Want To Implement Agile? Cut Through the Red Tape First

Jurriaan Kamer
4 min readApr 13, 2016

Disruption has become almost routine in today’s marketplace, and this almost constant state of transition is a challenge for many organizations. You must now be able to quickly respond to market demands in order to compete, which requires agility.

However, trying to be agile in an established, non-agile organization is a big challenge. Untangling a system of interlocking departments that all have certain ways of working (not to mention their own cultures) is probably one of the hardest things you’ll do when trying to position yourself as a more agile organization.


In the past, departments created processes and procedures to ensure predictable outcomes. You knew what to expect, which meant the least amount of risk.

But 100 percent control will lead to 0 percent innovation and agility. In the new digital landscape, this type of bureaucracy is simply too slow.

To be agile, you need to be able to deliver end-to-end business value in short cycles. The best way to do this is by having self-organized, autonomous teams work toward a customer-centric goal in order to deliver this value.

Picture this: You’re responsible for getting an ambitious new product to market, but it’s uncertain what functionality your customers are waiting for.

So you want to start off testing a few assumptions that can ultimately help you build a minimum viable product. However, before you can start, you must get written approval from legal, compliance, finance, risk management, architecture, etc. They demand more paperwork such as a detailed risk analysis and project start architecture.

These departments running antiquated procedures have limited time, and it takes days, if not weeks, to check the input of your work. A few steering committees have to give approval before you can make any progress.

It’s pretty obvious these procedures aren’t remotely close to being compatible with agile. One end of the corporation wants to deliver business value faster, while the other end uses traditional control procedures to resist and slow down these changes.

The constant starting and stopping of the process reminds me of a clever poster that says, “I tried to be innovative once, but I got stuck in meetings.” When managing several agile initiatives within large corporations, I know it’s often not enough to bring these challenges to the CIO and CMO. Only the CEO is able to set things in motion to change the system.

If you want to become a 21st-century organization, you’ll need to reconsider how staff departments work — even the departments necessary for “building the thing right” must change the way they operate to become more agile.


1. Listen to your teams. First, as an executive, take stock of which people in the organization perform tasks that actually add value to customers. From there, ask those employees which procedures could use fixing and what they need in order to be more impactful. Agile won’t solve your problems, but it will make them visible.

2. Rethink your procedures. Go back to the original reasons why the control departments exist, and rethink their practices and procedures. Can they operate in smarter, more agile ways and think from a team perspective?

3. Eliminate or automate unnecessary procedures. If the process is extraneous, get rid of it or decrease its scope so it isn’t used as often. Procedure becomes so entrenched that organizations often forget to eliminate the unnecessary ones.

Remember that agile is actually a great way to reduce risks in projects and eliminate the need for a thick, documented process that controls risk. If a check is still necessary, figure out whether the check can be automated so teams aren’t slowed down by manual approvals.

4. Let them assist instead of approve. Once those department processes have been streamlined, position them to speed up previously time-consuming steps. Instead of going the usual route of document approval, the staff departments should provide teams with the proper knowledge and tools.

Explain why these regulations are needed and how to oversee them. Doing this lets teams come to the right decision themselves without the need for a manual or bureaucratic staff department checks. In the end, every person wants to be successful, and being compliant is a part of that.

Giving employees the power and knowledge to approve checks will significantly increase the speed in which you reach your initiatives. But this requires the staff departments to stop seeing themselves as so important and start seeing the team members as customers who need to be happy when using the process.

I often hear, “It can’t be done here because we’re a large enterprise,” but agile startups like Google and Facebook have become multibillion-dollar money machines operating just like this. The above practices empower their teams to be innovative and agile while remaining compliant and preventing major financial risks.

Becoming agile calls for institutional transformation. You can’t just focus on one or two departments. For a company to become truly agile, you must work toward changing old organizational habits, procedures, and even the culture.

If your agile transformation encounters some organizational red tape, work toward cutting through it. Otherwise, your teams will continue to run into walls, and you will not gain the benefits of truly being agile.

This article was originally published on CEOWORLD Magazine, and is also available on the Agile CIO blog and LinkedIn. Agile CIO helps organizations deal with the challenges of the 21st century by letting them break old habits and implement change.



Jurriaan Kamer

Org design & transformation | Author of ‘Formula X’ | Speaker | Future of Work