Lessons Learned from Agile Transformations: Part 2

Second in a Fifteen Part Series

By Chad Greenslade

 

I have often been asked about my lessons learned in delivering Agile transformations. Below is the second in a fifteen part series examining my lessons learned while instituting Agile concepts & practices. I hope that these lessons help you on your journey to Agile nirvana.

 

Lesson 2: Understand Common Reasons for Moving to Agile

 

I believe there are three (3) common reasons for moving to an agile delivery methodology. These reasons have nothing to do with IT specifically, but rather align themselves more generally with the common goals of product delivery. These are timely delivery, resolving quality deficiencies, and speed to market.

 

In the traditional waterfall model, an IT project could have a duration of several months or years and not produce anything of value for the business, if it produces anything at all. A common stakeholder complaint is that they rarely, if ever, know when anything will be delivered. Sponsors and stakeholders become reluctant to allow the project to continue when there is no end date or discernible deliverables in sight. An obvious and common risk is that a new opportunity or project will present itself resulting in the original project being cancelled, ending the work before anything of value is delivered. An agile delivery methodology alleviates concerns related to timely delivery by producing incremental product units on a pre-defined timescale.

 

Today’s business environment is constantly changing. Whether it’s new products being developed, old products being retired, competitors being acquired, divestitures, market expansions, new legislation or regulations, the only constant is change. This has an overwhelming and obvious effect on the information needs of the organization required to make accurate business decisions. Furthermore, a business is often willing to invest in building a solution to meet these information needs before all of the needs are fully known or understood. The traditional waterfall model is not conducive to the ebbs and flows of today’s business environment. It creates a situation in which a project team attempts to collect all requirements at the beginning of the software development effort, even though they may be unknown at the time of collection. The project team then takes the requirements as defined (or undefined) and attempts to build the solution over the course of months or years while discouraging changes to the requirements during the development process. This invariably breeds an environment in which the product delivered not only fails to meet the initial requirements, but also fails to address the changes in business conditions that occurred since the original requirements were collected. Stakeholders regard these as quality deficiencies even though the system may be coded exactly as the requirements specified. An agile delivery methodology alleviates quality concerns by continuously engaging the consumers of the information system throughout the development lifecycle and embracing the inherent changing requirements of today’s business environment.

 

A key theme of a successful business is continuous innovation. A common complaint from an executive whose business is failing to innovate could be, “our competitors are consistently beating us to market with new products or features.” An agile delivery methodology keeps the organization focused on product release milestones via the inherent cadence that accompanies the methodology. It also seeks to discontinue the use of non-value add activities such as unnecessary documentation or process which further refines the focus of the product delivery team.

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Lessons Learned from Agile Transformations: Part 1

First in a Fifteen Part Series

By Chad Greenslade

I have often been asked about my lessons learned in delivering Agile transformations.  Below is the first in a fifteen part series examining my lessons learned while instituting Agile concepts & practices.  I hope that these lessons help you on your journey to Agile nirvana.

Lesson 1: Identify the Agile Sponsor & Champion

Before you start your Agile journey, you must identify a Sponsor or a “champion” from the ranks of the executive team.  The Sponsor will be similar to the captain of a ship.  You will work with this person to define the destination and ensure the “ship” (the Agile transformation effort) is on the right course.  The sponsor will keep the larger executive team up-to-date on a regular basis.

In order to identify a Sponsor, you’ll want to find someone that is involved in several high-profile, important initiatives within the company.  You’ll want someone who is approachable and understands the importance of relationship building.  You’ll also want someone who is familiar with, and has influence over, gaining the funding you need to make the transformation.  Finally, you’ll want someone who identifies the fact that the transformation you seek won’t happen without training the folks involved in the transformation and is willing to throw his / her support behind an Agile education initiative.  Your Sponsor will be tasked with selling the need for proper training for both the teams executing the Agile practice and the executives consuming the Agile product.

Your Sponsor will be the organization’s representative for the transformation effort.  You’ll want to work with this person to establish tenets of the transformation vision and clearly articulate why the organization is undertaking the initiative.  The development of “talking points” and “elevator speeches” will be critical to effectively allay concerns of folks involved with, and affected by, the initiative.

The Sponsor will be the person that removes the “roadblocks” encountered during your journey.  For this reason, it’s important to select a person who is comfortable with people at all levels of the organization.  The Agile transformation team must be comfortable with sharing honest and open feedback with the Sponsor and requesting his or her assistance in accomplishing their objectives.  Like any good leader, your Sponsor must possess active listening and follow-through skills in order for team members to feel heard.  The Sponsor does not have to be a “technical” person but they should have a firm grasp of the delivery process.  The Sponsor should be universally regarded as a leader throughout the organization and someone who has the influence, not necessarily the power, to get things done.

Lastly, it’s critical that the Sponsor have a firm grasp of the “big picture” and understand the cultural mindset shift that must occur.  Prior organizational rewards mechanisms may need to be changed in order to properly incentivize people to make the changes necessary.  It will be important to measure the transformation effort against established success criteria and publish successes, or setbacks, as required via development of necessary publication materials.  Open recognition and publication of successes is critical to boosting team morale and enforcing the change that you need in order of the transformation effort to be successful.