Better, Stronger, Faster! Let’s Move to Agile!

Colonel Steve Austin was a unique man! He was severely injured in the crash of an experimental aircraft and, with a little bit of technology, he was rebuilt to become better, stronger and faster. Granted, this was just science fiction. But, our organizations can do the same! We can all deliver better product and faster to our customers! And there is no secret: it’s about understanding, adopting and tailoring Agile methodologies to our specific needs.

Microsoft, Google, Amazon, Facebook, High-Moon Studios, BBC, Nokia, Samsung, or Lockheed Martin have all adopted and deployed one or several Agile methodologies. It’s also important to recognize there is no magic silver bullet, no “one-size-fit-all” solution to integrate Agile into our Product Development practices. Business needs, internal and external environmental factors, existing or future projects, organizational context, team values and principles are critical inputs to consider before embarking into this strange journey to Agile.

In this article, I am going to present a 3-phase approach to integrate, step-by-step, Agile methodologies, values and principles within your organization.

 

Phase 1: Awareness

The phase consists in sensing the readiness of your organization to adopt Agile. First and foremost, as any organization change management initiatives, there are no universal rules for success in transitions. You need to recognize that your organization may not be in the right state to change and adopt a new product development methodology.

1) Measure Awareness: Conduct a team survey on Agile methodologies to assess the team awareness about the Agile values and principles, and to diagnose the alignment or misalignment of Agile with your business values and situation. For example, if your organization is a start-up, the awareness and appetite to adopt new development processes may be greater than within a heavy-duty industrial manufacturer. Measuring awareness and risk acceptance in adopting Agile within your organization is an essential prerequisite for defining and developing an action plan.

2) Analyze Survey Results: Based on the survey results, identify the teams with the least awareness and risk acceptance, and the teams with the most understanding and willingness to adopt Agile. Reach out to each team manager, and conduct 1-on-1 interviews to dive deeper into each team respective position. While interviewing each team manager, let your ego and personal goals at the door. Your objective is to listen and understand their rational, history and reasoning.

3) Identify Edged Teams: Based on the information provided by each team manager, start investigating options and refining your action plan. For the team with the least awareness, your objective may be as simple as raising interests and overall knowledge about Agile methodologies and underlying benefits. For the team with the most appetite, your objective may be to identify a few engineers to go through a Scrum Master certificate training and become your Change Champions for the journey to come.

4) Conduct Pilot Projects: For an organization to adopt and integrate a change within its DNA, defining and executing pilot projects is a natural and unavoidable first step. You don’t want to run when you’re still learning how to walk. And so, working with the team most inclined to adopting new development processes, identify a project that would benefit the most from an Agile methodology (such as Scrum), and the team members and team(s) who would play a central role in the piloted processes: Product Owner, Scrum Master, Scrum Team, etc. Throughout the project execution, document any encountered problems, and revise your process so that the Agile framework you are piloting best suit the needs and characteristics of your organization. Document as well early successes, and lessons learned, and communicate! Indeed, don’t forget to communicate and socialize horizontally and vertically the Agile development framework you are defining for the organization. The more informed people are, the better decision they will make to adopt and adapt Agile.

Phase 2: Adoption

This phase consists in deploying the processes piloted successfully in the previous phase. Naturally, as you work on rolling them out within each team’s standard operational procedures, make sure your executives are on-board and champion the proposed changes. If they are not, your chances of success will be slim to none: this phase is aimed at crossing the chasm and, without the necessary support from the C-level executives, you will most likely fail to scale.

5) Deploy the Piloted Agile Framework: Before rolling out any changes, take the time to socialize the Agile Framework, Processes and the lessons learned from your pilot project(s). Be transparent about the pros, cons and limitations of changes you are promoting. In other words, don’t overdo it. No need for a sales speech. Be realistic and factual. Use your executives and allies to promote the changes. Empower your Change Champion engineers so that they can help you convincing their peers in adopting these new Product Development processes.

6) Refine the Framework for the Organization: Agile development is an iterative process. Thus, it should be not surprising that the same applies to the framework defined and dry-ran with the pilot projects. Your framework should evolve as you deploy it within your organization. It may be revised to become leaner or better integrate business metrics and reporting needs. During this phase, it is essential to listen to all stakeholders, from end-user customers to Scrum Team members, as well as your C-level executives.

Phase 3: Absorption

In this final phase, your objective is no longer to raise awareness but to continuously improve how Agile methodologies are being leveraged. But, before focusing on improving the Agile development processes, you must identify the last pockets of resistance; i.e.: the lagers.

7) Analyze the Resistance Root Causes: As you discuss with teams and managers who refuse adopting Agile, as you did in the Initiation phase, leave your ego and opinion about Agile and its benefits at the door. At this stage, you no longer face an awareness issue. And so, you must dive deep to understand the rational behind this reluctance. You must as well accept that Agile does not apply to all activities. If you don’t, you are in for a few difficult conversations. Instead, think about the organization as a whole. Talk to your executives to weigh-in. Your goal is not for the entire organization to execute projects with one unique methodology, but to ensure its success. Always keep in mind that there is no “one-size-fit-all” solution.

8) Govern the Agile Framework: As you gain better understanding of reasons behind the resistance of certain team to move to Agile, work with your C-level Executives, Program Management Office, and Research & Development departments to define a governance model for Agile. Consider the type and size of projects, products and services to be developed. Identify the product development processes that would best enable your organization to be successful. Consider scaling up and down your “best practice” framework and underlying process, people and technology. In other words, define an Agile Governance Model, and integrate it into your Standard Operational Procedures so that Agile becomes an integral part of your organization DNA.

Colonel Steve Austin was not rebuilt in one day. It took years of researches to make him better, stronger, and faster. So be patient! It’s not a Sprint. It’s a journey where every step counts. And, if you want to know more about how to change your organization to deliver faster and better products to your customers, don’t hesitate to comment or contact us.

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