To Agility and Beyond

Bob Galen, Director-Agile Practices, Zenergy Technologies
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Bob Galen, Director-Agile Practices, Zenergy Technologies

Bob Galen, Director-Agile Practices, Zenergy Technologies

Many CIOs and technology organizations today are struggling to navigate the transition from waterfall-oriented approaches in building their software to using agile. It seems everyone wants to “go agile,” so the trajectory is clearly toward leveraging these methods.

The hard bits in this journey are two-fold. First, making the transition itself is often much harder than it appears. Agile is harder because it is different and not simply a methodology. It is also a mindset that influences cultural and organizational change.

The second challenge is knowing where to focus. There are so many opinions from well-intentioned agile coaches and experts, that it is hard to define and manage an effective transformation strategy. And both of these aspects impact the effectiveness and, more importantly, the results of your efforts.

With this in mind, I want to share some critical ideas and principles to help you traverse an agile journey in your organization, one that is principle based and results focused—with emphasis on sustaining your transformation.

Establish Why

The first thing you need to consider is establishing the rationale behind your interest in agile. Is it a cultural play, a quality play, a speed play, a stakeholder value play, or something else? Figuring out your current strengths and challenges, then mapping them against agile outcomes, is a crucial first step. Make sure there are good reasons for pivoting toward agility and they address most of your challenges.

  ‚ÄčThe assessment is not intended to grade or embarrass an organization or team. Instead, it should focus on critical areas and factors that will drag adoption.  

This not only helps you determine whether agile matches your needs, but also helps you understand when and where the results will show. And do not forget about your teams. Today’s teams must understand the WHY behind your initiatives so they can embrace and support them. And the transformation should also be a coherent part of your overall go-forward strategies.

Assess

It would be hard for me to tell you how many organizations I have coached that have started down the agile path without assessing their readiness for it. By readiness I mean fully assessing and understanding the aspects of their technology, people, processes, and organizational culture that do not align well with agile principles and tactics.

The assessment is not intended to grade or embarrass an organization or team. Instead, it should focus on critical areas and factors that will drag adoption.

These insights will allow you to craft strategies designed to overcome the impediments so your organization can truly accelerate. The assessment should also help you measure your before and after states to check if you are realizing an appropriate level of improvement.

Get Help

Have you ever heard, “Doing agile is easy, but being agile is incredibly hard”? This is one of the more common ways to explain the essence of agility.

The difference can be better articulated by saying:

Going through the motions of agility will get you mediocre to average results. But embracing the principles and getting agile in your bones culturally will drive 2x, 3x, 4x and more than your waterfall equivalent performance.

Jeff Sutherland, one of the co-fathers of Scrum, refers to this as hyper-productive Scrum teams. My experience illustrates it is extremely difficult to achieve hyper-productive results without help from experienced coaches, ones who have “been there and done that” in similar contexts. The key for most organizations is first realizing they need help and then asking for it.

Often the latter is the hardest step.

Personal Understanding &Commitment

Nearly every successful agile transformation I have been part of had a senior leadership champion who provided critical vision and inspiration for the effort. They were constantly communicating the WHY to the organization, cheerleading every accomplishment, and guiding the overarching transformation strategy.

In some cases, they were agile experts. But in all cases, they understood and embraced the basic tenants of agility, such as team trust. For example, they viscerally realized they needed to:

• Provide their teams with mission and vision
• Support their teams needs for training and equipment
• Get out of the way and trust their teams to get the job done.

The last point is the most challenging. While every leader likes to say they trust their teams, most find it is much harder to do than say. This is particularly true when the pressure is on to deliver a release or to gain fast results from an agile transformation. To get the results you want as a leader, it is important to commit to personal understanding and fully supporting the agile principles.

Everything is Iterative

Most think that iterations (or sprints) only apply at a team level. But nothing could be further from the truth.

Many organizations form an Agile Transformation Team to guide their ongoing agile adoption efforts. These teams typically form a backlog of items related to the initiative and iterate in accomplishing the most important things first. Often they behave exactly as a Scrum team with all of the ceremonies. So the agile adoption unfolds in an iterative fashion.

But your organizational remodeling can also unfold iteratively. Far too often leaders want to create the perfect agile organizational structure at the very beginning of their efforts. I usually encourage leaders to establish a thoughtful organization to begin with, but to also realize things will change as they move forward.

So, do not over think or over-plan the organizational side of things. Instead, allow it to unfold as everything else does in your agile journey. Simply be ready to make adjustments as your organization learns and grows. Also be willing to listen to your team’s feedback as part of this process.

Wrapping Up

By following these critical ideas around establishing an effective and impactful agile transformation, your organization will be prepared to successfully navigate this effort. But one of the most critical factors in any change initiative is the role of the CIO and leadership in general. Agile is no exception. Embrace that leadership role as you move to an agile approach. The success of your agile journey depends on it.

 

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