Being Agile - in perfect harmony

Are You Using, Doing, or Being Agile?

An Agile transformation is a journey. A journey has many ups and downs, and an Agile journey is no different. Another way of thinking about this is how a company can reach  Agile maturity. Just like playing an instrument or participating in a sport, practice makes perfect. However, that is not the full story.

I have often heard, “We tried Agile and failed.”  After following up with a few questions, I get an answer like, “We used the Scrum ceremonies, but we never got the outcomes we expected.”  What does using Agile actually mean? I can pick up a guitar and use it, but anyone around me will quickly learn that “using” a guitar versus making fantastic music are two vastly different outcomes. One result is unpleasant while the other is joyous and Agile is no different.

Just like with an instrument, an organization must go from learning the mechanics and basic scales to developing an organizational agile mindset.

From Terms to a Transformed Culture- An Agile Hierarchy

Advancing to Agile maturity means graduating from simply using to being Agile:

Agile Hierarchy

Firms often get stuck in the lower levels of Agile transformation that can lead to mediocre results. To illustrate this, let’s consider the Scrum process.  A Scrum team can use all Scrum ceremonies, not have a detailed project plan and may even deliver usable code in increments. But what about the actual outcomes? Here are questions to ask to gauge where you are in the transformation process:

  • What about Agile roles; did governance include Scrum Masters and Product Owners?
  • Are the Scrum teams and Product Owners empowered to make decisions quickly?
  • The Scrum team has sprints, but do they finish with any regularity the stories they signed up to complete in the sprint?
  • Do Scrum team members help each other so the team can meet its sprint commitments?
  • Are team members fully dedicated to the Scrum team?
  • Are Scrum team members willing to go outside their specialties?
  • Are resources outside the Scrum team responsible for testing and quality?
  • What about business participants in the Scrum process? Is the focus on having all the requirements buttoned up before the Scrum team is exposed to the user stories?
  • Is the Product Owner empowered to make business decisions?
  • Are user stories focused on the “What” and not the “How”?

Changing Minds and Hearts

What does it look like when an organization is being Agile?  Being anything is a combination of heart and mind. The mind must practice the Agile concepts, which become a habit for individuals, teams and the entire organization. The heart centers around passion and a belief that Agile empowers accountable team members to deliver quality products to their customers. This can equate to the difference between hearing a technically excellent musician and being thoroughly entertained by someone who believes deeply in their craft and instantly connects with their audience.

Alignment Is Key

Being Agile requires three key elements to be aligned: people, process, and technology.

PEOPLE:  All the people involved need to trust and talk to each other, accept persistent ambiguity and view change as a positive. Team members need to be hyper-focused on delivering value to the customer, embrace continuous contagious curiosity to learn aka innovation, and not place blame on others for mistakes. Management must empower the team. Additionally, each team is totally resourceful, not individually focused, and all team members have a continuous improvement mindset that is never content with the status quo.

PROCESS: The Scrum process should support the team to increase velocity and quality continuously.  Management has empowered individuals and teams which are self-managed, all the teams’ artifacts are transparent, and continuous improvement tools are utilized to make the Scrum process and output better after every sprint. Finally, the Scrum team understands their velocity and meets their commitments for each sprint. This will require team members to do whatever is required to meet their commitment.

TECHNOLOGY: The technology utilized by a Scrum team is used to increase quality, speed, and reduce cost. Testing is automated and is built up front, while development tools are modern and enable simple code integration. It is not required to use tools to support the Agile process, but these tools can be helpful based on scope, size, and type of structure.

Of these three key elements, Technology is the least important and People the most critical. Therefore, People should be the primary focus during an Agile organizational transformation.  All elements certainly play a role, but it is People who must BE AGILE before an organization will reach a high level of Agile maturity.

At a concert, we want the band not just to entertain, but to take us to another place. They do this when they’ve transformed from being technical experts to true virtuosos. When they feel the music and play off each other’s energy, everyone is lifted up with them.  Being Agile is no different.

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