yield the complete end-to-end value before an organization can comprehensively understand what is going on. Much of this activity is unnecessary and delays learning and, therefore, the ability to adapt in the right direction.

Systems Thinking theory focuses on the complete picture to improve the end-to-end process; it involves studying the broader system behavior over time and using that understanding to improve. The important insight from Systems Thinking theory is that the performance of an interdependent group of teams depends primarily on how the teams are tuned, not on individual team autonomy or how the teams perform as separate entities. In Chapter 2, “Systems Thinking,” we cover in more detail how to use this approach in Agile organizations.

The Functional Hierarchy Organization Design

Typical organization design is the functional hierarchy. As Peter Scholtes described in The Leaders’ Handbook,5 a severe accident between passenger trains in the year 1841 heavily influenced how we design our organizations today. According to Scholtes, the railroad company wanted to ensure that such an accident could not happen again. A decision had to be made about how to reorganize the railroad management system. The railroad had a choice between the two most well-known organization designs at the time—the military and the church. The military was a top-down hierarchical structure, whereas the church used a distributed structure. After careful consideration, the railroad opted for the top-down hierarchy because it optimized for control and enabled the company to find the cause of problems quickly. Its decision still influences current-day organizations, as illustrated in Figure 1.2.

Figure 1.2

Figure 1.2 Hierarchy organization design.

Specializing the Work

In the first half of the 1900s, Henry Ford and Frederick Winslow Taylor heavily influenced management thinking. Ford introduced the very successful automobile production line, while Taylor focused on his scientific management approach. Both liked to specialize the work and divide work into separate functional tasks. Narrow functional tasks enabled people to concentrate on doing a simple job, so that people with poor or no education could work efficiently.

Separate the Head from the Hand

Taylor also introduced the concept of separating the head from the hands. Educated people would design the process and partition the work into dumbed-down tasks, and then people could be attached to those tasks. Furthermore, Taylor stated that there was a best way of doing the work and that management’s job was to find that one best way and then let the workers do it. Along with the best way came measures, and later key performance indicators, and standard times for each of the tasks.

Ford had a similarly dim view of workers’ capabilities, complaining, “Why is it every time I ask for a pair of hands, they come with a brain attached?” In Ford’s system, people were only as valuable as the simple, repetitive tasks that they could perform. In essence, they were viewed as “interchangeable, nameless, and faceless.”

Fast Forward to Present Times

In organizations that do large-scale development, much of the thinking advocated by Taylor and Ford still prevails today. These organizations are designed as a series of functional groups, with the aim being that each of the groups work individually at maximum efficiency. The resulting silos are managed by single-function managers and have measures—key performance indicators—to assess how well they are performing. Figure 1.3 illustrates a typical example of such an organizational design in the context of software development.

Figure 1.3

Figure 1.3 Typical silo organizational design in modern times.

You can see domain groups that specialize in a part of the business—for example, billing. Next to that, you can see specialization in technology such as Java, as well as specialization along with functions such as testing or marketing. There is nothing wrong with this kind of functional hierarchy as long as its optimizing goals are in line with your organization’s goals and it helps you in reaching your business objectives. John Kotter, Professor of Leadership, Emeritus, at the Harvard Business School, highlights some important goals of this kind of hierarchy:

  • [A]t both a philosophical and a practical level, the Hierarchy (with its management processes) opposes change. It strives to eliminate anomaly, standardize processes, solve short-term problems, and achieve stopwatch efficiency within its current mode of operating.6

The Agile optimizing goals are not in line with the purpose of the functional hierarchy. This organizational design invites managers to optimize the silos separately, but customer value flows horizontally across silos—not vertically across the hierarchy. So, if you want the organization to learn fast and use that learning to correct its direction, you need to focus on how the silos interact, not on how they perform separately. This implies minimizing costs when switching between jobs and getting the work through your organization as effectively as required. But how do you do that? By minimizing task switching costs and transitioning from resource efficiency to flow efficiency. In the context of software development, for resource efficiency it is more important to ensure each team always has a feature to work on. For flow efficiency, it is more important that a feature is always being worked on. So, in an organization focused on resource efficiency, the work is likely queued before each team with the goal of always keeping them busy. In contrast, in an organization that emphasizes flow efficiency, the goal is for teams to always be ready to pick up work, which implies that teams are expected to learn to understand and work effectively on multiple topics; if there is nothing to work on, then the teams must be idle sometimes.

An excellent way to achieve agility is by redesigning your organization. If you are not willing to make this effort, then scaling Agile in an organization with a functional hierarchy design will get you into trouble quickly, as we will show next.

InformIT Promotional Mailings & Special Offers

I would like to receive exclusive offers and hear about products from InformIT and its family of brands. I can unsubscribe at any time.


Pearson Education, Inc., 221 River Street, Hoboken, New Jersey 07030, (Pearson) presents this site to provide information about products and services that can be purchased through this site.

This privacy notice provides an overview of our commitment to privacy and describes how we collect, protect, use and share personal information collected through this site. Please note that other Pearson websites and online products and services have their own separate privacy policies.

Collection and Use of Information

To conduct business and deliver products and services, Pearson collects and uses personal information in several ways in connection with this site, including:

Questions and Inquiries

For inquiries and questions, we collect the inquiry or question, together with name, contact details (email address, phone number and mailing address) and any other additional information voluntarily submitted to us through a Contact Us form or an email. We use this information to address the inquiry and respond to the question.

Online Store

For orders and purchases placed through our online store on this site, we collect order details, name, institution name and address (if applicable), email address, phone number, shipping and billing addresses, credit/debit card information, shipping options and any instructions. We use this information to complete transactions, fulfill orders, communicate with individuals placing orders or visiting the online store, and for related purposes.


Pearson may offer opportunities to provide feedback or participate in surveys, including surveys evaluating Pearson products, services or sites. Participation is voluntary. Pearson collects information requested in the survey questions and uses the information to evaluate, support, maintain and improve products, services or sites, develop new products and services, conduct educational research and for other purposes specified in the survey.

Contests and Drawings

Occasionally, we may sponsor a contest or drawing. Participation is optional. Pearson collects name, contact information and other information specified on the entry form for the contest or drawing to conduct the contest or drawing. Pearson may collect additional personal information from the winners of a contest or drawing in order to award the prize and for tax reporting purposes, as required by law.


If you have elected to receive email newsletters or promotional mailings and special offers but want to unsubscribe, simply email information@informit.com.

Service Announcements

On rare occasions it is necessary to send out a strictly service related announcement. For instance, if our service is temporarily suspended for maintenance we might send users an email. Generally, users may not opt-out of these communications, though they can deactivate their account information. However, these communications are not promotional in nature.

Customer Service

We communicate with users on a regular basis to provide requested services and in regard to issues relating to their account we reply via email or phone in accordance with the users' wishes when a user submits their information through our Contact Us form.

Other Collection and Use of Information

Application and System Logs

Pearson automatically collects log data to help ensure the delivery, availability and security of this site. Log data may include technical information about how a user or visitor connected to this site, such as browser type, type of computer/device, operating system, internet service provider and IP address. We use this information for support purposes and to monitor the health of the site, identify problems, improve service, detect unauthorized access and fraudulent activity, prevent and respond to security incidents and appropriately scale computing resources.

Web Analytics

Pearson may use third party web trend analytical services, including Google Analytics, to collect visitor information, such as IP addresses, browser types, referring pages, pages visited and time spent on a particular site. While these analytical services collect and report information on an anonymous basis, they may use cookies to gather web trend information. The information gathered may enable Pearson (but not the third party web trend services) to link information with application and system log data. Pearson uses this information for system administration and to identify problems, improve service, detect unauthorized access and fraudulent activity, prevent and respond to security incidents, appropriately scale computing resources and otherwise support and deliver this site and its services.

Cookies and Related Technologies

This site uses cookies and similar technologies to personalize content, measure traffic patterns, control security, track use and access of information on this site, and provide interest-based messages and advertising. Users can manage and block the use of cookies through their browser. Disabling or blocking certain cookies may limit the functionality of this site.

Do Not Track

This site currently does not respond to Do Not Track signals.


Pearson uses appropriate physical, administrative and technical security measures to protect personal information from unauthorized access, use and disclosure.


This site is not directed to children under the age of 13.


Pearson may send or direct marketing communications to users, provided that

  • Pearson will not use personal information collected or processed as a K-12 school service provider for the purpose of directed or targeted advertising.
  • Such marketing is consistent with applicable law and Pearson's legal obligations.
  • Pearson will not knowingly direct or send marketing communications to an individual who has expressed a preference not to receive marketing.
  • Where required by applicable law, express or implied consent to marketing exists and has not been withdrawn.

Pearson may provide personal information to a third party service provider on a restricted basis to provide marketing solely on behalf of Pearson or an affiliate or customer for whom Pearson is a service provider. Marketing preferences may be changed at any time.

Correcting/Updating Personal Information

If a user's personally identifiable information changes (such as your postal address or email address), we provide a way to correct or update that user's personal data provided to us. This can be done on the Account page. If a user no longer desires our service and desires to delete his or her account, please contact us at customer-service@informit.com and we will process the deletion of a user's account.


Users can always make an informed choice as to whether they should proceed with certain services offered by InformIT. If you choose to remove yourself from our mailing list(s) simply visit the following page and uncheck any communication you no longer want to receive: www.informit.com/u.aspx.

Sale of Personal Information

Pearson does not rent or sell personal information in exchange for any payment of money.

While Pearson does not sell personal information, as defined in Nevada law, Nevada residents may email a request for no sale of their personal information to NevadaDesignatedRequest@pearson.com.

Supplemental Privacy Statement for California Residents

California residents should read our Supplemental privacy statement for California residents in conjunction with this Privacy Notice. The Supplemental privacy statement for California residents explains Pearson's commitment to comply with California law and applies to personal information of California residents collected in connection with this site and the Services.

Sharing and Disclosure

Pearson may disclose personal information, as follows:

  • As required by law.
  • With the consent of the individual (or their parent, if the individual is a minor)
  • In response to a subpoena, court order or legal process, to the extent permitted or required by law
  • To protect the security and safety of individuals, data, assets and systems, consistent with applicable law
  • In connection the sale, joint venture or other transfer of some or all of its company or assets, subject to the provisions of this Privacy Notice
  • To investigate or address actual or suspected fraud or other illegal activities
  • To exercise its legal rights, including enforcement of the Terms of Use for this site or another contract
  • To affiliated Pearson companies and other companies and organizations who perform work for Pearson and are obligated to protect the privacy of personal information consistent with this Privacy Notice
  • To a school, organization, company or government agency, where Pearson collects or processes the personal information in a school setting or on behalf of such organization, company or government agency.


This web site contains links to other sites. Please be aware that we are not responsible for the privacy practices of such other sites. We encourage our users to be aware when they leave our site and to read the privacy statements of each and every web site that collects Personal Information. This privacy statement applies solely to information collected by this web site.

Requests and Contact

Please contact us about this Privacy Notice or if you have any requests or questions relating to the privacy of your personal information.

Changes to this Privacy Notice

We may revise this Privacy Notice through an updated posting. We will identify the effective date of the revision in the posting. Often, updates are made to provide greater clarity or to comply with changes in regulatory requirements. If the updates involve material changes to the collection, protection, use or disclosure of Personal Information, Pearson will provide notice of the change through a conspicuous notice on this site or other appropriate way. Continued use of the site after the effective date of a posted revision evidences acceptance. Please contact us if you have questions or concerns about the Privacy Notice or any objection to any revisions.

Last Update: November 17, 2020