Agile transformation seems to be everywhere. Almost every organisation, around the world, now proclaim to be going through a strategy shift christened Agile transformation. These transformations are, often times, incongruent to the very values and pillars that uphold agility. Agile transformation, when done well, aligns perfectly with the Agile manifesto, embodied in its 4 values and the 12 principles. According to the 17 signatories, find below the ‘Manifesto for Agile Software Development’.
We are uncovering better ways of developing software by doing it and helping others do it. Through this work we have come to value: Individuals and interactions over processes and tools Working software over comprehensive documentation Customer collaboration over contract negotiation Responding to change over following a plan That is, while there is value in the items on the right, we value the items on the left more.
The accompanying 12 principles describe the significance of communication, collaboration, empowerment, trust and self-organisation in teams.
Agile Adoption precedes Agile transformation. A genuine transformation cannot exist without the foundational adoption of Agile in place. Many organisations realise the need to start creating fit-for-purpose and valuable deliverables in pretty fast increments, hence they come up with a plan to start the transformation journey.
What is Agile Adoption?
Adoption is simply choosing to follow an idea, method, or course of action. In Agile, this is the act of ‘doing Agile’. To put this in perspective, doing Agile may imply what people get after going through a 2-day course, where information about the manifesto, roles and ceremonies are shared. It is imperative to note that adopting Agile practices without living and breathing its values and principles is incomplete. However, Agile adoption can be beneficial for initiating foundational values such as focus, openness, respect, courage and commitment, on which Agile transformation builds on. The major goal of adoption is to prepare the way for a successful transformation. Agile adoption is a subset of Agile transformation. Agile adoption is a forerunner for Agile transformation.
What is Agile Transformation?
Transformation is a journey, a journey to continuously improve on the path towards maturity. And no matter how transformed a process seems to be, there is always room for improvement. Therefore, organisations need to continually evolve and improve their Agile maturity level. Agile transformation describes ‘being Agile’. Being Agile has absolutely nothing to do with methodologies, it is a state of being, a mindset, a belief and a way of life. Agile adoption is the foundation that needs to be laid so that Agile transformation can be successful. True agility is about adopting and establishing agile principles and practices, building a responsive culture and continuously learning better ways of working.
Why Agile Adoption is important before Agile Transformation?
There are several reasons why adoption should precede transformation. Adoption is similar to soil preparation in readiness for the planting season. While autumn is the best time to prepare the soil for planting, good soil preparation makes or breaks the garden. It improves the water-holding capacity of the soil and for plants that means the garden is more able to withstand water restrictions and anything else nature throws at it (Preparation, 2018). Just like the autumn soil preparation, it is best to prepare for a successful transformation through a proper and comprehensive Agile adoption process. The transformation agenda can only withstand issues and anti-patterns that come with change, only if the adoption foundation is very solid.
Adoption time is a time to learn. Organisational learning paves the way for maturity. Theoretical knowledge of agile practices is vital but obviously not enough, intentional learning, through failing fast, is very important as part of the adoption and transformation process. Viewing failure as a way of learning new ways of dealing with future risks is imperative for success in the transformation journey. In reference to the Agile manifesto, it is a case of learning to display agile values rather than process, practices and tools; and exhibiting agile thinking rather than following a set of rituals.
“Agile is not something that the developers do, it is what everyone does to achieve organisational goals”
How do organisations Adopt Agile?
This is a common question. Agile adoption is not difficult to achieve. The first step is to make the intent of the company to adopt Agile known and measure the organisation’s readiness to adopt Agile. This includes evaluating the current culture, processes, structure, and tools in order to identify needs and concerns. It is important to note that partial adoption may be worse than no adoption at all. Next, the organisation should organise short Agile workshops across the board, to raise awareness of the newly adopted framework. There are several other ways to raise awareness within the organisation, information radiators, visual display, big visible chats and wallpapers announcing the success stories of Agile have proven worked in the past. Early adopters are identified and they can form the team for the pilot project, augment the team with experienced specialists. The pilot project needs to be carefully selected, putting business value and risks into consideration. The services of experienced Agile Coaches need to be engaged, as this is an important step from ‘doing Agile’ to ‘being Agile’. The coaches help with building the required skill sets and cultural shift within the teams involved.
The need for Organisational shift
For Agile transformation to be successful, there is a thoughtful need for organisational mindset shift. There should be no partial adoption, every attribute of the framework is key. Agile should be embraced throughout the whole value stream. Remember, Agile is not something that the developers do, it is what everyone does to achieve organisational goals. Everyone from the hands-on guys to the leadership team should be part of the essential move. Teams must be empowered to challenge the status quo. It is not enough to get tasks done, it is important to do what is required to iteratively deliver small tasks that yield valuable results, in good time. All ceremonies should be observed. Retrospectives amplify learnings. From the leadership team to the production team, retrospective sessions help in reflecting value delivered over a period of time.
Agile transformation is an on-going gig. It evolves over time, not overnight and this leads to Agile maturity. Agile is simple but it is not easy; Doing Agile is simple, being Agile is not easy. It takes commitment to become truly Agile. True transformation comes from ‘being Agile’ scars, and big lessons are learned from such scars. Doing Agile is a mindset, it determines intentional decision to do things in certain ways and spontaneous response not only to change but also to anti-patterns. It is not far from the truth to say that Agile transformation is hard at the beginning, messy in the middle and gorgeous at the end.