How to achieve the Agile Transformation — Part 1

How to achieve the Agile Transformation — Part 1

By: Jim Stewart

What pushes organizations to embrace Agile and what projects waterfall won’t serve.

Organizations that run projects are increasingly looking at transforming the company toward using the Agile methodology. For one example, GE – who is heavily involved in the “Internet of Things” – is having not only developers but also managers trained in . But before we can define exactly what the Agile transformation is, a little background is in order.

For years and years, companies that run projects have done so using the classic ‘waterfall’ methodology, so-called because the phases cascade down from one to the other like a waterfall.

But increasingly, organizations are looking for ways to demonstrate business value faster, to adapt to changing requirements and to deploy teams that are more nimble and self-organizing.

In short, they are considering the Agile methodology. There are several variants of Agile including Lean, Scrum, Extreme Programming, etc. But most Agile adopters are considering using the Scrum methodology.

There are certain types of projects for which Agile is especially well-suited. (And not always software projects. IIL’s sales team and marketing department use Agile to manage their workload and have daily stand-ups for their regular meetings.)

Good options for going Agile include projects where:

  • Requirements are not well-understood or cannot be articulated
  • There is a high degree of complexity and uniqueness
  • There is a high degree of uncertainty
  • The greatest potential benefit is for complex work involving knowledge creation and collaboration, e.g., new product development

Scrum has certain tenets or guidelines that must be met for the project to even be considered Agile. It must:

  • Use time boxes sprints, typically of 2 – 4 week duration
  • Have short daily meetings (scrums)
  • Use a Scrum Master who facilitates rather than a project manager
  • Employ self-organizing teams who decide what to work on and how to do it
  • Be guided by a concept called servant leadership

The concept of servant leadership was developed by a management expert Robert K. Greenleaf. Having spent many years at AT&T, he felt that the authoritarian methods of managing in organizations were not meeting the needs of either management or workers.

Greenleaf discusses the “need for a better approach to leadership, one that puts serving others — including employees, customers, and community — as the number-one priority. Servant leadership emphasizes increased service to others, a holistic approach to work, promoting a sense of community, and the sharing of power in decision making.” (Italics mine.)

Greenleaf’s characteristics of the servant leader include listening, empathy, healing, awareness, persuasion, conceptualization, foresight, stewardship, commitment to the growth of people, building community.”1

And so those companies that are looking to ‘Go Agile’ are looking at what has come to be known as an Agile Transformation. (The scope of this article concerns itself largely with companies that are making a wholesale shift. Some companies are adopting Agile only in departments, not at the enterprise level.)

So what do we mean when we say Agile Transformation? This definition is as good as any:

“The Agile transformation definition is an act of transforming an organization’s form or nature gradually to one that is able to embrace and thrive in a flexible, collaborative, self-organizing, fast changing environment. The Agile Manifesto2 values and principles can be taught and exercised throughout any type of organization as it does not just apply to development teams.

The entire organization needs to understand the definition of an agile transformation and the value of it in order to benefit from the rewards of achieving true, healthy agility. The complete cultural and organizational mindset must change to one that embraces a culture of self-organization and collaboration.”3

Note that the definition of Agile Transformation does not say something like “project teams will learn to be self-organizing using Scrum Masters” or “there will be daily Scrums and time boxes called Sprints.” Sure, as noted above, those are true.

But note the last sentence of the definition. It speaks of a “complete cultural and organizational mindset change.” It should be obvious to anyone who has spent more than five minutes working for an organization that effecting change is one of the most difficult things you can do.

But like it or not, the hallmark of any Agile transformation is change. Unless companies that are considering doing transformations are open to the idea of change, the effort is doomed to failure and they might just as well stay with traditional project management techniques.

So it seems to me that the first prerequisite to any Agile Transformation within companies is for its leaders to be open to a new way of doing business.

In the next post, we’ll talk about the challenges inherent in an Agile transformation and how to deal with them.

  1. The Art And Science Of Servant Leader In Agile Scrum World. Sreedhar Khoganti. PM Times.
  2. The Agile Manifesto. A formal proclamation of four key values and 12 principles to guide an iterative and people-centric approach to software development. http://agilemanifesto.org/
  3. Agile Transformation: Understanding What it Means to be Agile. Cast software.com. http://www.castsoftware.com/research-labs/agile-transformation-what-is-it-definition

Jim Stewart has over twenty years’ experience in managing projects in IT, financial services and pharmaceutical. A PMP since 2001 and Certified Scrum Master since 2013, he frequently helps organizations increase their project maturity by incorporating best practices.

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