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Consider Culture When Implementing Agile Practices

Teams can create balance between agile practices and local culture.

Agile practices help organizations bring products and services to market quickly and adapt nimbly to customer and market changes and innovations in the technology landscape. In today’s globalized economy, agile methods pioneered in the United States are being adopted in organizations worldwide.

One challenge to implementing agile practices globally is accommodating cultural differences. Because the agile approach started in the United States, American cultural norms may play an outsized role in how agile methods are prescribed and carried out — and that could create problems when teams in other countries adopt agile methodologies. For example, openly expressing thoughts and opinions to authority figures, publicly discussing successes and failures, and assigning credit or blame are often accepted practices in agile teams, but such open interactions may not be consistent with cultural norms in all parts of the world.

Recognizing the unique cultural characteristics of employees taking part in agile projects outside the United States may be critical to project success. When agile practices clash with local culture, it’s important for organizations to recognize the conflict and develop solutions sensitive to the societal norms without impeding agile practices.

We interviewed employees of eight software companies in China, India, and South Korea that had adopted agile software development practices to find an answer to this key question: How do the cultural scripts common in your country work with or against the tenets of agile methods? A population may have a unique word to describe particular behaviors; that named phenomenon is the “cultural script.”1 We focused on a small set of cultural scripts in each of the three countries. (See “Three Countries, Many Cultural Scripts.”)

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