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May 15, 2013

Agile Vision

In my previous post I discussed about why organizations should not be in a rush to implement Agile without understanding its true purpose. In this blog I will talk about the need for an Agile Vision.

In order for an organization to adopt Agile there needs to be an Agile Vision - organization, product or process.  However, "Vision" is often abused in no uncertain terms. The most common (and inconsequential) vision statement is "Our vision is to serve customers while maximizing stakeholder value and provide a work-life balance to all our employees."

This is poppycock!

What is Vision?

Let us try to understand what "Vision" truly is or ought to be. 
  • Agile Vision must be short and precise.
  • Agile Vision must be a single target not an aggregation of multiple disjointed sets of ideas.
  • Agile Vision must be results oriented.

Also ,
  • Agile Vision must have a Visionary.
  • Agile Vision must have a sponsor to unify, communicate and promote across the organization.
  • In most cases, the visionary and the promoter are the same person.

Agile Vision plays an important role in bringing the organization's agility to life: It acts as the overarching goal guiding everyone involved in organization's Agile Development. Equally important is the organizational strategy, the path chosen to attain the Agile Vision. The absence of a shared vision and strategy, in all probability, will cause chaos and often leads to misdirection, and the chances of creating a High Performance Organization are rather slim.

Elevator Pitch

An elevator pitch means several things to several people. At the core it is a communication tool; it helps in articulating the organization's Agile Development message. An elevator pitch is also a sales tool; it helps raise the money, and close deals. Most importantly, an elevator pitch is a teaching tool. 

Executives must have an elevator pitch for both internal and external audiences. The internal audience must be motivated by the elevator pitch. The elevator pitch for the external audience must be designed to kindle curiosity. Additionally, and just as importantly, it is designed to not overwhelm the audiences with too much information.  

Agile Vision Statement

After a cohesive Agile Vision is created, it must be documented. Collaboration is the key to avoid confusion and disagreements. Without a vision statement, it's very easy to skip the disputed portions and end up with an unsatisfactory product. The Agile Vision statement will help the organization maintain and promote its agility. It will be a tool that will enable discussions on Agile Vision and serve as a touch point to remind stakeholders of its importance.

One must bear in mind that the Agile Vision statement should be a living document: the executives should review it on a regular basis and make improvements. However, as a fundamental statement of an organization's agility, it may not change much.

The Agile Vision statement needs to address three main points:
  • What the organization will accomplish with this?
  • How the organization will measure agility?
  • What are the Organization's success criteria?
In most cases the main vision parameters include the following:
  • Maximizing returns on investment
  • Speed to Market products or  services
  • High Performance Organization Fostering a culture of cooperation and collaboration
  • Customer Satisfaction through involvement

Promoting the Vision

The vision needs to be evangelized on a frequent basis. It must be communicated to both internal and external stakeholders regularly.  The visionaries must be an integral part of this phase.  

Roles for Agile Vision

There are many roles that play an important role in bringing alive an organization's Agile Vision. Being a shared vision, the various groups of people within the organization must be included in coming up with a cohesive Agile Vision and promoting it. At a minimum the following roles will be necessary for promoting the vision:
  • Visionary
  • Product Manager
  • Product Owner
  • Product Stakeholders
  • Scrum Masters
  • Agile Team
  • Agile Coach/Mentor

Follow up

Make sure that all key stakeholders - internal and external - have the final copy of the Agile Vision statement. Regardless of the project and/or product, everyone must refer to the vision statement throughout the life of the project/product.

It would be a good idea to revisit the Agile Vision statement periodically to make sure the products and projects reflect the marketplace and support changes according to the company's needs.

In my next blog in this series, I will talk about the metrics that can be used to measure Agile success.

May 3, 2013

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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