Project Practitioners > Bureaucratic Barriers to Agile

Bureaucratic Barriers to Agile

By Ann Drinkwater

We have all heard of the Agile Manifesto, which lists agile principles. But what does this mean for your business? How can you move from thinking agile sounds like a good idea to actually reaping the benefits? In order to be agile you must break down barriers, improve communication, collaboration, decision making speed, be open and accepting of change and exhibit positive energy. Below are the specific areas that a company can get hung up on and that need to be changed in order to follow the principles:

  • Too Much Detail – The idea is to get a working product to the user as quickly as possible. In order to do this, the minimum requirements for documentation should be completed. You certainly need to document pertinent elements, but not every minute detail. You do not want to be in a situation where all you are doing is updating documentation. Planning for what and the frequency of documentation should be an early part of the project. This could involve a mindset change for your organization, if they expect to see every detail.
  • Openness – In order to for decisions to occur in the necessary cycles and for all parties to be truly empowered, the organization needs to be willing to change and to except new approaches.
  • Energy – Because you are operating in an accelerated timeframe, everyone needs to be fully engaged and committed.
  • Adaptation to Change – Agile is all about responding to and accepting change. If you shun change or view it negatively, you will never realize the full benefits of agile. Change is inevitable and occurs at an increasing rate. We should instead look to plan for change in all we do. This means creating scalable products that are flexible. This also means frequent meetings and reviews, to eliminate surprises and to learn of changes as early as possible.
  • Speed – in order to iterate properly with frequent, working updates, work needs to be accelerated in short releases. In order for this to work, the organization needs to make timely decisions and reduce barriers to information exchange. This directly relates to the next bullet.
  • Hierarchy – Breaking down the barriers and rigors of organizational hierarchy can be a challenge. Organizations that get stuck on titles and authorization will have a hard time allowing teams to self organize and not have a command and control type of oversight. The idea is to be more creative, which usually doesn’t occur when teams are controlled and micro-managed.

Below are some questions to ask yourself:

  • Are your key stakeholders already over burdened and unable to dedicate the time, energy and response time needed to project activity?
  • Does your organization require extreme levels of documentation and specificity?
  • Does your organization hold mostly phone conferences, with limited interaction versus interactive, in-person meetings?
  • Is your organization generally energized and enthusiastic about their work?
  • Does your organization work as a hierarchical structure with tight control on authority?
  • Does your organization have rigid rules and procedures, and is unwilling to budge?
  • Or even does your organization have minimal rules and procedures, but tight hierarchical control?
  • Does your organization control, command and correct employees?
  • Does your organization allow employees to take risks?
  • Are mistakes within your organization criticized or viewed as learning and improvement opportunities?
  • Is your organization comfortable with giving the project team latitude to make day to day decisions? If you answered yes to any of these questions, you may want to think twice about describing your organization as agile. You may also need to take baby steps with change efforts, working to reduce bureaucracy early in the process. If your organization isn’t completely ready, it doesn’t mean there isn’t hope. Instead, you should create a plan for internal education, breaking down barriers and implementing on a pilot project to show the tremendous value using agile can provide. Seeing is believing.

~Ann E. Drinkwater

Reference: Agile Manifesto:

Not all comments are posted. Posted comments are subject to editing for clarity and length.

One other barrier to consider for agile projects is the work environment itself. If team member have trouble communicating about the progress of their tasks or accessing the information/materials they need, it saps the agilility of the project.

Joe MacNish

I am a PhD candidate doing a study on the transition from traditional to agile project methodology and need some participants. I am looking for a global organization the have or are in the process of implementing agile methods incorporating both co-located and virtual disbursed team. Please respond via email ( if you can assist me in my efforts. Participation in this study is at no cost and strictly voluntary.

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