We’re going Agile!

New Thinking 30 September 2013 Richard Scott-Will-Harknett

“We’re going Agile!”. Really? Have you any idea what that means? Don't get me wrong. I’m passionate about frameworks like Scrum and the benefits they can deliver to your teams and your wider organisation. However, I have seen many places where it was clear to me that the organisation’s leadership thought they were just buying a new process for their development teams. While the change in working practices for those teams may be the most obvious manifestation, what is actually happening is far more fundamental.

Agile is a broad umbrella that covers many methods, frameworks and practices. All trace their core values and principles back to the Agile Manifesto and its 12 supporting principles. This is what holds them together as part of the agile movement that has been growing prior to the term “agile” being coined in February 2001 when the Agile Manifesto was created at Snowbird resort in Utah.

I think that adoption of Agile can be split into two parts: Agile transition and Agile transformation. The former represents the mechanics of training people, taking on new practices and so on. The latter is more about the organisational change that results… or maybe doesn't.

Looking at VersionOne’s seventh Annual Survey of late 2012, the single main barrier (52 percent) to effective adoption is the inability to change the organisational culture.

Why do we need to change the culture when it’s about delivery of software? What has wider cultural change across the organisation got to do with that?

To answer this, we need to look at what happens once we have Agile teams.

Agile teams self organise around the work they take collective ownership for. They will raise anything that is slowing their productivity that they can’t resolve themselves through the Agile team lead as an organisational impediment to be resolved. 

To take this in reverse. The organisation now has complete transparency into what is preventing their teams from getting better. So those in management positions shift into a role where they serve and support the teams delivering value for the organisation.

Once teams start to take collective ownership, the whole process of standard individual performance reviews and rewards becomes questionable. If we want teams to act like teams rather than a collection of individuals, we need to find ways to assess and recognise them as a team – as a collective.

So we now have truly self-organising teams who take collective ownership for their work and who work out between themselves how best to integrate and deliver the product. They are no longer told how to work. The management shifts to a stance of serving the teams.  Organisational processes such as HR move from an individual to a team-based view.

In mentioning these few points, we have only scratched the surface. Don't let any of this daunt you. While it certainly isn’t easy, the rewards can be truly significant. But know this, if you are taking on Agile, you are taking on organisational change.