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Agile - How do we do it?

Agile has gained significant momentum over the last five years with organizations scrambling to embrace Agile methods. It has become popular amongst various industry executives too. But do organizations really need Agile? Are they ready to adopt Agile? How will they benefit from Agile?  These are million dollar questions with no monetized answers, but it sounds great for the executives to brand their organizations "Agile". "We are an Agile shop!"

Is your organization practicing Agile? 
Uhh! Umm! Not really! 

What do you mean?
Uh! We are almost there.  

Almost there?
Yeah! We are mostly following Scrum with some Waterfall.

So you are Water-scrumming?
I wouldn't call it such.

How did the executives and all the employees handle the change?
It is only at the development level that changes were required. 

What about the middle and upper management?
What do you mean? They are not doing any development work. Why should there be a change at their level?

The above conversation is typical in most organizations planning to adopt agile. Ignorance and partial understanding plays a very big role in the prevailing organizational mindset. There are several factors that impede the organization's transition to Agile but none more critical than the people themselves. Add "change" to the mix and you have a ticker. People are the least understood in most organizations. Fortunately, these people are also predictable based on their mindset. 

It is people's inherent fear of the unknown, total dislike for change and risk, skepticism with new processes & procedures etc. that negatively influence people's mindset. So, trying to impress upon them the new practice of developing a product even before the design is complete is almost sacrilegious and, in most cases, will lead to disaster.

How do we address the mindset problem? How do we introduce change at a manageable pace?

Both have the similar answers with little or no difference. The figure below depicts how shift in behavior can be made possible by introducing a few simple methods. 
raghu blog.jpg
  • Role Model: Leaders must model new behavior patterns and show by example.
  • Understanding: Presenting justifiable change with a view on improved future state than the bleak present.
  • Coach: Providing guidance and direction to the people by showing them you care about their future with the organization.
  • Reinforce: Introducing formal practices and incentives that directly align with goals for a better and improved future state.

This is by no means an exhaustive list of methods to bring about a change in behavior. 

Alright! Now we are all pumped up. And we are rolling!
Are we? Really?

No, not really!

Here's the reason!

Let's assume we are truly committed to the transition. We have brought in professional coaches to train our people in the workings of Agile practices. Now everyone in the organization knows the Agile jargon. And can write books on them too! We have also removed the cubicle walls to create a compelling illusion of co-location. 

Great! So where do we start?

  1. Should we start at the project level?
  2. Should we start with the people?
  3. Should be begin with the customer?
  4. Should we review the corporate goals?
  5. Should we look at the value?
  6. ...
These, and perhaps many more, are the questions that need to be answered before we kick off a project. Remember, rushing into Agile defeats the purpose. We will not accomplish our goal any faster.

In my next post, I will discuss about the importance of having an Agile Vision.

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