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What does it take for Successful Enterprise Agile Transformation?

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Carrying on from my previous article, I shared my view about the organizational strategy across People, Process and Technology for a successful Enterprise Agile Transformation.

​Transforming your organization towards agile is like moving your organization to a new culture and language with clear differences from how you work today.  No amount of training will help you in dealing with different situations. We all have to work proactively to sense these indicators or situations.


The "definition of success" envisaged by each organization on their transformation journey is different based on their current state and given business outcome thought-through for a specific milestone.


I am compiling some common challenges & scenarios organization sees when they are new to agile. As you would experience, they all go through a certain commonality in the roadmap which is critical for their success.


1. It is not about ‘I want to go agile’, it is about everybody working together for agile outcomes

Agile is a not a panacea for everything that is going wrong in the organization. In fact, if not understood correctly, organization can get into a tail spin and never recover and possibly give a diminishing return.


2. Executive and business Sponsorship with clear vision and strategy

This is super critical in any agile transformation. It is important to not only to have sponsorship from senior leadership, it is also imperative to have the business leadership also transform to agile and lean mindset.  It is important for business and leadership to understand the concept of failing fast


3. Bringing Product Thinking 

Focus on the MVPs over multiple releases


4. Move from Local to global optimization – Team to business to leadership

Generate and celebrate quick wins – Core of the agile principle is quick releases, people and innovation. Though you might only see small incremental product getting build, however, it is all about generating those small wins and celebrating it.


5. Clear and powerful agile roles

It is important to have clearly defined key roles for individuals and teams like Product Owner, Scrum Master, RTE, Business Analyst, Integration team and so on. There are multiple examples available where Agile transformation hits multiple velocity breakers due to dependencies and lack of clarity of product and vision.


6. Knowledge and alignment

While knowledge is critical, a successful Agile transformation also depends on team alignment. It typically takes three to six sprints for teams to fully get on-board and adopt Agile. The time leading up to this point can be chaotic, and is characterized by a dip in productivity. Only when knowledge rolls downhill and everyone shares a mutual understanding of Agile—its framework, practices, processes, etc.—can the team be in alignment.  Both team, organization and customers will have to be aware of this and align themselves from the overall agile ROI perspective.


7. Organization infrastructure needs

Organization structure needs to change to reap the benefits of the agile transformation. An organization who continues to measure performance based on productivity, and loading people 100%, will be a failure mode for agile transformation


8. Focus on processes and technical practices to bring about cultural change

Organizations who transition to Agile are trying to accomplish the same goals: they want to improve decision-making, pace of delivery and product quality. While process plays a key part in these three factors, a true Agile transformation does not start or stop at processes. It involves technical practices, and together, these two items speak to a much larger facet of your organization: culture. It is important to not just focus on Agile process changes and also look at transformation in engineering practices and maturity. Enterprise agility can be achieved only if the organization is able to combine agile and dev ops.


9. Processes Vs Practices

Process describes how you manage the work. The processes you have in place to handle everyday operations are largely responsible for your decision-making (choosing the right product) and pace of delivery.


Practice describes how you work. The practices your team engages in may be similar, but the way they go about implementing them can be different. Practices shine through in your product quality and, like processes, impact your team’s pace of delivery.


While practices and your processes impact your team’s pace of delivery, quality expectations and decision-making, a transformation that only affects how you manage the work and how you do it is still an incomplete transformation.


10. Doing agile  vs Being Agile

Agile is more than a process transition: it is cultural. The transformation to Agile is not complete until your organization IS Agile. If your team is simply going through the motions of Agile (adjusting processes), they’re not reaping the full benefit of the methodology. The key is to have your organization living and breathing Agile, every step of the way.


11. Learn from others

If you’re midway through a transformation and not quite sure where you are on the doing to being spectrum, or if you’re reading this as a way of putting in some due diligence before taking the leap to Agile, I’d strongly suggest one activity that can help you get a clear picture of what it means to be Agile and to help you avoid this pitfall: look to others for guidance.  To do this, take a field trip (we call it an Agile Safari). Find an organization you know is Agile, and ask if you can stop in for a day and find out how they tick. This is a great way to not only wrap your own mind around the Agile methodology, but to get your team comfortable and on-board with it as well.


12. Inspect and Adapt

Need time for team to learn and improve – This is most often missed but this is as important to the agile teams as continuous check ins. Team need to inspect what is going well and adapt to future sprints, PIs and so on.


13. Lack of discipline (it is all about cadence!)

Although it may seem counter intuitive, Agile is an extremely disciplined approach to working.  Agile teams work in rhythm to attain sustainable pace. This is mantra of success for agile teams. Agile does not equal sloppiness.  Hence most people will have a difficult time adjusting to this.

Tracking stories to closure, sticking to ‘definition-of-done’ come what may, coming to stand-up on-time and able to finish in-time, estimation tracking, getting ready for decent demo etc– these are all things where every team will slip up the first few iterations. Without discipline Agile will not work.


14. Business is not as usual

The business stakeholders involved must understand and inculcate agile as it is very different for them. Often overlooked or avoided because the delivery team may also be ramping up on the methodology and hence feel uncomfortable teaching it to others. If this group is not brought into the fold there will be major disconnects in terminology, approach to situations, handling slippages, commitments etc.


The business also needs to clearly understand expectations of the team; that they are available to the team and easily reachable whenever team needs them. If not teams will end up with unfinished work, unmatched expectations and other issues that are often comes due to long breaks between business reviews.


15. Embracing Change - (Ex) Change Management

People mis-interpret the term ‘iterative’ to mean that there is unlimited ability to revisit scope. In fact, agile success hinges on incremental completion of scope throughout the project. Teams that do not effectively define their “acceptance criteria” for each story will never get real closure on work in progress. This leads to endless cycles of revisions that are really scope changes but which are not labelled so because of the mis-perception, causing delays, overruns, and a demoralized team.


16. Coach is needed

Agile transformation without an agile coach will be a driver less google car. It will navigate on its own without direction


In a typical project the pressures of understanding the business, learning and addressing technology, business, and team personality issues; will very quickly overwhelm even the most prepared person. Adding upon this a major change in delivery methodology (even if only in certain areas) will lead one to revert to known approaches. The volume of information is simply too huge. The new techniques and thinking will be dropped and mis-interpreted.  A major mitigation here is training and more importantly, effective support from someone with actual experience in the field.


17. Working style will vary

Agile will not be successful if development teams are working in silo. It is about frequent collaboration, communication and integration of teams and code.


18. Automated testing

Automated testing is fundamental to quality, short delivery cycles, and hence the agile model. Yet, there are many barriers: taking on a legacy application with no existing test suites; lack of tools for many aspects of an application; lack of team knowledge on how to do this. People will want to revert to more comfortable manual testing approaches. As the product gets bigger, then teams unable to finish all the manual testing within the sprint and quality issues starts creeping in. Hence investing on test automation early in the project makes lot of business sense.


19. Cross Functional and multi skilled team

Teams working in a much focused environment within a larger project may find themselves struggling within a short iteration to get involved in a much broader range of skills: estimation, design, development, testing, and finally demonstrating functionality to the business. This has tremendous upside in terms of learning new skills, etc. but can be very stressful if NOT managed (facilitated) well.


20. Focus on Dev Ops for Enterprise Agility

Focus on people, mindset, process, technology and tools


Teams get hung up with tools while moving to agile. Yeah you definitely need to track few metrics like velocity, burn-down, estimates. But you don’t need fancy tools while you are starting. Even excel would work fine. Teams should focus on Agility and Scrum framework first and then on tools


21. Transparency

Teams should get in single source of truth across the people layers right from execution teams to leadership teams.


Metrics and dashboard at all levels is must for the agile transformation


22. Dependency Management

Agile transformation cannot success if the release trains running across the programs and portfolios are not managing dependencies. Teams waiting on dependencies will lead to wastage and will not be able to progress efficiently


Decentralize control :This is the most important for agile transformation where the decision making is decentralized and no blockers and there is no information stickiness


In traditional Waterfall, organizations entrust the responsibility of decision making to top managers, who make every approval decision for the team. For Agile transformation to be successful, all decision making for a Scrum Team transfers to the team itself, "given up" by management so that the team can achieve agility and empowerment


23. No clear goals or ROI Model

Many organizations struggle with 18 month delivery cycles. Agile helps your team accelerate time to market and revenue.


Some of the other returns that you can expect from being agile are


  • Predictability: Agile tends to focus on adaptability, but predictability is most often cited as the reason for an agile transformation.

  • Adaptability: Allow the product to evolve by embracing change in scope

  • Quality: As organizations scale, product quality often suffers. Agile focuses on quality from requirements through implementation.

  • Time to market: Faster releases and feedback from the market.

  • Innovation:As companies grow sometimes they slow down and lose the ability to innovate. Agile can help you get back your competitive edge.

    One of the success factors of an Agile transformation is innovation. Innovation does not need to come from centers of excellence but from the team itself. After every four sprints, hold one sprint for innovation, during which all the teams in the organization can showcase POCs, new technology trends, best practices, success stories, etc. The organization can conduct contests for teams to put up stalls at each location and physically present their innovations.

  • Reduce Wastage: Start mapping Value Streams and identify bottlenecks and wastes in the overall engineering process.

  • Lower cost: Cost savings are tough to promise, but agile can help make sure you are only spending money on the features most likely to generate revenue.

  • Product fit: Delivering on time is only important if you are delivering the right product. Agile can help you get the feedback you need.


24. Project Management Best practice does not change even though we are agile

Being agile does not mean the basic project management principles are forgotten.


25. Team Motivation

The Agile framework requires the team to show a working product on a near-daily basis. To improve team morale, implement steps such as these:


  • Generate and Celebrate quick wins

  • Have a conference room available as the team’s working place for the entire duration of the project.

  • Take lunch and coffee breaks as a team to improve the bonding process.

  • Celebrate birthdays with cake or another form of festivity.

  • Go out for games or movies at the end of each successful sprint.

  • Have team dinners at the office when teams are working late.

  • Start the day with an appreciation note. Each team member can write a note of appreciation to anyone in the team, simply to say a thank-you for the support or help provided.

  • The success of Agile is dependent on the team; a motivated team will go the extra mile in meeting the needs of the transformation journey.

  • Enable Collaborative Environment by setting up work infrastructure which encourages empowered and collaborative environment with togetherness - making it a cool and fun place to work​