Getting Your Organization to Embrace Agile

Deciding to embrace an agile process is one thing. Redirecting and refocusing your organization to implement and accept it is quite another.

If you’re tasked with bringing an agile process into an organization, you already know how challenging that task promises to be. Whether you’re operating from a project management office (PMO), a project portfolio management office (PPMO), or you’re just starting to put those standards into place, you and your staff are probably more familiar with a traditional waterfall style of project management and development.

With agile, much of what you’re familiar with is turned upside down. With agile, teams are self-organized and make their own decisions on how to do things. With agile, work is completed in small chunks rather than mapping out every detail up front. With agile, the people doing the work provide the estimates, rather than having those estimates handed to them.

As you can imagine, changes like these are not just procedural, they’re cultural. That’s why getting your organization to embrace an agile process such as Scrum requires buy-in from every level of your company. None of your new agile methods will help if you fail to drive home the culture, too.

What You’ll Need to Embrace Agile

If you plan on leading a smooth transition to agile, you’ll need:

  • Top-Down Support. Executive leadership is key here, both in sharing the reasons behind the agile transformation and in showing their support for agile. Your executive team also needs to set the tone when it comes to expectations of success.
  • Front Line Support. Identifying and obtaining buy-in from key front line influencers—individual contributors who act as mentors to other, more junior employees—is always a must. Enlist their aid as early as possible for best results. And don’t ignore naysayers… you might find your most vocal opponents becoming your staunchest champions if you can convert them through conversation, training and results.
  • Communication. Let all of your staff know what’s going on. Most importantly, be clear about why you’re doing it. Ask for feedback and opinions and do your best to answer their concerns.
  • Training. Make sure you don’t put your staff in the unenviable position of having to make the new process work without proper agile training and coaching. This will cause poor morale along with poor chances of success. The better the training you provide, the more comfortable your people will be with agile – and ready to hit the ground running.

Action Plan for Implementing Agile

Implementing agile requires a solid plan. Here are the bones of an agile action plan that you can adapt to address your own situation.

  1. Education. Hire an expert to come in and make presentations to both your business and technical stakeholders about agile, with a specific focus on why it delivers value to the organization. The key value you should hear them discuss is delivering the highest business value in the shortest amount of time – without sacrificing reliability, predictability or consistency.
  2. Strategy. Pick the right pilot team to be your first to adopt an agile process. You want to be successful right out of the gate, so choose your team members wisely. You also want a team that will positively impact their peers and not “succeed in a vacuum.”
  3. Training. Ensure business stakeholders, managers and team members all receive the appropriate training to learn the ins and outs of agile. Limiting your training to those on the actual teams is a huge mistake. Everyone involved in your first project(s) should receive some kind of formal training, including Q&A.
  4. Coaching. Provide hands-on supervision from agile specialists as the pilot team gets up and running. This third party observation and guidance is crucial if you want to avoid the most common agile pitfalls.
  5. Mentoring. Provide individual feedback and support for members of the pilot team as they start to get their feet under them. An agile process such as Scrum places more responsibility and accountability on team members for their day-to-day decisions. A strong mentoring program will help them to handle this as well as continue their professional development in this new environment.
  6. Expansion. Add additional agile teams when you’re ready to start ramping up. Make sure each additional team receives their own training, coaching and mentoring, too. Now, however, you might start bringing some of the coaching in-house (if you have the capability), drawing on the experience of your pilot teams and other trained resources.

Shifting YOUR Roles and Responsibilities

As your organization starts embracing agile, you’ll find your responsibilities in the PMO or PPMO shifting along with it. Instead of assigning work and managing day-to-day activities, your staff will be supporting the training, coaching, mentoring, and other needs of your agile teams. Most importantly, your task will be to ensure they’re empowered to perform agile the way it’s meant to be.

Is it a huge task? Yes. Want to learn more about how we do it? Contact us.

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