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Posts tagged ‘Agile Transition’

Benefits associated with an Agile Transition – What can Scrum do for you?

Image by USACEpublicaffairsWondering what are the benefits of an Agile Transition. One of our client recently published a few good points:

  • Scrum exposes and makes visible the organizational issues in project delivery, which are not necessarily exclusive to agility (non-dedicated projects resources, difficulty of co-locating project members, etc.);
  • Positive impact on the role of the managers by moving from a command-and-control mode to coach-leader mode;
  • Not just doing things right but doing the right things;
  • Increased mobilization of project participants;
  • Better team synergy – increased synergy between Business and IT;
  • Puts the business needs at the center of the project team’s focus – business needs understood and shared by the team members;
  • Brings back the “common sense” in carrying out the project;
  • Better communication and transparency within teams;
  • Better visibility on the business value generated by the project;
  • Optimization of the investment;
  • Ability to “test” the feasibility before fully developing the solution.

These are only a handful of benefits. What benefits have your team witnessed since starting Scrum?


Feel good Scrum or wishful thinking Agile

I sat with one of our customer last week to review the 2011 budget for their Agile initiative. The client had a good start in 2010 with 10 pilot projects adopting Scrum. Not a small accomplishment considering their objective of transitioning over 3,000 people to Agile. The client shared with me that in addition to highlighting potential issues around their projects and increasing the teams’ performance, Scrum helped many of these teams substantially increase employee satisfaction – which is an important factor for employee retention within that organization.

During the meeting, the client explained that now that they had experience with 10 pilot projects, they no longer needed help coaching other project teams in the organization. They recognized the benefits of working with coaches to quickly develop the rights skills and abilities but they could now do it all by themselves.

Let me state it clearly, I believe the end goal of external consultants is to ensure their client can become fully independent and autonomous.

That being said and before I go on with this post I need to say (to be truly candid and transparent) that I have told the client – in person – what you are about to read.

The client’s objective is to successfully complete over 20 Agile projects in 2011 and then 200 in 2012. In itself, that sounds like an aggressive but feasible plan but here the catch: the client believes in magic!

Magic? You be the judge.

The client explained that they had to cut back on the budget for the coming year – which I fully understand – but despite the set back, they were continuing their organizational wide Agile transition. “We have everything we need”, they said.

  • “We are heavily recruiting Agile coaches” – considering the size of our market, it is doubtful they will find all the people they need;
  • “We are putting the heads of the various PMO (project management office) bureaus in charge” – having worked with some of these traditional individuals, it is difficult to see how they could lead an Agile transition;
  • “We have produced a detailed guide to adopting Scrum” – I asked if they remembered Individuals and interactions over processes and tools;
  • “Our people managers are already Agile” – I wondered what that meant;
  • “We have hired a change management expert to document the roll-out process” – Individuals and interactions over processes and tools;
  • “We expect each project team to go out and get the help they need to transition to Agile” – Why not help them?.

“Are you involving the teams and people who will be impacted?”, I asked.

“No need”, they answered. “They only need to execute on the plan we will give them”.

I hope that there is something I am not seeing and I truly hope for them to be successful but as it currently stands, I have serious doubts. Maybe I should offer some magical-Scrum-powder…

A dead coach is a useless coach

Picture by WouterKvGDuring our monthly consulting services meeting, an interesting conversation took place. The conversation revolved around how to show traditional organizations the benefits of going Agile.

Granted, everyone around the table was already sold to Agile so everybody was working toward the same objective. The question was how to bring traditional organizations to switch their ways of doing things in order to adopt a more Agile approach? The debate was “Should we use a big-bang approach where all the energy is put toward getting the organization to take a quantum leap?” or “Is it preferable to use small steps in an effort to bring the organization toward the desired state?”.

Some people around the table argued that to quickly gain acceptance and shock the system, it is better to take somewhat of an extreme position and avoid deviating from the goal and as such, implement the Agile practices without consideration to the context.

Others (including myself) believed that the hard position and extreme approach doesn’t help much. It typically polarizes positions and creates an environment where conflicts are frequent. Personally, I believe that small steps taken in the right direction are much better than attempting to quantum leap forward when it comes to large scale transitions.

As consultants we are called in to help organizations transition from a current state to a future and hopefully better future. We bring our expertise and our convictions to the table in the hopes that we can influence these organizations. What happens when the consultants’ perspective collides with the organizational culture, values, processes and people? Of course, it depends.

Needless to say implementing change is a difficult task and if it was easy, nobody would need help (i.e. consultants). But when consultants adopt the following approach:

  • I need to change the organization;
  • The best way to accomplish this objective is to stick to my position – no matter what – until the organization realizes that I am right (i.e. they are wrong);
  • I will be successful for as long as I can hold my position.

What comes next is usually a dead coach…

Granted, the other extreme is no more useful when the organization thinks something like this:

  • What we have been doing is exactly what needs to be done;
  • We have all the answers and we will stick to our position – no matter what – until everybody accept the current situation;
  • We will be successful for as long as we can hold our position.

What comes next is an organization that will be less (and less) adapted to its environment and a Darwinian (survival of the fittest) consequence will happen.

So what is the right thing to do?

If you are a consultant, it is always a difficult balance between sticking to your position and completely letting go. The answer obviously varies by organization but sticking to a hard position is rarely (i.e. never) a good approach to actually change an organization.

I’m afraid that things won’t go well

Image by Capture Queen ™
The soft-minded man always fears change. He feels security in the status quo, and he has an almost morbid fear of the new. For him, the greatest pain is the pain of a new idea. – Martin Luther King Jr.

Do you ever face resistance when attempting to implement a new idea or a new concept? I often notice interesting behaviors when helping teams and individuals transition to Agile. In fact, I notice strange reactions whenever there is a change management initiative underway.

In such circumstances, the first question that comes to mind is “Why is this individual afraid?“.

In my opinion, people are typically afraid for 2 reasons: they have had a bad experience in a similar situation in the past or they anticipate that the change will cause unwanted results. Either way, my approach is the same.

Being afraid is normal and is not limited to humans (for sake of this post, let’s limit ourselves to humans). As babies we learn through experience and the recommendations of our parents – the stronger the initial experience is, the longer it remains encrusted in our brain.

Let’s admit that many change initiatives have led to very negative impact for people. Remember enterprise re-engineering? What about outsourcing? Do you think people who lost their job as a result might be afraid of other organization-wide initiatives??

As change agents, it is our role to dig into the reasons behind the fears. I’m not talking about psychology, I’m simply talking about root cause analysis of the situation in an attempt to properly address the concerns. To do so, coaches must ask powerful questions and keep silence to make room for valuable information to be shared.

Once we understand the motivation or the source of the fears, we then need to be truthful and honestly tell if the situation will (or won’t) lead to the feared consequences. In the cases where it may actually lead to the expected consequences, we should engage the individuals into finding potential solutions or way to mitigate the unwanted conclusions.

Between a rock and a hard place – The managers in an agile transition

Image by NCM3I bumped into Steven last week. Steven is director of application development in a large organization and like most manager in his early forty’s, he looked tired and although he is usually a happy individual, his smile wasn’t radiant this time.

In agreement with his teams, Steven initiated an Agile transition a few months ago. I was part of the team who presented to Steven the benefits of a transition and the impact on the team members and their managers. I saw Steven again in a group training I was giving a few weeks after the beginning of the transition to managers and executives. That time again, Steven was very excited and motivated about what he was hearing, except that during the training I could see the light bulbs over his head and in the questions Steven was asking – how is this going to impact my role as a manager? Steven saw the obvious benefits and understood some of the changes he would need to make to his leadership style but I could tell, it hadn’t fully sinked in.

So here we were, less than 3 months in the transition and Steven wasn’t as chipper as he used to be…

  • Me: “Hey, Steven. You look tired. How are you doing?”
  • Steven: “I’m OK… I’m tired… [silence] The transition is killing me!”
  • Me: “How so?” [I asked anticipating what he would tell me next]
  • Steven: “The team is having a blast and I can see their performance has increased compared to the past but I don’t think I can cope with this new approach”
  • Me: “You seemed so excited about the transition when we started. What changed?”
  • Steven: “I now realize what you meant when you talked about changing my leadership style and my role. I’m still up to the challenge but my boss is totally clueless about all of this”
  • Me: “What do you mean? Haven’t you brought him in the loop from the beginning?”
  • Steven: “Yes. Yes, I have but that’s not the problem. The team’s performance increase is directly linked to the new approach they have been using and the fact that I leave them a lot of autonomy but my boss still asks me to behave like I used to – like he manages his team today. That’s where it hurts the most. I can pretty much deal with everything else but I feel like I’m stuck between a rock and a hard place”

Unfortunately, we (as consultants) do not do such a good job at highlighting this fact before we begin a transition. We work closely with the teams to help them adopt better methods and practices, to increase their overall performance by allowing them to be self-organized. We work on getting the teams to a highly performing level. Then we go get executive sponsorship to secure the initiative (and the budget) and make sure we get support to handle difficult issues but what about the people in the middle?

We develop training programs for Agile managers and we support them with organizational coaching but we don’t do such a good job at telling them upfront how much pressure they will be under once the transition begins. How much their role is likely to change and their leadership style needs to be adapted to the new reality.

For those who haven’t yet have felt the pressure, here are some examples of what to expect:

  • You may be willing to trust your team and let them self-organize but is your boss in agreement with this new approach? Will he be as involved (micro-managing) in your activities as he used to be? And more importantly, will he be expecting you to be as involved with your team as you used to be?
  • You may be willing to tolerate mistakes in order to increase your team’s learning and with a strategic perspective to increase long term performance but will you hear about your inabilities to control your team during your next performance review?
  • You already produce status reports, dashboards, emails and others information to keep everyone (including your boss) informed of what is going on in your unit. Will you need to translate everything that the Agile team is producing to fit the traditional reporting mechanisms? Can you challenge what information is currently being produced to ensure it does bring value to people?
  • You expect your team members to handle the details of their activities and you believe in actually seeing (touching, feeling) the end results while your management team expects you to assess progress using Gantt charts. Do you need to educate your entire organization to the new approach? Does the fact that you are adopting Agile make you the evangelist for the entire organization?

Obviously, I don’t mean to scare anyone – especially the managers – with regards to adopting Agile. The approach has a lot of merit and value for many organizations but in order to help with adoption, coaches and consultants need to pay attention to the people in the middle and help them find their new place, otherwise we are very likely to find serious resistance and potential failure of such initiatives – nobody likes to be stuck between a rock and a hard place…

Secret Revealed! Guaranteed Success for your Agile Transition

Picture by charchenSo you have initiated an Agile transition and have faced some resistance to change! Or maybe, you assessed your current level of Agile Maturity and are hoping to achieve the next level. Better yet, you and your team are planning to launch an Agile transition that is not driven by the wrong reasons.

That’s great!

If you haven’t already done so, you may want to read: Getting Started – Reference Material for Managers Who Wish to Understand Agile and Scrum and What consultants don’t tell you before you begin an agile transition.

Let’s cut the chase and get to the point. Are you ready? Here it is. The secret to a successful Agile Transition -> Make people look good!

Yes. That’s it. Surprised?

I’m not talking about psychological manipulation. I’m talking about finding what drives the people you are working with and the managers around them and then capitalize on their drivers in order to get them to get on board with the transition – and better yet become evangelist for your transition. Here are some examples:

  • Suzy is hoping to get promoted to Vice-president within her organization. She heads a business line from which you need support and a dedicated Product Owner. Why don’t you explain to Suzy how innovative her group would appear to others if she agreed to embark on the Agile initiative?
  • Peter is struggling to increase the performance of his group. So far, he hasn’t shown much interest in the transition but you found out that he has been under high pressure from his manager to increase the performance of his team. Why wouldn’t you show Peter how using an Agile approach could help get his manager off his back?
  • Monica is a project manager who has lost several key people in previous months. She is usually by-the-book (i.e. PMBoK) but during a recent lunch, she admitted that she would be willing to try something different if only it would help her retain the contributors she needs to make her project successful. Why don’t you take this opportunity to get the project manager on board with Agile by offering to help her?

Don’t get me wrong. I am not asking you to lie, to cheat or to fake the objectives and expected outcome. I’m telling you to get others on board and working WITH you by telling them the whole story and helping them understand that there is something in it for THEM too.

Agile relies heavily on communications and interactions. Why don’t you start with all the people directly and indirectly impacted by the transition? Sure, it will require more time in the short term to influence people into supporting you but in the long run, you will be glad you did it.

Go ahead. Try to figure out what drives people around you or what issues they are facing. Find a solution that can help them and you’ll end-up with a win-win scenario and a successful transition.

Agile Transition – What about the teams outside the transition?

Picture by ehpienIn a large scale transition similar to the one we have undertaken a few months ago, it is difficult (and maybe impossible) to transition all the teams / departments at once. Similar to the prioritization of the product backlog, we have selected a handful of projects to launch immediately. Unfortunately, this means that many (many more) projects will not begin their transition for a while since the organization we work with has decided that coaches are required to help them succeed.

As such, we have decided to implement a strategy for those “out of transition” teams. Below is the approach we selected in order to make the transition successful without negatively impacting the performance (and the workload) of those directly involved in the transition. Based on our experience, we felt it was important to have a strategy (albeit minimal) to support other projects to be implemented using an Agile approach.

The reasons why it is important to have a strategy for those “out of transition” projects are as follows:

  • To maintain a unifying vision of what we are trying to accomplish with Agile;
  • To maximize our efforts in the development and selection of tools supporting Agile;
  • Not to ‘abandon’ the projects that were not deemed highest priority;
  • For other projects to be executed successfully in an Agile mode even if they are not part of the intial selection.

Therefore, we suggested having a reduced service catalog for the “out of transition” projects. Examples of services that can be offered are:

  • Training courses offered to the selected projects could also be attended by “out of transition” participants;
  • A simple audit of the “out of transition” projects’ practices and high level recommendations for improvement;
  • Limited support;
  • Access to the corporate wiki for information, knowledge sharing and best practices.

So far, the recommendation has been well received by the “out of transition” projects. In the months to come, we will be able to determine if we made the right decision.

What the heck does an Agile Organizational Coach do?

Picture by icedsoul photography .:teymur madjdereyIf you are in the process of transitioning your organization to an Agile approach, you have certainly realized that moving to Agile impacts more than the software development team – if you haven’t realized it yet, you will eventually find out the hard way 😉

In a large scale transition, it is necessary to work with the various managers to help them understand and assimilate the principles related to Agile and make them integrate those principles into their day-to-day actions. Therefore, an Agile Organizational Coach helps managers change their management approach to a leadership style better suited for an Agile environment.

The transition to a new leadership style is not limited to the software development teams. It also applies to the interactions and relationships with the business team’s managers. Making managers more Agile requires changes in their behavior, more specifically, it requires managers to:

  • Transfer certain powers to the team members themselves so they can determine how best to accomplish their tasks;
  • Define the desired vision, to adapt to the context of each team to ensure alignment with the overall objective of the project and ensure cohesion between the teams and their members;
  • Accept and publicly endorse the idea that the status quo is no longer acceptable and that the old methods are no longer adapted to the new reality;
  • Adapt their style of management when necessary to use an inclusive and democratic approach.

As such, the role of the Agile Organizational Coach is to:

  • Educate managers through appropriate training;
  • Create groups (communities) of interest and exchange to assist managers in their development;
  • Organize individual and group meetings with various stakeholders to understand their fears, their challenges, their resistance and to provide the necessary support to help;
  • Work with groups who require special support during the transition;
  • Participate in management committees where the presence of an agile expert is required.

    What consultants don’t tell you before you begin an agile transition – Part 4: Why a coach is useful

    As a follow up to my previous posts (part 1part 2, and part 3), this fourth and final article written in collaboration with my colleagues Stéphane LécuyerJean-René RousseauSylvie TrudelJoël Grenon, and Eric Laramée, presents why the use of external coaches is a key success factor for an organizational transition to Agile.

    Most people in organizations that initiate an Agile transition will tell you that, to be successful you need to do more than reading Succeeding with Agile: Software Development Using Scrum and taking a ScrumMaster Certification. Some organizations succeed without external help while others prefer to follow Forrester’s recommendation and hire consultants to support them. In this context, there are three types of coach.

    The Organizational Coaches

    The Organizational Coach uses a support approach coupled with an advisory role to assist the various stakeholders in developing the required skills to maximize the benefits of their Agile transition. As a member of the project steering committees and working directly with the individual managers involved, the Organizational Coach helps transform the traditional management style used within the organization. Thus, the coach helps the various stakeholders assess the gap between the current situation (current management style) and the expected target (new leadership style). The coach then works with the stakeholders to define an appropriate plan of action and take concrete steps to address the obstacles encountered during their personal development. This coaching approach offers the following benefits:

    • Establishes a partnership between the Organizational Coach and the client with the intend to achieve a successful transition;
    • By working directly with the individuals and their team, the Organizational Coach helps them move from the current state to the desired situation;
    • Supports the stakeholders via discussions, suggestions and observations to help them change their management style and to ensure the development of the skills required to reach the desired level of management Agility;
    • By pushing the leaders outside their comfort zone, the Organizational Coach attempts to change the status quo.

    The Organizational Coach typically plays the role of the Agile expert at the management level. In addition, the Organizational Coach works directly with managers from both the technology and the business side of the organization in order to help them assimilate and apply the Agile principles to their daily management activities. As such, the Organizational Coach support the management team in their development of an Agile Leadership better suited for the success of the transition.

    The Team Coaches

    Ultimately, the objective of the Team Coach is to develop the skills and competencies of the ScrumMasters to become quickly autonomous and derive the maximum benefits of the Agile approach. More specifically, the Team Coach supports the start of the projects, provides recommendations for improving the implementation of Scrum throughout the projects and disseminates the best practices. The Team Coach promotes and facilitates a cohesive adoption of Agile within the teams. In addition to supporting the execution of the project, the Team Coach works closely with the ScrumMasters to develop and implement activities to improve the team’s performance and to develop the skills of team members and the ScrumMaster. The coach’s role is to share his expertise and best practices with all team members in order to help accelerate the development of their skills and quickly make the team more efficient.

    The Engineering Practice Coaches

    The Engineering Practice Coach supports the Team Coaches by specifically addressing the engineering practices used within the software development process. As such, the Engineering Practice Coach reinforces software development best practices, helps the various teams identify and remove impediments, and foster team self-organization. As an expert on agile development and testing technologies and practices, the Engineering Practice Coach stays abreast of the latest industry tools, developments, and best practices, and broadly share and evangelizes those developments inside the organization. The Engineering Practice Coach brings a broad expertise of engineering practices in the Agile development team, including:

    • Test Driven Development (TDD),
    • Various Agile automation test frameworks (eg. GreenPepper),
    • Release planning techniques,
    • Story point estimation,
    • Integration of software engineering best practices (eg. code reviews, unit tests, etc.), and other techniques that enable teams to deliver high quality software products in an Agile structure.

    For example, within each development team, the Engineering Practice Coach ensures that the engineering practices supporting the iterative and incremental development are known, understood, and properly implemented. In addition, the Engineering Practice Coach may also accompany the architecture team in the selection of tools and technology.


    We hope you enjoyed these short articles and have found useful information to help you succeed with your organizational transition. Do not hesitate to send us an email if you would like additional information about a specific topic.

    What consultants don’t tell you before you begin an agile transition – Part 3: Impact on the functional and people managers

    As a follow up to my previous posts (part 1 and part 2), this third post in a series of 4 short articles written in collaboration with my colleagues Stéphane LécuyerJean-René RousseauSylvie TrudelJoël Grenon, and Eric Laramée, addresses the impact of an Agile transition on the functional and people managers.

    Transforming the Managers

    In an Agile transition, it is necessary to work closely with the various people managers to help them truly understand and assimilate the principles related to Agile so they can integrate them into their actions. Based on our experience, in addition to team coaches we recommend the use of organizational coaches to help managers change some of their management approaches and use a leadership style that is more appropriate for the new Agile teams.

    The transition to a new style of leadership is not limited to software development teams, it also applies to the interactions and relationships with the managers of the business groups – typically the product owners.

    Getting managers to become more Agile requires changing behaviors and using a more democratic approach to management. More specifically, the people managers need to:

    • behave more Agilely by transferring certain power to the teams members themselves and to let them determine how best to accomplish their tasks;
    • empower their teams through self-organization and commitment to results;
    • transfer decision-making to individuals who are closest to the activities;
    • demonstrate greater receptivity to ideas and innovation emerging from their teams;
    • clearly define the desired vision;
    • adapt to the context of each team to ensure alignment with the overall objective;
    • ensure cohesion between the teams and their members;
    • capture the strategic objectives of the transition in order to demonstrate the importance of the project;
    • support the sense of urgency;
    • provide the necessary resources so they can position themselves as leaders in this transition;
    • accept and publicly endorse the idea that the status quo is not acceptable and that the old methods are no longer adapted to the new reality.

    In this context, the managers themselves become change agents within their department and in the organization to;

    • integrate those who are convinced to take part in the center of expertise;
    • systematically involve business people in the transition;
    • adapt their style of management when necessary to use an inclusive and democratic approach.

    In this perspective, the ‘command and control’ management style needs to evolve into a servant leadership so that contributors can take responsibility and demonstrate stewardship. The intend is to be supportive through tangible measures so the team members can quickly adopt new ways of doing things.

    It is worth asking what approach will be used to achieve such a transition for managers. With the experience gained during our previous mandates, we recommend to use the following means to achieve the desired results:

    • awareness of the managers of the requirements related to an Agile transition through appropriate training;
    • creation of groups (communities) of interest to share learning, fear, reactions, etc.;
    • implementing individual meetings or group meetings with different stakeholders to understand the fears, their challenges, their resistance and provide the necessary support to help;
    • provide an organizational coach to individuals or groups who require special attention during the transition;
    • identification of committees where the presence of the coach is required to help move the transition forward;
    • establishing and defining the parameters required to support new objectives related to the transition;
    • preparation and dissemination of communications about the progress of the project.

    In next week’s post, we will explain in Part 4: Why a coach is useful for a successful Agile transition.