Path To Agility™ – Pt. 1

Mountain path - take the path to agility with Agile Velocity

Most organizations adopt Agile in pursuit of one or more of the following:

  • Shorten Time to Market
  • Increase Productivity
  • Improve Alignment with the Business
  • Improve Predictability

What we have found through our experience helping organizations with their Agile transformation is that certain elements are needed to achieve these goals. While there is no one path or cookie cutter model, there are areas of focus needed in the beginning to achieve the benefits later. For example, if your goal is to deploy at a higher frequency, you can’t take an unpredictable team and just have them go faster. You need to focus on getting predictable first and then you can go faster.

Path to Agility

In order to complete an Agile transformation and achieve its full benefits, an organization should be prepared to work on processes, practices, and culture and leadership mindset. Implementing process changes are easier, changing behaviors and ways of thinking take time.

Our Path to Agility™ describes what’s needed in an Agile transformation and each factor’s impact on culture and business goals. While this is not a linear progress, there are dependencies between items.

Align – The goal for the transformation cannot be to do Agile. Understanding and communicating the business objectives that will be achieved with the transformation is a critical first step.

Learn – Through Agile training and guided practice via coaching, teams and leadership are equipped with new techniques and an understanding of how Agile works. Ownership of processes are transferred to an empowered team and a culture of continuous improvement is put in place.

Predict – Teams harden these newly learned practices and become more disciplined in order to deliver working product in a predictable and iterative manner.

Accelerate – Once the teams become disciplined and predictable, we can focus on team and organizational improvements to optimize across the full delivery cycle and shorten time to market.

Adapt – Agile will begin to permeate throughout the organization and executive leadership, enabling empowered teams and adaptive leadership to respond to ever-changing market demands as they have transformed to an organization with true Agility.

This is a two-part blog series that will explain each stage in detail. Today we will tackle the first two: align and learn.

Align

The reasons for the Agile transformation should be clear and communicated throughout the organization and easily accessed for future reference. The goal for the initiative can’t be to “do Agile.” How would you measure that or know when you are Agile enough? Rather, the goal for becoming Agile must be in line with imperative short-term and long-term business goals. In Kotter’s 8-step model for leading change, he advises leaders to create a sense of urgency, or an opportunity, that troops can rally around and use as motivation when things get tough.

And it will get difficult. Change will have an impact on productivity, as discussed in Satir’s model. Productivity will dip as teams start to try new practices and they will question if this “Agile” is really a good idea or not. This is known as the Chaos and Resistance phase. Agile transformation champions need to have that vision ready to get teams excited again so that they can work through issues and persevere to the new and improved status quo.

We also need to align on how we are going to accomplish this mission and where are we are going to start. We like to help organizations form a transformational leadership team and a transformational backlog. We typically implement Kanban or Scrum for this team to work this backlog along with other organizational impediments that arise during the transformation. Prioritizing this backlog and making progress visible to the organization will help everyone stay focused and aligned throughout the journey.

New Practices:

  • Building a transformation roadmap/backlog
  • Assessing team structure
  • Observation of current company’s values and culture

Learn

Now that the organization has aligned on the mission and have a sense of urgency, it is time to empower the organization and create a continuous improvement culture. A big part of how that will be accomplished is through knowledge and training. During training, teams and leadership learn Agile vocabulary, processes, and techniques–essentially a new toolbox and frame in which to work and do work. After classroom training, the team will return to the office and begin to implement these techniques.

During this phase, we recommend having an experienced Agile coach or guide that is helping the team do Agile. If there is not a teacher involved, there is risk of creating bad practices or even going back to the old way of working. Looking at the ShuHaRi model of knowledge attainment, this is the Shu stage. In this phase, the learners follow the teacher’s model exactly. According to Martin Fowler, students don’t examine the “why” behind the task or explore other ways to achieving a goal. The coach leads, and the student follows.

If the team starts changing and leadership remains the same, there will be friction and the movement will regress. It’s important that leadership also receives training, particularly on their role during the transformation, how they can support the team, and what their role will be in an Agile organization. They play a big role in fostering a continuous improvement culture.  As the team is empowered to own processes, they need slack to learn. Managers should change their questions from “Did you get your work done?” to “What are you learning?” and “How can I help?”

New Practices:

  • Scrum Events: Sprint Planning, Daily Standup, Sprint Review, Team Retrospectives, Backlog Grooming
  • Impediment Board
  • Organizational Improvement Leadership Team

Agile transformations, because they involve so many aspects of the organization and work culture, is difficult. Don’t be discouraged if your adoption has stalled or if you are facing objections before it has even begun. Your organization is not the first or the last to face these challenges. Stay tuned next week for the next installment of the Path to Agility™ series.

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