Organizations are embracing agile software development to deliver products to market at an ever-increasing pace. The agile software development industry and community is thriving and growing faster and faster. By now, you may be looking at your organization and thinking “Yes, we should be doing that! Let’s get started tomorrow with our agile transformation.” However, you will find that an agile transformation is far easier said than done. While the benefits have been well communicated, adopting an agile mindset and framework is not about adding a few standup meetings and demos every couple of weeks. Adopting agile software development requires a significant mindset and culture shift towards delivery that should not be taken lightly. Before you take your first step on your path to agility, I recommend you and others in your organization go through serious self-reflection. Ask yourself the tough questions to determine if your organization is ready (or even capable) to truly adopt agile software development.
I present a series of questions below that can help guide your thinking. If you find yourself answering “no” to some or many of these challenging questions, effectively adopting agile software development could be a struggle for you and may result in failure, or at least a perception of failure, of your journey towards greater agility. If you find yourself answering “yes” to many or all of the questions, you may be ready and primed for an agile adoption. Let’s get started!
1. Are you prepared to get executive-level support and leadership for change?
Agile is not a mere process change. To an untrained eye it may look like that on the surface, but once you drill down, you realize that at its core it’s a culture and mindset change. Change like this in an organization is successful only if those at the top of the organization believe, support, and communicate it, acting as internal champions for the cause.
2. Are you prepared to potentially restructure your delivery organization?
If you are not prepared for potentially significant organizational structure changes, especially as it relates to software delivery and product management teams, you may not be ready. Functional line managers, such as development managers, will likely need to take on a completely different role. HR may need to be involved from an incentive compensation perspective. After all, if teams are the delivery mechanism, how do you incent individuals? Should you only incent teams? What new job titles might need to be created? Can you commit to enforcing team stability and doing away with titles within the teams and their support structures? Also, are you willing to let change be driven by these empowered, self-organized teams?
3. Are you prepared to make new technical investments alongside business and organizational investments?
To create the right business value quickly, you must make investments in agile technical practices, if you haven’t already. You can’t move and deliver fast if you don’t have a continuous delivery pipeline strategy. You can’t add new features confidently and quickly if you don’t have a battery of automated tests. These investments don’t happen overnight, but you will have to make them to truly realize the benefits of investing in agile software development.
4. Are your customers ready to receive changes quickly?
Business value can only be truly realized if you can deliver it to your customers. Are your customers ready to keep up with a continually evolving product line? There are certainly cases where they aren’t ready. This doesn’t mean you can’t be more agile; it just means that the value realization you are seeking by adopting an agile framework will not occur on the accelerated timeline that you originally sought.
5. Are you prepared to admit that you don’t know everything about your product?
A key benefit of agile focuses on short feedback loops and building the right product iteratively through customer feedback. This is in stark contrast to inventing what users want, then trying to build everything you can conceive that they might want in a product, only to get it to market to find out customers’ needs are different, or they only use a small fraction of your product. People who know exactly how they will use your product, the ones who have a need or problem your product solves, are going to be your users/customers! You must embrace this fact, and embrace the results of feedback loops to drive your product towards providing the maximum value, not maximum number of features.
6. Are you prepared for the possibility of turnover?
You will undoubtedly find some in your organization who will be resistant to agile – especially those who find that the new levels of transparency that come with agile threaten their job, their siloed knowledge or their political power. A cultural shift within the enterprise is often realized when adopting agile, and can be bolstered when unchanging and unwilling staff self-select out of the organization. In the end, your company will continue on its journey with a more culturally aligned workforce that agrees with your agility, courage and transparency.
7. Are you prepared to change the way you make decisions about scope, budget and timelines?
Traditional software project delivery methodologies fix scope and estimate time and people cost. Agile planning focuses on fixing time and people cost while estimating scope. Successful projects will not necessarily be measured with the traditional “on time, on budget” yardstick. Instead, swiftly delivering in a minimally viable fashion or with evolutionary improvements at set intervals will be your new target. You will need to determine and align prioritized scope and release plans that drive your budgetary decisions and not the other way around. Agile software development will permit you to slice projects into much smaller deliverable units. This requires more attentiveness to your short-term and long-term road maps.
8. Are you prepared to invest in education?
You will be asked by your team members for investment in their education. This may manifest itself through many different channels, from small expenses like books to larger investments in professional development such as conferences and formal scrum or agile training.
9. Can your third party vendors keep up?
Does your product or service integrate with systems from another party? If you are making changes quickly to your product, can your current vendors keep up with a delivery cycle that uses short iterations? There are often complications dealing with existing, external vendors who work on established (conflicting) delivery schedules. Will they, or can they change with you?
10. Are you prepared to invest in outside coaching help?
This may seem a bit self-serving, as AgileThought provides this service, but I encourage you to listen to those who have been through an agile adoption. Many times we encounter organizations that have undertaken an agile transformation based on the recommendation of a small group of existing employees who recently attended a one or two-day conference or training event. There is a steady theme we hear from clients along the lines of “we tried it by ourselves and failed.” Engaging with an experienced partner can help ensure a more effective, impactful and enduring transformation. An external perspective also isn’t boxed in by an internal organization’s preconceived notion of how “we should do it.” They also provide an outside voice with the experience of successfully guiding other organizations through the same process.
By no means are these ten questions the only ones that might be considered. Other topics you will need to consider are cultural resistance to team co-location, and whether you’re prepared to identify and nurture Program and Product Managers who are willing to own and prioritize backlogs. However, honestly answering these ten questions can guide you towards understanding if your organizations is ready to ignite an agile software development transformation. Answering ‘no’ to one, some or even all of these questions does not mean your organization isn’t capable of undertaking an agile journey, it simply means you’ll need to assess and alter mindsets, expectations, practices, structures, and behaviors in order to gain and sustain the benefits of your transformation.
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