Month: February 2015

Agile Transformation: First Step

Let’s face it – there is no specific step by step map to follow for your organization’s agile transformation. Every organization is a unique and complex configuration of people, culture and practices.  As IT professionals we seek an orderly set of specific rules to follow, but I’m telling you based on my experience there is no exact plan that you can follow.  The Rational Unified Process (RUP) which I consider to be one of the first popular iterative methodologies in the late 1990s had difficulty getting initial traction because a majority of early adopters took the published process and tried to implement every single step it described.  Only those who recognized that the process needed to be configured and that they needed to pick and choose the actions for their specific organization and initiatives were able to have success.

So in order to successfully transform our organization we must first start the loop of receiving/eliciting FEEDBACK and ADAPTATION.  As in a sports game, there are many factors that are going to be constantly changing.  You receive feedback, assess the situation and adapt to win.

So where there may not be a step by step guide on how you can transform your organization, the good news is we can provide guidance from our experienced situations, challenges and successful adaptations.  My hope here is that I can share some of my experiences and provide you with somewhere to begin to assemble or supplement your Agile Organizational Transformation.  Please take them as they are, tweak them, add to them, pivot and hopefully share your successful implementations and/or adaptations.

Grass Roots Transformation:  “Influence your leaders to speak to other leaders who have adopted Agile at their organizations.”

My personal experience has taught me that it is difficult to implement an organizational Agile transformation as a grass roots IT initiative without the support of senior leadership.  I have been a part of development teams that have implemented Scrum and were successful in product delivery only to have later projects dictated to follow a different methodology because of educational, political or a list of other reasons.  Consulting companies I speak with say that they will not undertake Agile transformations for companies where senior leadership is not driving or at least in support of the transformation.  If developers are pursuing a “grass roots” attempt to adopting Agile they should introduce their senior leadership to other company success stories and senior leaders that their leaders can speak with about Agile.  The good news is that there are more and more companies, CIOs and CEOs that are embracing Agile.  More early adopters of Agile are now making their way into influential positions within their organizations.  My current organization senior leaders spoke to several other company leaders and were impressed enough to move in the Agile direction.  I can remember the era when all the CIOs were influencing each other to implement an enterprise financial system package.  I am now seeing the same buzz around Agile.  Do whatever you can do to fan the flame.

Supportive Leadership Transformation: “Organize your teams and focus on delivering customer value.”

Some experts advise to transform everything at once.  What’s worked in my experience has been to create your agile teams at the product level first.  Leave your program and portfolio personnel operating in the same manner until you’ve got your lower level product team structure and process working efficiently.   Once you’ve got the product level working then it will be time to address the program and portfolio levels.  The strategy in the way you embark on your agile journey will be strongly driven by the experienced individual or entity guiding your organization.

In the beginning, how you assemble your organization on a managerial and reporting level is something your organization will have to decide and will probably be determined or at least influenced by existing cultural and political conditions.  No matter how you initially decide to organize on an HR and managerial level you must form Agile Teams horizontally across your traditional IT organization. Your HR and managerial structure will be responsible for the career progression and performance of their people.  Each Agile Team will be responsible as a team to deliver the agreed upon value to the business.  When creating your Agile Teams do your best to put the correct people together on the team that can get the job done and limit dependencies on other teams as much as possible.

To do this first identify the business groups you need to support and then identify the corresponding product owners and/or executive sponsors that will represent these groups.  Select the proper people across the skill sets to be on the teams necessary to support each business group.  The product owner and/or executive sponsor now become the entity prioritizing the work to be done for this business group.

If you are currently in a traditional IT organization then you probably have requests coming in from all directions.  Business people roll their eyes and blame IT for the long waiting period to address their request.  Perception that you don’t accomplish much abounds.  The truth is that IT has limited people and resources for all the requests and realistically some will never be completed.  The best way to get out of this situation is to have the product owner and/or the business sponsor receive and prioritize the requests.  If the AP Administrator wants a new report then they request prioritization from their own business organization and not IT.  IT should do the work, but the business will prioritize their own work.  This means no longer are IT the “NO people” and I can tell you that this alone will make a big difference in how you are viewed as an IT organization.

As you begin your Agile transformation, your organization should secure a strong Agile Coach.  This person or guiding entity needs to have the ear and work with your highest executive level.  They will need to work with all of leadership and the Agile Teams and provide guidance and education on a “Just In Time” (JIT) basis.  In my mind it is crucial to have the right guidance as you begin your Agile journey.  With their experience, they will recognize your organization’s pain points and challenges to becoming successful and will address these in priority order as you start to adopt the practice of continuous improvement.

So we have now come full circle – FEEDBACK and ADAPTATION.  As you continue your Agile journey you will recognize things that you want to change from your initial structure, process, etc.  My current company has adapted organizational structure improvements three times in the past year.  You don’t need to get things perfect from the beginning.  Again, feedback and adaptation.

Below is a summary bullet list of considerations for guidance:

  • Gain Support and Involvement from Senior Leadership
  • Enlist Agile Coach Expertise Working Directly With Senior Leadership
  • Create Agile Team Structure Within Your IT Organization
    • Pay particular attention to delivering value at the product level first
    • Define structure best you can – you may have to change it again – ADAPT!
  • Concentrate on delivering business value

Remember:  Feedback and Adaptation to continually improve your transformation!

In the next post I would like to examine some of the challenges you may run into during your initial Agile transformation period.