Ireland Chapter of PMI

Espresso Machine or Barista? Lessons Learned for Agile Transformations

Author: Dr. Simona Bonghez, Color in Projects

No, it's not an article about coffee! I would like only to knock on the head some of the myths related to implementing agile practices. I found this comparison which I couldn't resist: espresso machine versus barista. The comparison is relevant for those who see the world in black and white: that is, either you have fully embraced Agile thinking and then Yes, you DO and you ARE truly Agile; or, if you apply only some of the concepts, then you are not truthfully "agile", in fact - I read recently - you fall into the category of "fake agile". Fortunately, more and more of us, we do accept that there is a balance in everything, we cannot live only at the end of the scale and that, between extremes, there is a whole range of opportunities.


But let's get back to our coffee. Let's say the pandemic took you by surprise (purely hypothetical scenario ?), and you don't have a coffee maker at home - why would you have one? you drink coffee at work three times a day! Now, if you love drinking coffee a bit (as I do), you can quickly study the market, see the available coffee makers, check their features, read the reviews and then order the espresso machine you liked most. After that, you realize that it's not just the machine that matters: there's also the coffee. You try a few brands; you also adjust the machine and after the first month of the pandemic you manage to produce a coffee that satisfies you. It's not the best coffee in town, it doesn't always turn out the way you want, but it meets the needs of working from home. And you are happy with it. (Well, maybe next month you'll try to prepare a latte, but for now, it’s enough). And that's exactly the case with the adoption of Agile: you learn the concepts, you start practicing them, and the first results come to light. It might even be the case that you start thinking about improvements...

For others, however, coffee is much more important: they start studying not only the espresso machines, but also the intricacies of coffee cultivation, the differences between the coffee plantations, the roasting conditions... the finer details, that is. They get not only a high-performing espresso machine, but also a coffee roaster, they take barista classes. For them, a decent coffee is not enough, they do not stop to change certain habits, but their whole thinking is focused on getting an excellent coffee in a consistent way. And this is what I mean by Agile transformation: the whole mindset of those embracing the Agile concepts changes, not just certain behaviours. Agile becomes part of people’s mentality and their practices reflect what they strongly believe.


There are, of course, many differences, many nuances between the espresso machine that produces a decent coffee and becoming a barista. The same goes for adopting Agile and Agile transformation. There are two different things (with obviously different results). So, we busted the first myth, the one that says that Agile transformation is, in fact, the simple adoption of an Agile framework.



Agile transformation IS different than adopting a way of working based on agile concepts.


I come back to those who see the world in black and white: there are many voices that do not accept that Agile adoption is valuable, believing only in Agile transformation. For them, the simple adoption of practices is seen as a failed attempt to move towards Agile, blamed for not completing the process. Usually, this perception is common among employees of companies that have indeed undergone such a transformation, have invested time, effort and resources, and for whom the agile practices have become a second nature. I mean, the new normal. Apart from arrogance, there is also a dose of hypocrisy here: it's hard to believe that, from the very beginning, everyone in the company enthusiastically accepted and embraced the Agile mentality, open-heartedly and with full confidence (one can even imagine people happily hoping that from now on they'll work differently than before!). You don't become a barista overnight, just by snapping your fingers: start with a decent coffee first, grab some beans from Starbucks, and only after you realize that it's not exactly what you want, then you go to the next level. An Agile transformation is a profound change in an organization, one that leads to a change in its DNA: its organizational culture. And something like that cannot be done overnight, it is a long and hard process, a step by step learning journey. I dare to say that any such transformation goes through the adoption stage. Some stop here, others wait for things to settle down a bit to move on. A decent coffee solves many of their problems and they have many more battles to fight before becoming a barista. Organizations that want more, will insist, optimize, invest in people, persevere until the new mentality is accepted and embraced at each level, and by each member of it.

And so we bust (with our pandemic espresso) the second myth as well: that the adoption of Agile practices has no relevance for companies, does not bring anything good, is just a false impression, an unjustified claim to enter the world of Agile, where only those who have undergone a complete transformation have access.


In order to become Agile, the adoption of Agile practices is the first step, it brings value, and it optimizes several aspects of the way of working. The next steps involve constantly improving the practices and keeping alive the Agile spirit, which leads to a process of complete and profound transformation.

Finally, the third myth and the one I like perhaps the most: becoming truly Agile is a goal you can achieve by going through a well-defined Agile transformation process. Eventually, with the help of a consulting firm that has a successful recipe and a clearly defined deadline by which the company passes with flying colours the finish line (which says now you’re Agile!). We will talk about this recipe of success with another occasion (spoiler alert! there is no such thing as one-size-fits-all solution), for now I’ll focus on the finish line. The beauty of the Agile mindset is that it takes over the Kaizen concept of continuous improvement. There is no need for a brilliant intelligence to realize that this cuts off any chance to a finish line. If it is continuous, it means that you will constantly find new ways, methods, and options to improve your processes, to increase the level of knowledge and the skills of the teams, the ways of collaboration, the tools used. Agile transformation cannot stop as it would contradict the concept it preaches. Becoming Agile is not a goal that you reach by crossing a finish line, becoming Agile is a continuous evolution to which you do not want an end, you just want to go further and further.

Being Agile is not a goal that you achieve at the end of an Agile transformation, being Agile is the journey itself.


Simona Bonghez

Management Consultant, Trainer and Speaker


Simona Bonghez, Ph.D.- Author and international speaker, Managing Partner of Colors in Projects (

With an extensive experience in Agile Transformation projects, Simona is specialized in facilitating interactive and practical agile workshops, supporting companies in embracing new ways of managing projects.

She is a strong advocate of experiential learning and use of game-based design in education.

Even though professional experience is a defining aspect in her activity she thinks that she would not have come this far without a good sense of humour.