FIRST STEPS AND HELPFUL FRAMEWORKS
(Agile Series Part 6)
In this series, we discussed different ways to apply an Agile mindset and common Agile practices in pragmatic ways that make sense for your organization and your culture. A pragmatic approach to Agile can work not only for development teams, but many other teams and departments across an organization.
The idea of adopting Agile methodologies into your organization may seem daunting. However, our experienced team has helped businesses of all sizes accomplish this exact goal, and we are confident that Agile principles can deliver meaningful results to your organization. In this article, the final entry in our series, we boil down the first steps leadership teams can take to build their Agile muscle and the frameworks to utilize along the way.
Leadership is critical for Agile to be successful, particularly for an organization trying to drive forward a large digital transformation. Leaders need to set the right culture so that iteration, transparency, and collaboration can happen without fear of failure. Leaders need to empower teams, so that they have a degree of autonomy (on how they work and what the solution is), help teams remove their impediments, and prioritize dependencies when there is an impasse.
Agile leadership is synonymous with servant leadership, but it doesn’t mean mob rule and “anything goes”. When leaders are supportive of the outcomes and the value Agile teams are delivering, as opposed to managing features or the project, leaders help cultivate an Agile organizational culture. When leaders accept the degree of uncertainty and give the teams the space to figure “it” out, this allows leaders to be less involved as managers and more focused on the strategy, identifying recurring pain points and themes to be addressed. It is important for teams and leaders to establish a cadence and process, in order to provide the right level of transparency and iterations for leaders to see what’s going on and for teams to collect feedback.
Notice that to this point there hasn’t been a reference to scrum, kanban, SAFe or any other framework. This is intentional because an organization can be successful by being Agile and not just doing Agile, which is the common reason why many Agile programs fail. A leader or organization doesn’t need to sign up for a particular framework, although they certainly can if it makes sense. There can be meaningful value in those frameworks, but a pragmatic approach to agile is a great way to start adopting those Agile values and benefiting from them.
Often the most lightweight process, with clearly defined objectives is the best approach to set up an organic, iterative approach. The Agile Manifesto, which is shorter than a paragraph, simply calls out the importance of ‘People over Process’, ‘working software over documentation’, ‘customer collaboration over negotiation’, and ‘responding to change over following a plan’. This allows for an inherently pragmatic approach for teams to iteratively work.
Agile frameworks do provide some tools and concepts that can be leveraged to help improve a process and team collaboration. This blog series called out three specific concepts that can be leveraged for an organization of any size, regardless of formal organizational “agility”. The first of these tools is the Retrospective.
Retrospectives, or retros, are powerful moments for people and teams to take a step back and reflect on things that work well that should be continued upon, but to also identify what are those opportunities where the team can do something differently. Some organizations also call these a post-mortem or in the military they are referred to as an After Action Review (AAR). The retro is a facilitated conversation so the team can be free to think and participate and is intended to be a simple tool for the team to learn.
Big Room Planning is another concept typically associated with Agile planning, but can be used universally. In a Big Room Planning session, leaders will talk about business goals for the iteration (typically a quarter, but could be a Program Increment, a PI). This is a great opportunity for leaders to inform teams how their work directly impacts the business. In addition to aligning on shared goals, the other added benefit is Big Room Planning brings teams together to plan out the work within a certain time boxed iteration.
Some leaders may question the value of pulling everyone from the teams together to stop working on what they’re currently doing, just to plan the next iteration. They may see this as an incredibly expensive meeting and push back on the value. Although there is an upfront investment for preparation, Big Room Planning can actually save meeting time, as well as reduce risk by making sure teams are clear on what work is coming up and giving them space to talk through complex problems earlier in the planning process. Regardless of whether a team is waterfall, Agile or somewhere in between, it’s an extremely valuable exercise to bring teams together to align on shared objectives and honestly talk through dependencies to plan the work through the next iteration.
As part of Big Room Planning, teams should have an understanding of how long it will take to complete certain tasks. One of the benefits of Agile is understanding flow and Velocity of a team. Velocity at its core is the simple measurement of the rate at which a team consistently delivers business value to an organization’s customers. Teams that understand their Velocity can more predictably and sustainably deliver value, which can protect teams from burnout, as well as give leadership more confidence in estimated delivery targets.
All of these concepts and techniques are ways to apply Agile concepts to your organization, regardless of if you’re “Agile” or not. Each organization is different and therefore “Agile” will show up differently, which is perfectly fine. The changes required for Agile to thrive can be hard and take time.