Three Ingredients of Agile Success

By most accounts, my first experience with an Agile roll-out (specifically Scrum) was quite successful.  We went from 3 Scrum teams to 12, we increased employee job satisfaction measurably and we delivered faster and more accurately than ever before.  We rolled out six products in less than 3 years and that is a remarkable feat.  One that I am certain we could not have achieved without moving to – and embracing – Agile.  So how did we do it?  What made our efforts successful when many other companies have struggled or failed?  Here are my perspectives on how we found success.

Image Source: http://obdc.com/consulting-for-business-success/

Image Source: http://obdc.com/consulting-for-business-success/

Executive Sponsorship

Agile is a movement that requires top-down leadership to say ‘this is going to happen, here is why it is good and we should all start rowing in that direction.’ Without that vision and dedication to making it happen, it would have been really hard to move out of Waterfall, which had been ingrained into the workflows, processes and the very culture of an organization.  But top-down isn’t enough.  You also have to have a group of developers that are eager to make the change.  Like most things, you cannot force people to change their behaviors if they are completely unwilling participants.   At our company, we were very lucky.  We had incredibly talented developers across the organization who were anxious to try new ideas and see how we could innovate.  That bottoms-up enthusiasm combined with the top-down dedication gave the movement to Agile a fighting chance.

Invest in Training

Our training took several forms.  First, we paid to send over 50 people through ScrumMaster training and 26 people through Product Owner training.  That financial commitment is meaningful – that we were willing to invest in our people and empower them to be successful.  We literally put our money where our mouth was and that is a demonstration of commitment.  But we went a step further.  We quickly noticed that “the business” needed to understand our new direction.  It wasn’t enough to train just ScrumMasters and Product Owners.  We needed to train all of IT, including the infrastructure teams and the Help Desk.  We needed to train the account managers who were working with existing clients on enhancement requests.  We needed to train the operations people who were submitting requirements for efficient improvements.  Truly, the whole company needed to be brought along on this journey and understand the basic cadence and terminology related to Agile and specifically Scrum.  Therefore, we created a three-hour introductory class that we called Agile 101.  And we made it mandatory for everyone – all of IT (Engineering), Product Management, Account Management, Operations, Human Resources, Finance, Sales and Marketing.  Everyone was required to attend and we ran over 650 employees through Agile 101.  This act got everyone on the same page more quickly than expected.  People asked challenging questions and tested the Agile philosophies against their current real world experience.  We certainly ran into some situations that were sticky, but we worked through them as a team because we were all working off of the same information and expectations.

Change the Tools

Third, we reinforced our commitment by changing the tools.  In many organizations, new ideas and work methods come and go with the latest best-seller or management change.  We needed to ensure that Agile was different, it was here to stay.  One way we demonstrated that was to actually change the tools that we use to collect requirements.  We had a home-grown system, but this would be an option in commercially available tools as well.  If anyone – could be a developer, operations manager, account manager, product owner – wants to enter an enhancement request, they are greeted with a screen that reads:  As a _________, I want _________________ so that ____________________.  We collect every single enhancement request as a User Story.  Now, that doesn’t mean that every request is a good user story, but it is a solid starting point.

By providing the executive sponsorship and commitment, the training and the tools to support the move to Agile, we gave ourselves a fighting chance to succeed. And we had a ton of fun doing it.  If your company is considering a move to Agile, I would spend some time considering these elements to improve your chances at success.

To learn more, please reference the book Change, Inc.: An Agile Fable of Transformation available on www.amazon.com.

Originally posted on a now defunct site on 2/5/13

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