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IT Leadership // Enterprise Agility
09:06 AM
Alexis Monville and Frédéric Lepied
Alexis Monville and Frédéric Lepied

6 Ways To Create An Agile Company Culture

Your entire company food chain must be committed to agile techniques to get any real results.

When it comes to using agile methodologies to speed up the release of products and services, do you "talk the talk" or actually "walk the walk"? Anyone can claim their company is agile, but it's entirely different to put a stake in the ground, rally your troops, and successfully execute.

According to the eighth annual "State of Agile" survey conducted by Analysis.Net Research, when agile initiatives fail, it's often because of issues related to culture and a resistance to change. Transforming your company into an agile development powerhouse takes a clear vision, and more than anything else, it takes commitment from C-level executives.

The same survey showed that companies with a proven track record of moving agile development from a single team to an enterprise-wide best practice say that one factor was an absolute must: executive sponsorship.

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For eNovance, the first order of business was hiring a chief agility officer. However, that doesn't necessarily mean you have to do the same. One of the best places to start is with the people who will be executing on your vision: your employees. How you hire, train, and integrate new staff members will set the stage for the agile culture you want to create, eliminating resistance down the road.

You want to establish a level of trust among employees, encourage collaboration across teams, and instill in them the understanding that failing, and failing fast, is key to learning and furthering the overall development process. Here are some of the steps we've taken to build an agile company at eNovance.

Hire where the talent is
You want to hire the best individuals, regardless of where they live. Don't let distance be a barrier for getting your hands on software expertise. Distributed teams can work as one if you follow some of the steps below. While our offices are located in Paris, Montreal, and Bangalore, we have employees working in Hamburg, Nancy, Toulouse, Marseille, Bordeaux, Montpellier, Austin, New York, Shanghai, San Francisco, and other locations.

Break out the ice
The term "ice breaker" takes me back to my summer camp days, but the same tried and true techniques can be just as effective among adult tech heads. Granted, you need to be a little more creative when everyone isn't in the same room, which is why we like using means such as Google Hangouts and Etherpad to get people engaged.

We often use a simple activity like Mad-Sad-Glad, where team members are able to chime in via Etherpad about what is making them mad, sad, or glad about a development project. We also like the Celebrity Prioritization game, where employees choose which famous people to save first from a sinking ship.

Encourage everyone to work remotely -- at some point
It's critical that all your employees, particularly those who sit in the office each day, understand what it's like to work alone. We encourage everyone to work at home as desired throughout the year, so that they see first-hand the importance of connecting with colleagues electronically when the convenience of chatting around the coffee machine isn't an option. Platforms such as IM, video conferencing, and wikis help create strong links among colleagues, regardless of where they are located.

Drink your own champagne
Forget the company Kool-Aid expression or even the dog food. The French focus on champagne. The same product that we use to build OpenStack software for clients is the one that we use internally to support our own projects.

Create reasons to socialize
Despite being a dispersed company, we make sure that all employees get together at least twice per year -- and not just at company-sponsored events, but at the OpenStack Summits or other industry venues. If you're in startup mode, you should think about choosing office locations for which it's easy and cost effective for employees to travel and get your teams together at least once every six months.

Autonomy can beat technology
If we held out to hire only individuals with strong OpenStack experience, we'd have a lot of unfilled positions. We're realistic that those niche skills are hard to come by. Instead, when interviewing candidates, we assess their abilities to produce with a high level of autonomy. One of the most important traits is knowing when to ask for help and who to ask. In general, we look for overall open source, Linux, storage, and/or networking experience, because that base knowledge helps individuals get up to speed quickly on OpenStack and be major contributors via our training program.

The above efforts need to be prescribed and enforced from the top of the food chain down, creating a productive culture to get your products to market faster and better than anyone else. Do you have other practices that have worked within your company? If so, we'd love to hear about them in the comment section.

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Frédéric Lepied is Vice President of Software Engineering at eNovance (now part of Red Hat). He has been involved with the open-source movement since 1996. At eNovance, his team is contributing to OpenStack and is responsible for building eNovance's solutions.

Alexis Monville is Chief Agility Officer of eNovance (now part of Red Hat), a major contributor to the Openstack code and an active player in the open cloud ecosystem. Alexis is charged with creating and nurturing an agile culture that pervades the whole organization.  View Full Bio
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User Rank: Ninja
7/18/2014 | 12:12:03 PM
fail fast
instill in them the understanding that failing, and failing fast

I like that philosophy. A lot of companies--especially American companies, I think--are so afraid of failure that they won't take a chance on innovative things. Fail and fail fast sounds appealing.
User Rank: Ninja
7/17/2014 | 11:04:22 PM
Re: Remotely
Over the years these cultures have evolved. What was though to be very essential in 90's, is now obsolete. Some will be true in coming decades. However, we need to make sure that nothing is 'written in stone' in a company culture -now that will make it agile; it will change with time and needs.
User Rank: Moderator
7/17/2014 | 4:47:50 PM
Re: Remotely
@Laura BYOD and remote work has brought its benefits to the workplace. I would agree, offline and face to face work should not be intended to be replaced with remote work. Keeping contact in person is a way to preserve the company culture and communications.
Lorna Garey
Lorna Garey,
User Rank: Author
7/17/2014 | 4:28:01 PM
Re: Remotely
I think remote work is the future but that it's important to get face to face regularly. Lots of companies say they'll get everyone together twice a year, but that's expensive and difficult even for small groups. As a company grows I bet it's easy for that to slide.
IW Pick
User Rank: Apprentice
7/17/2014 | 3:08:06 PM
Re: Remotely
There's no question that face to face conversations can sometimes be quite "productive" in terms of efficiency and being able to pick up on non-verbal cues. At the same time, forcing people to come into an office with the expectation they'll suddenly become social and fluid in non-FTF communications is just plain ignorant. And for every potential benefit that colocation/FTF convos enable, there are also a downsides such as distractions from loud talkers, smells, etc.

Being socially aware, open and willing to share thoughts and ideas can't just be dictated onto someone. I've come to think that many people – especially software developers – must be encouraged and cajoled to open up. It seems many are afraid or intimidated of the thought of having to actually "document" themselves.  But having some record of ideas and who's contributing what can be challenging in a "voice-only" environment. I suppose it's human nature to be reluctant to go "on record" as is generally required of IM, video conferencing, wikis, etc.


Shane M. O'Neill
Shane M. O'Neill,
User Rank: Author
7/16/2014 | 12:18:04 PM
The remote workers vs. office workers debate will rage on. But in Alexis and Frederic's experience it's better to just hire the best software developers no matter where they live and make it work through videoconferencing, IM, social media etc. Does the informal collaboration that comes from being in the same building matter as much in a fast and agile environment? What say you?
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