As many who have tried know, an Agile Transformation in a company is not always an easy process. Although most people at first are keen to participate in the idea of “changing” the company culture and working environment to “something better”, many do not realize how much work it can actually be.
For some of you, you will be fortunate enough to be in an “Agile” environment already.
Perhaps you are using OpenAgile, or Scrum. You may be using a unique variation such as the Pomodoro technique.
For those of you that are new to the idea of Agile Processes, no matter what your flavor of framework or tool, there is something you will not be able to avoid. Politics.
There is no getting around this. Agile transformations are about change in an organization and not just change in one small section of the company.
Although many Agile teams start as “pilot projects”, even in such small situations, the effect on the departments or culture at the “edges” of even the smallest teams can start to cause ripple effects in an organization.
The first secret is to acknowledge and accept that this is going to happen. Life will be easier for you this way. The job of any one assisting with an Agile implementation is to provide honest information and advice to help those who will be directly or indirectly impacted.
Don’t think you will be able to just hide in development and not be noticed. Be prepared with slides, web site links, and open to talking about your processes and ideas with anyone who wants to know. You must be transparent and open about what you are trying to accomplish.
OpenAgile for instance is defined as a “Learning System” because it deals with the realities that no one can work in a bubble and that more than just the “development team” needs to be involved in Agile practices for them to work. The entire organization will be learning with you.
Scrum has a well defined set of guidelines to follow in regards to the development process and is ideal for new software development projects.
Lean is a more gentle approach to changing an organization in small, progressive steps.
Don’t kid yourself. No matter how small the changes will be, there will be resistance from someone, somewhere, from where you least expected it.
The important thing to remember is what your goals are. The goal of the framework is an open and honest discussion between all those involved in your organization and general culture shift to a blameless, team based shift in thinking.
However, what is the real goal here? Happy customers, happy employees, and therefore, a profitable, progressive organization. You must remember the purpose is not to make teams, but to make a good product for the customer. Sometimes, you may find it hard to remember.
I recently read The Wisdom of Teams: Creating the High-Performance Organization (Collins Business Essentials) by Jon R. Katzenbach and Douglas K. Smith. It clearly explains, with examples, how an organization with the courage to change their culture can really benefit from an overall culture shift towards Consultatative Decision-Making and team work based approaches.
Consistently, companies who simply “say” they have teams under-perform those that actually “just have teams”. One type of company has them by edict or decree, and the other just has them because the culture is that way. The ones with the naturally team based cultures do much better financially. Hmm..interesting.
Change is usually started by some kind of need to change because things aren’t working out “the old way”.
Buggy software, unhappy customers, late releases…Whatever the pain, the results are always a “desire to change”.
Those who have the courage to admit they need to change, should be applauded. If you are new to Agile and reading this, please pat yourselves on the back for having the courage to learn more.
Now, it should be “easy” to stay on the path if you keep at it. The act of Starting is the first big step. Congratulations!
One thing you will find as you proceed is a continual list of “it won’t work because of this”, “it won’t work because of that”. But, hey, you’re not selling snake oil here. You’re talking about people in an organization taking control of their work and working together for the best solution possible for the company and it’s customers. Keep it simple.
Agile processes are just that … Processes.. They are not there to replace common sense. Agile is not a silver bullet to cure a company’s culture. That part of things is still a human thing and will take time. Please don’t think of Agile as a cure for a bad culture. It is simply a way to help the culture to change.
To me at least, what is important is a consistent message. I believe this is the key to helping an organization to be an Agile one.
Let’s take the Daily Scrum (for Scrum teams). I worked with a company where the Daily Scrum was considered a waste of time and a nuisance for those involved (at first).
The daily scrum is a quick recap of where everyone on the team is. For more information about the Daily Scrum, just do a quick search. There is an abundance of information about it. Try the Scrum Alliance for definitive information.
At this company, the owners and senior managers considered the scrum to be a nuisance. The senior developer of the team found it to be a hassle. Then, after a few weeks of doing daily scrums, any team member could be asked by someone passing in the hall what was going on and that person could easily tell them what the status of the project was. There are many other advantages to the scrum, but that’s not what this article is about. Maybe another time.
When I first started at this company, there was a weekly “developer meeting” which at first was the only way to exchange information. It was generally 2 hours/week. The team was now doing daily scrums and having small “mini-chats” (for lack of a better word) occasionally when needed. Team members knew from the Scrums what was going on and who needed help with what and then self-organized to solve their problems and arranged “mini-chats” as needed to help each other out.
The “weekly 2 hour developer meeting” just became a thing of the past. The team just stopped having them.
Waiting until the end of the week was far too cumbersome for something they could get from a 10 minute scrum and occasional ”mini-chats”. The team had unknowingly switched into a mode where they practiced regular consultative decision-making and regular re-assessment of their situation.
Then a remarkable thing happened.
One day, I was in a meeting, and the senior developer who at first was reluctant, banged on the window of the board room I was sitting in for me to come to the 10:00 AM Scrum which was 2 minutes away. I excused myself from the meeting and returned approx. 13 minutes later. The owner of the company said “Why do you do those daily meetings. They are such a waste of time. You have that big Developer Meeting every Friday”.
My response was “I’m sorry, but we don’t need to waste our time with that big 2 hour meeting every Friday anymore… We haven’t needed them for a few cycles now”.
What a remarkable experience! In one quick step, and after considerable pain, not only was it evident that the senior developer embraced the Agile Scrum Meeting, but also the owner who was previously unsure suddenly came to realize that the team was far more effective than he knew and he hadn’t even noticed the shift.
The developer culture had changed to a more team based one without his knowing. All team members knew what was happening and Expected to be kept in the loop from now on.
The key is, keep doing it ! Be consistent. If you’ve implemented a standard Agile practice, stick with it.
Be realistic though. There will be people who consider it to be “stupid” and there will be people who don’t want to participate. As a new implementor, NEVER humiliate anyone in the process. Simply encourage open discussion and ask everyone to contribute. At first, people will be shy or nervous about this. Over time, it will be the norm to participate.
The point is that as time passes, people and things change. The new processes will become Common Place and not so foreign and people will start to appreciate the fact their opinions are important and they have an impact on the bottom line of the company and the customer. This is what drives people to be happy and succeed.
Then, with a bit of luck and perseverance, someone in a different department will say “Hey, I think that seems like a good idea. Tell me more”. “Do you think this Agile stuff might work in sales?” might be the kind of question you suddenly receive. Do yourself a favor and be prepared for this with some links to a few Agile Methodologies at-hand!
This is your opportunity to introduce the new “culture” into a different part of the company.
With a bit of patience, others will come on board. It will be a great experience for you once you have others helping out.
The day will come when someone will try and remove an Agile process somewhere in the organization and team members will lobby for their cause. This is the day you will know… I have succeeded with step 1… Getting started !
From here forward, it’s just a matter of consistently trying to improve things one cycle or iteration at a time, and watching things get better for the customers, employees, and of course, the stakeholders.
If I can give one last bit of advice. Please do a bit of research before implementing something. Ideally, you want the teams to come up with how to do their daily work, not yourself. Let any process be the team’s process, not yours. Of course, if you have a new team to Agile, you will need to help them get started.
Consider your job as one of just guidance and coaching. That will work the best.
Review your environment carefully before deciding about methodology and do some reading or contact a coach about the differences. Should you be using Scrum, OpenAgile, XP, Lean, etc? Think about it carefully. They have different levels of organizational change and are for different applications. Use Wisely. :->
If you’re courageous enough and have an experienced Agile team, why not ask the team which Agile Methodology will work best for them? I personally enjoy learning something new all the time. :->
Mike Caspar, CSM, OpenAgile Certificate Holder, ATPL
- OpenAgile - http://www.openagile.com
- Scum - http://www.scrumalliance.org
- Lean – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Agile_software_development
- Pomodoro Technique - http://www.pomodorotechnique.com/ (thanks Fred for telling me about this ;->)
- The Wisdom of Teams