Successful and stronger organizations have many things in common. Some of them include change in culture, use of innovative technologies and ability to move quickly from ideation to delivering value. With the count of startups increasing by the day, the need for faster delivery and competition has pushed IT organizations to embark on the Agile Transformation journey. I have seen organizations that start Agile methodology out of desperation, typically jump into execution without considering the big picture. With time, these organizations demonstrate what appears to be a “Bumper Car” effect – each car representing a functional unit colliding with other cars while operating within a closed arena, thus ending up with very little progress.
Here are the 10 areas to consider, before proceeding with transforming your organization-
PUBLISH YOUR ORGANIZATION’S GOAL
Does everyone in your organization clearly understand the primary goal for existence? Meeting a launch date may be the primary goal in traditional organizations, but I have seen teams working harder to meet dates without understanding the underlying reasons for launching programs on time. Lack of a common goal sets various departments into applying actions that do not align with the outcomes. A goal serves as a compass, especially during the transformation process. Establishing dates with reference to goals may help drive passion and motivation within the team and enable them to be more efficient in making trade-offs.
ACCOUNT FOR CHANGE IN ARTIFACTS
When changes are introduced, individuals who are used to expecting internal artifacts/work-products may resist or feel lost. Identifying these stakeholders and outlining the corresponding items that are produced in an Agile methodology will aid in a smooth transformation. For example, leaders who are typically used to seeing program plans in a GANTT chart view, may need coaching and preparation for the migration to Agile Release Plans. Requirements are typically broken down into user stories (or use-cases). Weekly status meetings are replaced by Scrum ceremonies. Change requests are not handled separately, rather end up as a backlog item with the team being flexible to changes.
MEASURE WHAT MATTERS THE MOST FOR YOUR ORGANIZATION
Determine the key metrics both for gauging the effectiveness of the transformation as well as the Agile adoption on a project/team level. Establishing a single metric across several levels does not sustain well. I have noticed that the best measure for agility is the time it takes from the birth of an idea to earning of value that aligns with your organization’s goals. Most Agile teams rely on Velocity and if Velocity is your primary measure at a team level, challenge them positively, so it can increase over time.
KEEP INNOVATION IN-HOUSE
Innovation is the central artery to an organization. Define the innovation strategy in-house, but tap into external support if needed in executing it. The foundation of Agile methodology is based on Continuous Improvement. Set aside budget, assign skilled members, and build the necessary infrastructure and tooling to support with experimentation and advancements. Caution your teams that using new tools does not constitute innovation.
FACTOR DEVOPS/ENGINEERING PRACTICES
Organizations that incorporate Agile methods have made incorrect judgments focusing on the methodology alone. There has been an incomplete picture and a promise that doing Scrum (or Kanban) produces faster results. Adopting Agile methodology helps the team by exposing bottlenecks and challenges but does not magically improve engineering practices. Begin with assessing your technology debt and engineering practices. Establish core standards before considering pilot projects for Agile transformation. Look for easy wins if there are already existing capabilities and tools that aid in automation. Organizations that lose focus on engineering practices have fallen back to waterfall or pseudo-Agile losing confidence in IT’s ability to meet business needs.
THINK BIG – BRING AGILITY TO THE WHOLE ORGANIZATION
Most organizations are quick to introduce Agile methods by focusing on application development first. Remember to engage other departments that indirectly support IT. For example, consider including your HR for seeking talent with Agile experience. Work with them in advancing the traditional annual performance reviews to a lightweight option aligned to team goals, outcomes or production deployments. Gain support from traditional departments such as legal, vendor, and procurement management. Teams who have adopted Scrum can quickly get demoralized when procurement of hardware or software doesn’t aid them in faster delivery.
ESTABLISH THE ROLE OF AGILE LEADERSHIP
Leaders play a huge role in transformation as much as the teams do. A successful transformation needs strong top-down support. Outline the changes that are required both prior and during the transformation. Identify current processes, decisions, and approvals that require leadership’s support. Decentralize decision-making where possible and guide them through taking calculated risks. Leaders who have embraced change have ultimately rejoiced having more time for strategic planning and execution. Great leaders focus on establishing a runway, removing organizational impediments, fostering a healthy environment, and empowering their direct reports to be more autonomous. In simple terms, they function as the “Scrum Master for the organization”.
Despite having goals, some organizations struggle to keep their departments aligned. Analyze and revamp the actions each department lead needs to apply for bridging any gaps. Ensure that leaders from architecture, through customer support are committed to supporting the transformation initiatives. Establish the notion of One-IT and the road-map for transforming entire IT organization to a “high-performing” stage.
UNDERSTAND THE LEVELS OF IMPEDIMENTS
Agile methodology aids in demonstrating progress and exposing challenges. I have noticed that the biggest value driver for an organization is capturing and visualizing impediments during the transformation. Establish the guidance for both teams and leaders for addressing impediments. Distinguish between team-level impediments which can be resolved within the team and organizational-level impediments that require prompt leadership’s assistance. A culture of “escalating everything” doesn’t scale well with Agile transformation. If leaders prefer to know about team level impediments, they can still receive a summary outlining the actions being applied by each owner. This helps build transparency and confidence with the teams.
STRIVE FOR BUILDING A STRONGER AND HAPPIER WORKFORCE
Not processes or tools, but people deliver results. Plan to build heathy teams, motivate individuals and factor a shift in culture. Consider redoing your physical work space that enables open dialogues and fosters better collaboration. Migrate from traditional cubicle layouts to team/pod structures. Good environment attracts good talent. I have seen teams that embrace 2-4 week iterations are being unable to take breaks from their routine. Hence factor in the time for training your employees, celebrating their releases, and acknowledging their efforts.
To conclude, with forethought and proper planning, organizations can avoid gridlocks in their agile transformation and begin gradual ramp-up for better sustainability.