Navigating Agile with Late Majority and Laggards: Strategies for Success

Perhaps you have been asked to help coaches, teams, and people in your organization to evolve beyond the basic level of “blind” adoption of rules and frameworks. You haven’t imposed anything; you’ve highlighted the challenges the organization is facing and suggested the idea of better support for the organization. You suggested options, highlighted principles, and showed trade-offs. And you’ve encountered responses like “Interesting, but it can’t be done here””I used to have a different role, I have different skills”, “I don’t even think about it until there’s an app I can download,” etc.

If you’ve encountered a situation like this, it might be because you’ve employed a strategy best suited for innovators rather than late majority and laggards.

Innovators and late adopters in the lean-agile transformation


The Rogers’ curve on the adoption of innovation is a well-known qualitative model. The model can be applied to any context in which a new idea needs to establish itself, such as the concept of continuous learning in lean-agile transformation.

Image courtesy of Wikipedia

Lean thinking originated at Toyota after WWII, and only in the 1980s it began to be studied and understood in Western countries, as well as its principles being incorporated into the early agile approaches of the late century. In today’s context, 23 years after the manifesto, many of those who approach agile at the team or enterprise level are often shifted towards the right side of the curve.
It’s not inherently wrong to find individuals shifted towards the right side of the curve after 23 years. However, what is misleading is expecting the same reactions from people with profoundly different attitudes. Those on the left of the curve are comfortable with messy contexts, experimentation, and trial and error, while those on the right seek standards and certainties to apply.

Dealing with innovators and late adopters

So, you need to develop different strategies for two different attitudes.

When you are dealing with the left side of the curve, innovators and early adopters, you should provide new challenges, and freedom to explore. When dealing with the right side of the curve, (late majority and laggards, let’s call them late adopters) you should instead be crystal clear about the reason for the change, provide guidance and show practical benefits. Innovators love novelty for its own sake, they embrace speed and doing, but they get easily bored. Late adopters need a good reason for change, and evidence that their peers are already working the new way, and the new way is effective.

First, recognize the varying attitudes toward risk-taking, innovation, and failure.

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Second, be aware that involving the late majority and laggards in change is much, much more exhausting and frustrating. That being said, here are some suggestions.

  1. Volunteers. If possible, work with volunteers rather than with people who are “obligated” to work with you. Unfortunately, this often means not working with laggards and late adopters. 🙁
  2. Use a different coaching stance. For innovators and early adopters, a more empowering and innovation-focused approach may be suitable, while late adopters and laggards may require a more informative, motivational, and patient coaching style to help them embrace change.
  3. Employ them in different contexts. You want to employ innovators in more dynamic and chaotic contexts, while late adopters will be more comfortable in environments where work methods are well-defined, well-known, and shared.
  4. Innovators will independently seek a path of growth and self-learning. What matters to them is having room for maneuver and freedom for exploration. Late adopters will need a clear benefit, and a path of growth and learning with well-defined content and milestones

Empathy and patience. Where ideas are fluid and experimentation is embraced, empathy allows you to connect with the dynamic mindset of innovators. Patience is also needed as you navigate through the sometimes chaotic and unpredictable journey of those who thrive on novelty.
Similarly, when engaging with late adopters who seek stability and well-defined structures, empathy is the bridge to comprehend their need for a clear path forward and to help them embrace change.