I often find that people new to Agile have a tough time understanding that Agile processes are empirical and there really isn’t a one-size-fits-all model that will work for every organization. Scrum, XP, Crystal, Lean and other Agile methods all have their practices that provide guidance and tools but none of them are going to tell you the recipe for success.
This is one of many reasons why hiring an Agile Coach is a good idea. A good Agile Coach will practice what they preach and use these same methods to help with an Agile transformation. If we are talking the talk, it’s probably a good idea to walk the walk. For starters it shows you’re passionate about Agile and it proves you know the tools and how to apply them. It’s also a great opportunity to lead by example.
There is responsibility and “do’s and don’ts” on the part of the coach and the organization to work together towards an Agile transformation. Below are 4 simple steps with some tips that can serve as a guide for how to approach an Agile transformation. Again, there is no one-size-fits-all approach but there are some basic fundamentals and common sense practices I have found useful that I wanted to share.
Understand: How do you know if you need a hammer for the job if you don’t understand the task in front of you?
- understand why the organization wants/needs to adopt Agile practices
- are they concerned about quality?
- is their business in jeopardy and they fundamentally need to change how they operate?
- are they simple tired of the status quo?
- understand the current state of the organization:
- how the organization is structured?
- where is the support for transforming to Agile?
- what’s the skillset like?
- understand that the Agile transformation is about the organization, not you
- understand that an Agile transformation is more about a culture change than an adoption of processes and tools
- understand that Agile is not a quick fix
- understand the an Agile transformation is costly and time-consuming
- understand that ALL levels of the organization need to be involved
- understand that you will not like some of the answers you get from your coach
Educate: This is important. I find that often people just want the answer. A good coach needs to educate the organization so they can apply that knowledge instead of giving them all the answers.
- teach the 4 values
- teach the 12 principles
- conduct workshops that help the organization understand the meaning behind the values and principles
- make it fun
- Educate them on the use of the tools (both thinking and software tools) you plan to use based on your understanding obtained in step 1
- be open to learning, don’t dismiss the education because “it won’t work here“
- reject the status quo,”look around, it doesn’t need to be this way” – Gerry Weinberg
- challenge and question the education, don’t simply accept everything the coach teaches, challenge those teachings to make them work in your environment.
Execute: Now the hard part. Agile is easy, implementing Agile is very difficult.
- start simple, you should understand how much of a shock the transformation will be, a simple approach may be best
- the organization will not always listen to you. You will serve the organization better if you can remain positive and objective
- collaborate with the team(s) and/or organization instead of giving them all the answers
- learn to ask powerful questions to help them relate the 4 values and principles to daily work
- refer back to the values and principles often, this helps drive the organization to think and apply these values and principles
- start internal user groups, blogs, wikis, get collaboration and discussion happening, spread Agile culture
- remain optimistic, you will be frustrated at times but stick with it
- “embrace uncertainty ” – Jeff Patton
- expect to experience failure, but remember to learn from it
- it might sound crazy, but it just might work. Give it a shot.
Reflect: Use retrospectives extensively, and not just with the team(s). Retrospectives will help the teams with daily ‘in the trenches‘ work and they will help management and executives inspect and adapt on their transformation plan.
- this is a tough one, but be honest with yourself. Are you the right coach for this organization? Do you need help?
- based on organization feedback, add new tools and practices as necessary to support these new learning opportunities
- help the organization learn how to improve in small increments
- try not to get overwhelmed, Agile tends to expose problems very quickly – use reflection to make small, incremental improvements and try to avoid the big-bang solution approach
- be honest with yourself, don’t ignore the problems that surface, attack them
Rinse and repeat often. These 4 steps are cyclical. Reflection leads to a greater understanding which leads to new learning opportunities that will likely require different tactics during execution.