Start an Agile initiative by carefully taking stock of the organization's goals, challenges, and capabilities.
Doesn’t transformation, by definition, require forward movement? How can we get to the "end point" if we start by stopping? Many organizations throw out the transformation edict as a major initiative, implement waves of Agile training and wait expectantly for the benefits.
Often, the benefits never come. No one was on the same page from the beginning on what progress would look like, how it would be measured, where the data for decisions would originate, or uncovered the root cause of the problems that continue to stand in the way.
Taken from real-world Agile transformations, the following are a few learnings that should be applied during the planning and assessment phase of an Agile transformation program.
Start with the basics: Education and baselines
From executive leadership to the individual developer, it’s important to educate (and often re-educate) on what Agile means and how each individual can support the transformation. Having an executive track of the assessment is critical in understanding what senior leaders value, what metrics they wish to measure and what success looks like for them. How do they currently collect data? How do teams interact across departments?
When the leadership team understands the "why" behind the Agile mindset and the benefits they and the company can expect, it is a turning point and accelerates momentum of the transformation. Until that happens, the transformation will just be another initiative that sounds great in theory, but will go by the wayside at the first sign of adversity.
During the assessment phase it’s also important to talk to as many members of the R&D team as possible, while concurrently engaging with the leadership team. The objectives of the R&D discussions are to determine how the team is made up, the respective skill sets of individuals, how the teams function, and whether or not they are working cross functionally. It is also germane to understand if the team has the tools (such as automated testing) and information they need to get their work done.
Embrace a culture of change
A recent VersionOne State of Agile survey showed that three of the top four reasons why Agile projects fail result from culture. Culture at “odds with core agile values”, a “lack of management support” and “general organization resistance to change” were all cited. Inevitably during a full Agile maturity assessment across an entire organization we find that while there are areas of the company that are working in an Agile way, there are almost always pockets of the business that are resistant to change and to integrating Agile principles into their day-to-day work and long-term planning.
Assign an (empowered) champion
Many companies assign the Agile transformation initiative to an individual, but neglect to consider the required time investment or internal views of the level of authority of that person. If you need outside expertise, get it. To initiate such a sizable project successfully, it’s important to conduct a company-wide assessment. This is a difficult task to do well using only internal resources, in part because it’s challenging to get an objective view of the organization’s people and processes. The most successful model is to identify an internal champion that can work side-by-side with outside partners to effect widespread change.
Establish transparent communication
One of the most prevalent communication problems is the lack of bi-directional dialogue. For example, management may say that the focus of a new product line requires the company to be cloud-based. Product management agrees and supplies the data, requirements, and roadmap to determine that the cloud-based offering will be ready by Q4. The development team says that in order to make the deadline, they need to tackle key areas of technical debt. Shoring up the technical debt is extremely important to the dev team, but the broader organization, including senior management, rarely sees the value.
Gain consensus on next steps
At the end of an effective assessment phase, a company should have a clear understanding of the organizational make-up of their teams, each team’s Agile maturity score across many categories (including, but not limited to, release planning, iteration planning, execution, and root cause analysis strategies), and organizational best practices to model across all teams, so that implementation can be rolled out systematically with the right metrics being collected and analyzed.
Identifying an organization’s strengths in order to replicate best practices, isolating specific areas that require improvement and, most importantly, successfully uncovering the root causes of issues provides a solid foundation for moving forward into the strategic and tactical implementation of the transformation initiative.
Todd Ducharme is Vice President of Consulting at NeuEon responsible for multiple areas of focus including Agile transformations, methodologies and implementation, workflow and business process modeling, and new technology initiatives.
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