The Fine Art of Going Agile
Following trends and shares on social media, I keep coming across all sorts of articles related to agile. Agile frameworks are thrown out onto the market, agile techniques, agile business analysis, agile project management and DevOps are only some of the key topics in many blogs on social media.
Because I am a big supporter of agile, I love the fact that so many people are noticing the importance of close collaboration, open communication, 100% customer focus and the crucial aspect of viewing change more like an exciting challenge, rather than a painful nightmare.
While there is certainly nothing wrong with going agile, for some organisations this is a major task, which I believe is sometimes underestimated. Despite having coaches and trainings for individuals or teams to help agile approaches get on the way, some organisations seem to get stuck when more than just one organisation unit is supposed to adapt, and teams suddenly find themselves working in a twilight zone, which can be rather confusing and irritating for those individuals.
I think it is immensely important to keep in mind that going from non-agile to agile is not an easy procedure which can just be done in the spur of the moment or starting by next week. As with every change, it takes a good deal of thinking, planning, communication and motivation of all involved.
As many others have already established and explained, agile is not a matter of using the right methodologies, tools and techniques. It is a mindset, and therefore the roots of all agile are the believes and values of the organisation and each of its individuals. Before this agile mindset is not incorporated in the organisational culture, trying to implement new methodologies and force-feeding individuals with new “agile” tools and techniques is pointless. If the root is not solid and well established, waiting for it to grow will turn into a rather frustrating, time consuming and unsuccessful endeavour.
If an organisation is big, currently cumbersome to move and does not foster agile principles and values, deploying agile in a two-step approach is probably the best option. First step, set out to get that agile mindset planted, watered and established throughout your organisation, from top management to operations (be aware though, as this will take time; lots of time). The organisational culture should be one which enables the agile principles of cross-functional teams, accepting change as part of the business, trust and interactive communication across all hierarchy levels.
At this point, there is no need whatsoever for changing any of your current methodologies, tools or techniques. There is not one of “non-agile” methodologies, tools and techniques which suggests that you should not communicate freely and openly. None of those methodologies, tools and techniques do in any way restrict your mindset from looking at change as the norm, rather than the exception, or from putting your customer's interest in clear focus. Also, no “non-agile” way of doing something doesn’t allow for cross-functional teams to work together.
The only thing which does not allow for open communication, team success or change to be part of daily business, is the behaviour of management, from top to bottom, and a manifested culture of fear and power.
I have worked with an agile mindset in waterfall projects, with this mindset being shared by my fellow project colleagues. No, we didn’t apply scrum, we didn’t do sprints. And no, we didn’t have a daily stand-up meeting. Nevertheless, we worked cross-functional; business, IT, developers, SME’s, business analysts and project managers. Everyone in the team was happy to contribute and to make it work. We had an open and direct communication and we all worked together for the cause, not just for personal success and fame. And we trusted each other.
So, before embarking on the adventure of using agile practices, tools and techniques, an organisation should ask and answer at least the following questions:
What do we want to achieve by going agile? What will our added value be for the organisation?
Until when should we be able to fully incorporate agile practices? Is it important or urgent, or both?
How must our management change, in order to allow for agile mindsets to flourish?
Where in our organisation do we expect resistance, and why?
How can we motivate our employees for the change?
Which methods, tools and techniques should we replace or/and adjust?
How do we deal with mistakes and drawbacks during the change?
Is it worth making the change? Seeing how people enjoy working in agile environment, I believe it really is.