Building Agile Teams

Agile and the Five Stages of Grief

Comparing agile adoption to the five stages of grief, first described by Elisabeth Kübler-Ross

In a post about agile contracting on the Government Digital Services blog, Koh wrote that his team has been fortunate to partner with forward-looking agencies that were open to new ways of working. Then he started receiving inquiries from blog readers wanting to know how their organizations could become Agile. “Many of them,” Koh wrote, “shared a misconception that things just worked right out of the box in our journey, as if we had Agile pixie dust.” 
 
Koh believes in support and coaching for changing organizations. And in these blog excerpts, he likens the bumps in the road to Agile adoption to the five stages of grief, first described by Elisabeth Kübler-Ross.  
 
Stage 1 — Denial
People in denial stage are not ready for agile. They don’t see the need. Neither are they intellectually curious to find out what they don’t know.
 
Stage 2 — Anger
When people in denial are pushed to be agile without the support they need, they become angry and say things like, “This mega project is going to be huge and complex. It is too big to try agile . . . agile lacks structure. It doesn’t have the rigor and quality. It’s not secure and cannot scale to big projects like ours.”
 
Stage 3 — Bargaining
People end up in the bargaining stage when they try agile without adequate knowledge of what they are doing: “Regular feedback is for inexperienced consultants. We already know what users want. It’s all in the specs.”
 
At best, it’s a waterfall project disguised as agile. At worst, it becomes a dead agile project that discourages others from trying. 
 
Stage 4 — Depression
This is the stage where people either say, “Told you. My project is very complex. Agile doesn’t work here!” or “We are doing agile but the users have no time for us.” 
 
It is a common mistake to choose a trivial project to pilot agile. If the success of the project is of little significance to the users, they won’t invest their time to review the product and give feedback every sprint.
 
Stage 5 — Acceptance
This is when people accept agile as a different way of working. They might not be most comfortable with it, but they have accepted it and are learning to live with this new norm. There is less product arrogance and greater respect for frequent delivery, regular usability testing, and ongoing user feedback. People start to focus on outcome rather than output.