Real Agility – Self-Organizing Team Creation Event for Large-Scale Agile Enterprises

In 2005 I had the privilege to participate in the first occurrence of this fantastic technique for organizing large numbers of people into Agile teams.  It happened at Capital One in Richmond Virginia and my colleague of the time, Kara Silva, led this successful experiment.  The problem was that the “teams” that management had set up didn’t make much sense from an Agile perspective.  They were functional teams (e.g. a team of testers).  But to do Agile well, they needed cross-functional, multi-skilled teams that could work well together to deliver great results each iteration.  So Kara and a few other senior people got together all the staff in the department into a big room with a big whiteboard and facilitated a 3 hour meeting to sort out who would be on which team.  Everyone was involved – all the people who would be on the teams were in the room.  Those teams stayed together with the same membership long after that meeting.

This “team creation event” was a fantastic success for that particular department.  What made it a success?

  1. Everyone participating already had Agile training and experience.  They knew what they were getting into and why they were doing it.
  2. Everyone was encouraged to participate through the way the meeting was facilitated.  No one felt like their opinion was ignored.
  3. The meeting was long, but also time boxed.  It wasn’t an open-ended discussion that could go forever.
  4. It was in-person!!!  Everyone was physically present so that not just abstract facts, but also feelings were clearly visible to everyone else.
  5. It was honest: tough things were discussed including potential personality conflicts.  This open discussion required expert facilitation.
  6. Management was not involved in the decision-making during the meeting.
  7. The overall purpose of the exercise was clear: here’s the business we’re in, and here’s the people we have to work with – how can we organize ourselves to be most effective?
  8. A big diagram of the proposed teams and their membership was constantly being updated on a whiteboard: visual and concrete for everyone to see.
  9. Preparation: the meeting was scheduled far enough in advance that everyone could make it and management was informed about how important it was (don’t schedule over top of it!)

In the Real Agility Program, the team creation event is used to launch a Delivery Group.  The key people at the meeting include all the potential team members as well as the three Real Agility Coaches from the business, from technology, and from process/people.  Depending on the number of people involved, the team creation event can take anywhere from two hours up to a full day.  Longer is not recommended.  For larger Delivery Groups, we recommend that the team creation event be held off-site.

Facilitation of the team creation event is usually done by the process/people Real Agility Coach.  If you wanted to use this process with other enterprise Agile frameworks such as SAFe (Scaled Agile Framework) you would have the “equivalent” person such as SAFe’s Release Train Engineer as the facilitator.

The team creation event should only be done when the business is ready to get a Delivery Group started on actual product, project or program work.  If there is any significant delay between the team creation event and the launch of the Delivery Group on it’s work, then the teams can fracture and you may need to run the event again.  A few days should be the maximum delay.

One client we worked with ran the team creation event but had some significant problems afterward because they weren’t really ready.  In particular, they still had to make staffing changes (primarily letting go of some contractors, hiring some new full-time employees).  As a result, the teams created in the team creation event were not really properly stable.  This caused a great deal of disruption and even significant morale problems for some teams.  It is essential that the Leadership Team be committed to keeping the team membership stable for a significant period of time after the team creation event.  That includes any necessary means to encourage people who are thinking of leaving to reconsider.  It also includes a commitment from leadership to respect the self-organizing choices made during the team creation event unless there is an extremely urgent problem with the results.

So, to make it systematic, here are the steps required to run a team creation event:

PREPARATION

  1. Make sure that everyone who will participate has Agile training and has been on an Agile team for at least a few iterations/sprints/cycles.
  2. The Leadership Team needs to publish a notice (usually through email) explaining the upcoming team creation event and their unqualified support for the event.
  3. The people/process Real Agility Coach needs to schedule the time for the event, and if necessary, book the venue.
  4. In the weeks and days leading up to the event, some communication should be provided to all the participants about the overall business purpose of the Delivery Group.  Is it for a specific Program?  If so, what is the objective of the program from a business perspective?  It should not just be a one-time communication.  This should come from the business Real Agility Coach.
  5. The Leadership Team needs to decide which management stakeholders will attend the team creation event and make presentations.  These presentations should be about setting a vision for the Delivery Group, not about assigning people to teams.

TEAM CREATION EVENT AGENDA

  1. The team creation event starts with the people/process Real Agility Coach welcoming people and reiterating the purpose of the event.
  2. Management stakeholders make their presentations to ensure that participants have a clear vision.
  3. The business Real Agility Coach summarizes the vision presented by the management stakeholders.
  4. The people/process Real Agility Coach provides instructions about the constraints for a good Agile Delivery Team:
    • Cross-functional
    • Multi-skilled (see the Skills Matrix tool for ideas here).
    • Correct size (usually 7 +/- 2).
    • People who want to work with each other.
    • People who want to work on that particular team’s goal (if such is set).
    • Everyone must be on a team.
    • Every team must choose the people who will fill the Agile Delivery Team roles (e.g. ScrumMaster and Product owner for Scrum Delivery Teams).
  5. Everyone starts self-organizing!  Usually the three Real Agility Coaches circulate through the teams as they are working to organize themselves to offer gentle guidance, to answer questions, and to see if there are opportunities to optimize across teams.  These optimization opportunities should always be offered as suggestions rather than being directive.
  6. As the self-organization is happening, the people/process Real Agility Coach needs to clearly indicate the passage of time so that people are “finished” when the time has run out.
  7. Once the self-organizing is done, the Leadership Team (or a representative) thanks everyone for their work in creating the teams and agrees to let everyone know within a short period of time if there are any changes required (to be done before the teams start working).
  8. The people/process Real Agility Coach closes the meeting.  It is critical to record the final results of who is on which team.  It may be easiest to get the teams themselves to do this before leaving the meeting.

FOLLOW-UP

  1. The people/process Real Agility Coach makes sure that the Leadership Team receives a complete and accurate record of the results of the team creation event before the end of the day.
  2. The Leadership Team reviews the results and makes any (minor but critical) adjustments within a few days, at most, and publishes the final list to everyone.  Failure to do this in a timely manner can deeply demoralize the staff who will be in the Delivery Group.
  3. Any updates to org charts, management tools, time tracking tools, job descriptions, etc. that need to reflect the new team organization should also be made immediately and certainly before the Delivery Group starts working.
  4. A final thank you message from the Leadership team should be delivered immediately prior to the start of the Delivery Group doing its work.

Have you experienced an event like this? Did it work? What was different from what I described?

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Tips to Start Agile in a Hostile Environment

Although Agile methods are very popular (particularly Scrum), there are still many organizations or departments which may not yet have official support for adopting Agile methods formally.  In some cases, management may even be hostile to the concepts and practices of Agile methods.  If you are interested in Agile, you don’t have to give up hope (or look to switch jobs).  Instead, here are some tips to start using Agile methods even in hostile environments.

Regular Retrospectives

Some Agilists claim that the retrospective is actually the key to being Agile.  In some ways, this is also the easiest practice to introduce into an organization.  Start with “easy” retrospectives like “Pluses and Deltas” or “Starfish“.  These are retrospectives that can be done in 15 minutes or half an hour.  Try to do them with your team weekly.  If you are are a team lead or a project manager, it will be easy to include this as part of an existing weekly status meeting.  If you are “just” a team member, you might have to get some modest amount of permission.

So why would it be good to do a retrospective?  Because it’s a high return-on-investment activity.  For a few minutes of investment, a team using retrospectives can become aware of dramatic opportunities for improvement in how they are functioning.   Here are a couple more articles about the importance of retrospectives:

What’s an Agile Retrospective and Why Would You Do It?

What is a Retrospective?

Practice-by-Practice

Although I strongly recommend starting with retrospectives, sometimes that’s not the best way to start.  Myself, my first formal Agile environment, I started with the Daily Scrum.  Another time less formal, I started with Test-Driven Development.  In both cases, starting with a single practice, done well, led to adding additional practices over a relatively short period of months.  This gradual adoption of practices led, in time, to attracting positive interest from managers and leaders.  This is the practice-by-practice approach.  Start with a simple Agile practice that you can do without asking anyone for permission.  Make sure it is a practice that makes sense for your particular environment – it must produce some benefit!  If you are technical contributor on a team, then practices such as refactoring or test-driven development can be a good place to start.  If you are more business-oriented, then maybe consider user stories or one of the Innovation Games.  If you are responsible for administrative aspects of the work, then consider a Kanban board or burndown charts.

It is important to get the chosen practice done consistently and done well, even when the team is struggling with some sort of crisis or another.  If the practice can’t be sustained through a project crisis, then you won’t be able to build on it to add additional Agile practices.

Stealth Project

Sometimes you get an unusual opportunity: a project that is funded but hidden from the bureaucracy.  This can happen for a variety of reasons, but often it is because some executive has a pet project and says (effectively): “make it so”.  This is an opportunity to do Agile.  Since there is little oversight from a process perspective, and since the overall project has a strong executive sponsor, there is often a great deal of freedom on the question of “how do we actually execute.”  There can be challenges as well: often the executive wants daily insight into progress, but that level of transparency is actually something that Agile methods can really support.  In this case, there is no need to ask anyone on what method to use, just pick one (e.g. Scrum or OpenAgile or XP or Kanban or Crystal or…) and go for it.  Don’t talk about it.

The “just do it” approach requires that you have some influence.  You don’t have to be an influencer, but you need connections and you need charisma and you need courage.  If you don’t have at least two of those three, you shouldn’t try this approach.  You have to do things and get away with things that normally would get people fired – not because they are illegal – but simply because they are so counter-cultural to how your organization normally works.  Here are a few comments on Stealth Methodology Adoption.

Co-Conspirators

There’s nothing like working with a band of rebels!  If you can find one or two other people to become co-conspirators in changing your organization, you can try many lines of action and see which ones work.  Getting together for lunch or after work frequently is the best way to develop a common vision and to make plans.  Of course, you need to actually execute some of your plans.  Having people to work with is really part of the other tips here: you can have co-conspirators to help you launch a practice-by-practice Agile transformation, for example.

But, like any rebellion, you really need to trust those you work with in these early stages.  Lacking that trust will slow everything you do possibly to the point of ineffectualness.  Trust means that you have, for some time, a formal vow of silence.  Not until you have critical mass through your mutual efforts can you reveal the plan behind your actions.

Read “Fearless Change”

I can’t recommend this one enough!  Read “Fearless Change” by Mary Lynn Manns and Linda Rising.  This is a “patterns” book.  It is a collection of techniques that can be applied to help make organizational changes, where each technique has its own unique context of use.  Lots of research and experience have gone into the creation of this book and it is a classic for anyone who wants to be an organizational change agent.  Patterns include basics such as “Do Lunch” to help build trust and agreement with your ideas for change or “Champion Skeptic” to leverage the value of having systematic, open criticism of your change idea.

Don’t Call it “Agile”

This isn’t really a “tip” in the sense of an action item.  Instead, this is a preventative measure… to prevent negative reactions to your proposals for change.  The words “Agile” or “Scrum”, while they have their supporters, also have detractors.  To avoid some of the prejudices that some people may hold, you can start by _not_ calling your effort by those names.  Use another name.  Or let your ideas go nameless.  This can be challenging, particularly if other people start to use the words “Agile” or “Scrum”.  By going nameless into the change effort, people will focus more on results and rational assessment of your ideas rather than on their emotional prejudices.

A minor variant of this is to “brand” your ideas in a way that makes them more palatable. One company that we worked with, let’s call them XYZ, called their custom Agile method “Agile @ XYZ”.  Just those extra four symbols “@ XYZ” made all the difference in changing the effort from one where managers and executives would resist the change to one where they would feel connected to the change.

Get Some Training

Okay, some blatant self-promotion here: consider our Certified Real Agility Coach training program.  It’s a 40-week program that takes about 12 hours/week of your time for coursework.  The next cohort of participants starts in June 2015 and we are taking deposits for participants.  This training is comprehensive, top-notch training for anyone wishing to become an organizational change agent focusing on Agility.

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Spark the Change Toronto – Pre-Registration Started

This looks like a great conference – to be held on Thursday, April 23rd, 2015.  From the description:

An event for the whole organization, Spark brings together leaders from across the business to explore how they can work together to create lasting and total change. Talks and workshops offer inspiring examples and practical advice on taking action and overcoming obstacles. – See more at: http://2015.sparkthechange.ca/what-is-spark-2/#sthash.WI3bDFBA.dpuf

Sign up for pre-registration for Spark the Change Toronto

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The Agile Framework: Agile Values and Principles, The Agile Toolkit, The Agile Organization

When I am speaking with executives, ScrumMasters and other leaders of change in organizations, I often present a simple 3-layer model to understand the relationship between the various moving parts in the Agile Framework:

  1. The Agile Values and Principles – These describe the culture and, in the Agile Manifesto, are the definition of the word “Agile” as applied to software development. I didn’t write the Agile Manifesto so I don’t get to re-define the word Agile.  To give an example: in the manifesto it says “The best architectures, requirements and designs emerge out of self-organizing teams.”  As a former enterprise architect at Charles Schwab, I struggled with what I saw as incredibly wasteful up-front architectural activities when I knew that developers would (sometimes) ignore my glorious ivory-tower plans!  Therefore, if you are still doing up-front architecture and forcing your teams to comply to that architecture, you aren’t Agile.  Therefore, as an individual, a team or an organization, you need to make a conscious decision to “BE” Agile or not… and if you decide not, then please don’t call yourselves Agile.
  2. The Agile Toolkit – There are many hundreds of distinct tools in the Agile toolkit including Scrum, OpenAgile and other “large” Agile methods, as well as the Planning Game, Product Box, Test-Driven Development and other “small” Agile techniques.  Any group of people trying to BE Agile, will need to use dozens or even hundreds of different Agile tools.  I call them tools because the analogy with construction tools is a very good one.  Scrum is like a hammer.  But you can’t do much with just a hammer.  Scrum is a great, simple tool.  But you always need other tools as well to actually get stuff done.  All the tools in the Agile Toolkit are compatible with the Agile Values and Principles.  Even so, it is possible to use the Agile Tools without being Agile.  A Scrum team that never gets together face-to-face is not an Agile team: “The most efficient and effective method of conveying information to and within a development team is face-to-face conversation.”  (Video conferencing doesn’t count.)
  3. The Agile Organization – When you start using a tool, there is a learning period.  We start by being conscious of our incompetence and as we persist, we become competent… but it isn’t natural or habitual yet.  Eventually, with continued use, we become unconscious of the tool.  IDE’s and version control are like this in most organizations: we don’t even think about them!  But getting through that initial stage requires us to change; to develop new skills.  This process usually requires discomfort or pain (including psychological pain).  An organization attempting to BE Agile and to use many of the tools in the Agile Toolkit will need to make many changes and often these will be difficult.  For example, incorporating the Product Owner role from Scrum into your organization requires new role definitions, new performance evaluation practices and criteria, new compensation systems, new communication and reporting mechanisms, new authority and accountability processes, etc. etc.  All of the changes required are about creating Enterprise Agility throughout the whole organization, beyond just software or IT.  These extensive changes are often started in a very ad hoc manner, but at some point they need to become systematic.  This is an important decision point for executive management: are we going to be Pragmatic about our Enterprise Agile adoption, or are we going to be Transformative about our Enterprise Agile adoption.

All of this is summarized in this graphic:

The Agile Framework [PDF]

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Updated: Reviews of SAFe (Scaled Agile Framework)

I just finished attending my SAFe Program Consultant (SPC) training and I wrote a review of the Scaled Agile Framework 3.0 and the SAFe Program Consultant training.  I won’t quote myself here :-)

Lyssa Adkins

Also, Lyssa Adkins has recently published her own review on InfoQ.  I enjoyed reading it because Lyssa is so gentle, fair, and insightful.  She puts a lot into connecting the Scaled Agile Framework with the Agile Manifesto and shows that there is a fantastic level of alignment between them.  Her article is called “Agile Coaches’ Coach Shares Her View on SAFe“.  Here’s a bit of a teaser from her article:

Based on the way the SAFe Big Picture looked to me, I walked into that class very concerned that SAFe would take away the teams’ creativity by “pre-chewing” the stories into requirements a la my project management days. I thought I might see the rebirth of “The system shall…” statements. I was also worried that SAFe would take away teams’ autonomy and reverse our still fragile belief in emergence; the diagram just looks so top down! These concerns put me on alert for anything that appeared to undermine the Agile Manifesto or the Scrum values.

 

A surprising thing happened in that class…..

Peter Saddington

Although I don’t know him well, the few small interactions I’ve had with Peter have engendered in me a great deal of respect for him.  His fundamental philosophy of Agile and organizations is courageous and principled.  I found out yesterday that Peter wrote a review on the Scaled Agile Framework back in February 2014.  Please check out “The Scaled Agile Framework (SAFe) – A Review“.  It is interesting and insightful.  Great quote:

What SAFe is Far Better At Than Most

- Marketing

Ron Jeffries

SAFe (Scaling Agile Framework) is gaining in popularity.  Ron Jeffries recently attended a SAFe training session and has written a great review.  I particularly like what Ron says about the idea of being properly Agile:

SAFe will be successful in the market. People will benefit. They just won’t benefit nearly as much as they might if they set out to do things in a fashion that truly supports Agile Values and Principles.

 

SAFe is good. It’s just not good enough. It provides some benefit, but endangers an organization’s progress toward really high functioning. As someone who has been in the Agile movement since before it started, I do not like it. It’s fast food. You can do better.

 

Mike Cohn

Mr. Cohn has written a really fun April fool’s parody of SAFe that, given the comments, surely counts as a review as well.  It’s called “Introducing the LAFABLE Process for Scaling Agile“.  Although it starts on a very humorous note, the comments are quite extensive and contain lots of great discussion.  Here’s an important comment from Mike Cohn about the whole concept of scaling that gives you a taste of the discussion:

I don’t think “agile at scale” is a bad word. I’ve consistently maintained that projects should be as agile as they can be but no more. A project that requires let’s say 500 people will never be as agile as one that requires 3 people. But I can’t imagine the 500 people and 3 people being competitors. And, if they are, the bigger mistake made by the 500 person project is involving the other 497 people, not the process they choose.

Neil Killick

Neil Killick seems to have even stronger opinions about SAFe, and is quite direct about them.  I like what he says in one of the comments on his blog post:

So you can go the SAFe path or the Scrum and Agile path. All you need to do i[s] figure out how big a cliff you want to deal with down the road.

I don’t personally have any experience with SAFe so I won’t make any big claims about it either way.  However, I do appreciate that the popularity of SAFe, like the popularity of Agile/Scrum* will probably lead to studies showing modest qualitative improvements of 20% to 40% increases in productivity.  Is this just the Hawthorn Effect at work?

When I help an organization with Agile principles and methods, I hope and expect dramatic measurable improvements.  Sometimes this results in people losing their jobs.  Sometimes this means people have nervous breakdowns.  It can be very painful in the short term.  SAFe, by it’s very name, seems to be anti-pain.  That doesn’t bode well.

Here are a few other interesting links to information about the Scaled Agile Framework:

Has SAFe Cracked the Large Agile Adoption Nut? – InfoQ

Unsafe at Any Speed – Ken Schwaber

Kanban – the anti-SAFe for almost a decade already – David Andersen

* There is no such thing as “Agile/Scrum” but that’s what lots of people call Scrum when they don’t do Scrum properly.

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Important Words about Scrum and Tools

Ken Schwaber, the founder of Scrum, has a blog.  In it, someone mentioned that Scrum is changing.  Ken responded:

If you change the Scrum framework you just simply aren’t using Scrum and are probably canceling some of its most important benefits.

Thank you Ken!  I wholeheartedly agree.  Every CSM class I teach, I emphasize the complete nature of Scrum as a single tool, not a collection of tools.  Learning Scrum is about learning the tool, not learning how to pick and choose pieces of a tool.  Let’s explore this metaphor of Scrum as a tool.

Consider a hammer.  A hammer is ideally suited for pounding nails into wood.  It has two parts: a head and a handle.  If you take the parts and use them separately, they can still be used for pounding nails into wood… but they are very ineffective compared to the hammer (although better than using your bare fist).  It is non-sensical to decompose the hammer and try to use the pieces separately.  However, a hammer is not suited to other purposes such as driving screws or cutting wood.  It’s perfection is not just in its form, but also in its proper application.  A hammer works through a balanced combination of leverage and momentum.

Scrum is like a hammer.  It has parts (daily Scrum, Sprints, ScrumMaster, etc.), but taking the parts and trying to use them separately is… you guessed it… non-sensical.  The parts of Scrum combine to be an extremely effective tool for new product development.  Just like a hammer, there are things you wouldn’t want to do with Scrum such as manufacturing or painting a wall.  (We might not all agree on the limits of the use of Scrum… that’s something for another article.)  Scrum works through a combination of pressure on the organization and “inspect and adapt” (continuous improvement).

Please.  Don’t modify Scrum.  If you must change things about Scrum, please stop calling it Scrum.

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What’s in your Agile Transformation Backlog?

Michael Badali, a good friend of mine, has asked a great question on LinkedIn: What is your Backlog for Agile Transformation?.  From his question:

While I think that Band-Aid off quick is more likely to be successful than Band-Aid off slow, often Agile Coaches & Leaders are put in the position of Kaizen instead of Kaikaku. When asked for a detailed waterfall plan and schedule on how to become Agile… I generally refuse and create an Agile Transformation Backlog – a prioritized list of things that need to be done to become Agile. Please share your prioritized list of things that need to be done to be Agile.

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Agile Transformation and the Chasm

In his book “Crossing the Chasm“, Geoffrey Moore describes the difficulty of creating a popular new product due to a conceptual “chasm” between the first people who adopt a new product and those who come later.  He describes five types of people in relation to how they adopt new products:

  • Innovators – always actively seeking out and trying cutting edge new products.
  • Early Adopters – excited to try new things, but after the worst “bugs” have been removed.
  • Then there is the Chasm – many products fail here.
  • Early Majority – willing to try new things but need strong testimonials or real-world proof.
  • Late Majority – require time-tested proof before they will adopt a product.
  • Laggards – resistant to change and hesitant to adopt anything without strong personal incentives.

This product adoption behavior also applies to new ideas in general, and of course, to Agile Transformation [Agile Transformation vs. Agile Adoption] in particular.

Implications of the “Chasm” Model

An organization attempting to do an Agile Transformation [Kotter's 8-Step Change Model] should understand how to use this model to ensure long-term success.  This diagram illustrates the concepts (click on it to see it full size):

First, the organization should start the transformation by finding the innovators and early adopters.  These people can then be recruited to run the initial pilot projects.  They will be enthusiastic and will typically adapt themselves to the new behaviors and thinking patterns required by Agility.  If they are properly supported by managers, they will also be successful – at least within the bounds of a limited pilot environment.  Success here will mean that the pilot projects deliver value, use feedback effectively, and the participants (team members and stakeholders) will be happy with the results.

In this stage, it is best to avoid putting people on the teams who are from the early majority, late majority or laggards groups.  These people will tend to drag on the results of the pilot projects.  This is a common mistake in running a pilot program and leads to discouraging results.  One way to help filter between these two groups is simply to ask for volunteers for the pilot projects.  Innovators and early adopters will be much more likely to volunteer for a new initiative.

After the pilot projects have shown some good results, the next step is to go the general roll-out.  In this step, you are now working with the early and late majority.  These people need much more substantial support for a change of this nature.  They will require intensive training, and hand-holding in the form of coaching and mentoring.  This hand-holding can come partially from your innovators and early adopters.  Some of the participants in the pilot projects will have the desire to share their success.  From these, you need to carefully select and prepare a few who will act as internal coaches.  If you are a small organization or if you wish to do your transformation quickly, you will likely need to hire coaches from outside your organization as well.

The early and late majority require evidence of benefits and reassurance that risks are minimal or can be mitigated.  This evidence partially comes from your pilot projects.  However, this may not be sufficient.  There are two other important sources of evidence for this group: the leadership team and external experts.

The leadership team must be committed to the change to agility and can demonstrate this commitment by doing their own management work as an agile team.  The exact details of the agile process do not need to be identical to that of the staff teams, but it should be recognizably similar.  As well, this “Agile Transformation Team” must make itself very visible during the general roll-out.  This can be done with communication and by taking up visible residence in a central conference room or bullpen.  As well, this Agile Transformation Team must work diligently to remove obstacles that are raised by staff teams during the general roll-out.

The second source of evidence comes from external sources.  Published case studies are one valuable source.  However, there is a huge value in a visible management investment in external support from recognized experts.  This can be in the form of training, coaching, consulting as well as informal “lunch-and-learn” meetings, town hall meetings and the like.  When engaging experts, it is imperative that the Agile Transformation Team act on their advice otherwise the early and late majority will take that as a sign of hypocrisy.

The final stage of a roll-out is to deal with the laggards.  For the most part this is a do-or-die proposition for these people.  Either get with the program and engage like a committed employee or leave the organization.  If your organization is large enough, you will likely have observed some of these people leaving the organization in the general roll-out.

For some organizations, this transformation process can take many years.  An organization with thousands of people should expect to be working on the pilot projects for at least a year, the general roll-out for at least three years.  Often it will be longer.  Good luck on your agile transformation effort!

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Teams, People and “Resources” – The Culture of Agility

In an Agile culture, it is considered rude to refer to people as “resources”. People are not fungible – you cannot just take any old developer and plug them into any old project. Skills, personalities, likes, talents, potential all are so dynamic and unique for each individual person. So any management theory (including traditional project management) that treats people as “resources” like oil, gold or computers, is making an unjust simplification at the expense of the people working in the organization.

Yet organizations need to be able to plan where to spend money, and certainly the people working in an organization are often one of the largest costs. From a financial perspective, from a business perspective, it makes sense to somehow treat people costs in the same way as other operational costs… and this often leads to dehumanizing people to the point of treating them like resources.

So how can these legitimate organizational needs for budgeting mesh with the equally legitimate approach of Agile to treating people as unique actors be merged? It is actually quite simple, but the ramifications are deep: treat TEAMS as resources. Teams become the fundamental building blocks of an organization. Teams move from project to project or program to program or operation to operation. There is still a need to support the individuals in an organization, but it is done in the context of teams.

An Agile team is cross-functional, but also constantly learning. Individuals on the team learn skills based on their own interest, but also based on the needs of the team for redundancy, parallelism, and expansion of capacity to take on new, more challenging work. Cross-functional teams can more easily (and more sanely) be compared for their value to the organization by looking at things such as their ability to produce finished product/services, their flexibility in serving the needs of the organization, and the quality/consistency of the work they produce. Teams can compete in a healthy way by striving for excellence in delivering value to the organization, whereas often competition between individuals can be quite unhealthy.

From a budget perspective, teams are easy to manage: each team has a fully loaded cost based on salaries, space, equipment, etc. The cost is (or can be) relatively stable or grow predictably, and can still be handled operationally. As well, unlike individuals, it is much easier to treat a whole team as a fungible unit: you feed work to teams based on their availability rather than based on a detailed analysis of their skills/capacities/allocations.

In Agile organizations, teams are resources, people are not.

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Project Defibrillation

Imagine your father is in surgery for a routine tonsillectomy.  Something goes wrong with the anesthesia and his heart goes nuts.  The defibrillator is brought out, the paddles applied to your father’s chest and the surgeon yells “CLEAR!”.  He triggers the defibrillator, but nothing happens, just a small clicking noise.  He quickly checks the machine, and everything looks okay.  He tries again.  “CLEAR!”  There’s a small buzzing noise and your father’s body trembles slightly.  The surgeon puts the paddles down, and, getting frantic, yells at the nurses to find another defib machine, “NOW!!!”.  Thirty agonizing seconds pass.  One of the nurses rushes into O.R. with a cart with another defibrillator machine on it.  It gets set up.  Another fifteen seconds pass.  It charges and the surgeon applies it again.  “CLEAR!”  There’s a huge shock and your father is killed instantly.  It takes a few more minutes for him to be officially pronounced dead.

Is this how projects are run in your organization?

If this had been a description of a real event, you would be furious.  You would demand that the defibrillators work better – one hundred percent of the time would be about right!  You would sue the hospital for buying shoddy defibrillators.  You would sue the company that made them.  You would sue the surgeon.

Let’s stop running projects this way.  Agile is a reliable defibrillator for your organization’s heart.

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Cool Blog – SustainabilityCulture.com

One of our partner organizations, HBI Leadership, has launched a blog called SustainabilityCulture.com.  Check it out!

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Patterns of Agile Adoption by Mike Cohn

Mike Cohn has written an excellent article that covers a number of different options that can be taken when someone in an organization desires to implement an agile method.  These Patterns of Agile Adoptions are described as three sets of contrasting options:

  1. Start Small vs. Go All In
  2. Technical Practices First vs. Iterations First
  3. Stealth Mode vs. Public Display
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