Agile Transformations and Managing Agile Change

How to adopt and embody agile principles for successful change.

In my experience, implementing a successful enterprise agile transformation involves much more than just the adoption of new practices and new techniques for software development.

The larger, more challenging part of the transformation involves changing the way people think. As with any large-scale organizational change, several steps are critical to ensure success.

  • Create and communicate a common vision around why the change is needed. Most companies have reasons related to faster time to market, more predictable delivery or improving the quality of software being delivered. Everyone should understand the “why” behind the transformation.
  • Create a groundswell and ride the wave of change. It is important to find the “bright spots” in the organization. Communicating early wins is key to keeping the energy level high. Develop a core group of change enthusiasts and have them start an agile user group within your organization that promotes the adoption of agile principles and practices.
  • Become a learning organization and focus on continuous improvement. Provide lunch and learns and continued training on agile topics. Encourage teams to share what is working for them, but beware of labeling any “best” practices. Continue to reinforce desired behaviors.

These three steps are basic organizational change techniques and are not unique to an agile transformation. Centric’s view is that a successful agile transformation needs to address four key areas: Agile Practices, Agile Technologies, Agile Governance and Agile Change Management.

Agile Practices

Dedicated agile coaches can play an important role in streamlining the agile transformation. They can work directly with the teams, providing training and support for adoption of agile management practices such as Scrum or Kanban. Coaches can help teams navigate the forming-storming-norming phases more smoothly, enabling them to quickly become high performing. A coach’s job is to set the teams up for success and to help them become a self-organizing team. The coach will also need to work with the management team to help them make the transition to the Servant Leadership Model.

Agile Technologies

Another pitfall to avoid in the adoption of agile management practices is a failure to adopt the underlying engineering practices that allow the teams to be truly agile. Improvements in quality and speed to market are only possible with the adoption of engineering practices like Test Driven Development and Continuous Integration. The technical practices are more difficult to adopt, but the upside is that they will lower your total cost of ownership and make your codebase easier and cheaper to change in the future.

Agile Governance

As the teams implement a Scrum or Kanban approach, larger organizational challenges surrounding the teams will begin to be exposed. For example, how does the project management office maintain the portfolio of projects? What is the role of the project manager in an agile world? How are projects funded? How do the teams interface with other non-agile teams such as infrastructure and security? Issues like these need to be addressed in order to support the overall transformation. Failing to address these areas will most likely result in a slow regression to the “old” way of doing things.

Agile Change Management

Agile will not solve all of the organization’s problems, but it will help to expose them. For example, if the resources on a project are time-sliced, it will quickly become apparent if the team’s velocity is not sufficient to meet the project schedule. Agile won’t solve the time-slicing issue, but it will help to make the impact big and visible. Agile transformations can be painful in this respect.

It is important to remember that agile is a journey, not a destination. In order to ensure lasting change, the organization must adopt and embody agile principles. They must become a learning organization focused on continuous improvement. Remember that a successful transformation is not just about changing the way people work, but also about changing the way they think.