How Company Cultures Impact Agile Transition

A few years ago I was working with a client on an agile transition project. The company was relatively new to agile, but because they had a genuine desire to cut costs and produce higher quality products, they welcomed the opportunity for change.

The development team were a good bunch too and had a cross-functional set of skills well suited to the desired project outcomes.

Sounds like an ideal environment for a smooth agile transition, right?

Well it would have been – except (in my opinion) for the fact that this company had a bonus culture which rewarded quantity and not quality.

For example, because the development team received bonuses for the number of stories delivered (with no emphasis on quality), the team started cutting corners and creating short term solutions that often didn’t meet the customer’s acceptance criteria.

And if that wasn’t bad enough, in order to increase the number of user stories in the ‘Done’ column, some team members even went as far as moving stories straight from ‘Development’ to ‘Done’ without testing the story first.

The result?

A high number of bugs and defects that reduced quality and significantly increased development costs.

Not good.

So what do you do if you find yourself in a similar situation where your organisations bonus culture is counter-productive to their agile objectives?

First, proceed with caution; because any change that negatively impacts people’s bonuses is likely to be met with strong resistance — from all levels.


Because most people tend to support change only if they perceive that change to be in their best interest. And very few people will see a potential cut to their ‘bonus pay’ as being beneficial to them.

Next, look for ways to align the organisation’s agile objectives with the conditions that have to be met in order to qualify for a bonus.

For example, if the project objective is to reduce costs and improve quality (as was the case with my client) then you might suggest that future bonuses be paid based on the number of user stories signed off as accepted by the product owner/customer, the total number of defects not exceeding a given number or a combination of both (which is the solution used to get my client the results they wanted).

Finally – remember that change takes time and rarely happens overnight. So be patient (and persistent).

P.S: This is just one way to deal with bonus cultures that are counter productive to your agile transition objectives. So do feel free to share your experience, suggestions, thoughts or questions in the comments section below.

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