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From Waterfall to Agile

Agile and DevOps are buzz words that everyone seems to be using, but what's the difference between Agile, Kanban, DevOps and Continuous Delivery? Are these just technology methodologies for developers?  If not, what role will OCM play when helping an organization make the shift from the traditional waterfall to the so-much talked about Agile mindset? Will the role of our Change Management offerings change once the step from waterfall to Agile has been made by our client and OCM is required to sustain the transformation?

Being new to Agile I started to look into how OCM can help an organization to successfully implement this new IT framework.  Researching online as well as in our internal databases, I quickly found that there are many websites and white papers on Agile/DevOps yet not much helpful information published from the perspective of change management.

One useful article that I did discover is called "5 Things You Need to Know when Moving to Agile" published by the Government Technology & Services Coalition which addressed some interesting thoughts.  What I learned is that:

1. Agile produces a culture shift - the article suggests that a cultural assessment of the client's situation can provide us with the insight and ability to align aspects of our client's corporate culture which support agility, but also pinpoint attributes that do not align with Agile. Beware: changing a culture can take years.2. Agile requires new management approaches - Traditional, top-down management approaches are generally not well suited for Agile. Agile software development has emerged as a shining example of knowledge work. New approaches for managing knowledge workers include breaking down information silos, creating an environment where new ideas can flow and flourish, building trust, and improving the link between individual effort and organizational success.

3. Agile moves your seat - the design of our client's office space will most likely need to change. Agile teams work collaboratively in open settings. Make sure your client's management is supportive of that because this is an area where you will truly see the changes Agile requires.

4. Agile hinges on open communications - leftover control mechanisms from traditional hierarchical cultures encouraged gated oversight to decide what information would be released and to whom. Agile requires proactive communications, open dialogue and information sharing with a wide range of individuals: colleagues, leadership, stakeholders, customers.

So, what do these 4 characteristics mean for the OCM practice? Well, after adding my own observations and talking to our very own Razab Chowdhury who has already helped some of our clients to move from waterfall to Agile, I believe OCM driven cultural transformation will be a key component of any Agile/DevOps journey. Some examples of activities that fit under the OCM umbrella include:
  • Ensure product owners take responsibility.  In Agile, the requirements come from "product owners" such as the business, customers, etc. and are implemented by delivery teams. As the change lead, you will have to make sure to question when developers continue to simply develop what is asked of them through the requirements. Ask meaningful questions if necessary to show developers that as a product manager, he/she is responsible for thinking about whether or not a requirement makes sense.
  • Foster dialog between stakeholders via both scheduled daily standups and other change forums such as organizing and hosting useful Demos & Retrospectives, so that finished work gets adoption.
  • Ensure everyone gives honest and open feedback during retro sessions, write the feedback down and ensure it gets addressed during the next sprint. Only then will there be truly iterative improvement and people will feel the change that Agile really is.
  • Think about ways to address the fact that co-locating team members working offshore is physically not possible. Create a work environment at the client site that will simulate a collaborative setting, for example by alternating daily stand ups between US and India time zones or by ensuring viable product owner availability. If your client already has a good telepresence it will make this part easier. If your client has very strict on-site presence guidelines and the technology and acceptance of telepresence has not been established yet, then this will be a much more difficult change.

In addition to helping our clients with Agile transformation, I believe that there will also be a difference in how long OCM services will be required for a client to successfully operate with the newly acquired Agile mindset.

  • Ensuring a successful change from waterfall to Agile will require 6-9 months of ongoing OCM support after the Go-Live / normalization. During this time, the OCM lead can take on the role of an ongoing Agile coach - to moderate and facilitate the scrum sessions to ensure Agile is truly being implemented and used and that the client doesn't simply start to work in the familiar, old waterfall way of doing things.  This will require our consultants to get more hands-on understanding of development/delivery activities.
  • Also, OCM's expertise will be required on an ongoing basis to ensure that employees don't suffer from Agile fatigue or other "side-effects" of this new way of working.

In closing, I hope that this blog will spur a discussion especially amongst those who may have already been on an Agile transformation. I believe OCM will play an integral part in any company's transformation from Waterfall to Agile as well as when operating in an Agile environment and I look forward to building our practices know how in this field.

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