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July 18, 2014

5 Keys to a Successful Agile Transformation

3 mins read

While aiming for a more nimble and responsive IT organization is a worthy goal, the road to an Agile transformation is often lined with potholes. Even if individual teams are going strong with Agile adoption, it’s especially common to lose momentum at the organizational level–usually because a true cultural change never took place.

How do you make sure your Agile transformation is sustained? Follow these rules for the greatest chance of lasting success.

1. Ensure your Agile champion is a true change agent

Many people working toward an Agile transformation realize their champion needs to be someone with decision-making power. While that is a great start, it’s not enough to ensure success. In addition to making decisions, Agile champions must hold sway with both their peers and executives, and, in doing so, must serve as the true face of change. Successful champions don’t attempt to delegate during a transition – they roll up their sleeves and show they are personally invested.

2. Use an Agile assessment to promote transparency in the organization

Transparency can leave many feeling exposed, but it’s an essential part of moving forward with an Agile transformation. If team members, managers, and executives cannot be honest about what problems are plaguing the organization, those attempting to assess where the organization currently stands risk making recommendations based on false assumptions. Agile transformations and the roadmap that goes along with it are not one-size-fits-all. This means a failed or incomplete assessment often leads to a failed transformation.

3. Start small with Agile pilot teams

Once recommendations have been made and a roadmap is identified, limit risk by identifying a pilot team or teams. While most organizations use pilot teams to test out a particular Agile approach, don’t forget to also use this opportunity to hone change management techniques on a smaller audience. It’s especially crucial to communicate the impact an Agile transformation will have on each individual’s role. You can also identify major pain points early in order to mitigate them in advance of the larger rollout. Finally, if the pilot goes well, you’ll have a group of evangelists to work with you toward the larger Agile transformation.

4. Train the right people at the right time

Participating in Agile training is one thing; truly taking ownership of a new way of doing business is another. At the team level, oftentimes it’s enough to provide Agile training supplemented with regular brown bags, workshops and user groups. Executives and managers may have a more difficult time–they will need to fully understand that Agile is something they are also adopting, not just applying to teams. For example, they need to grasp the impact of drive-by tasking and begin abiding by the intake rules determined by dedicated Agile teams.

5. Make the Agile transformation stick by allowing your roadmap to be emergent

Once Agile is in place, how do you sustain it? While it’s important not to lose sight of the goals that inspired the change to Agile, make sure you give breathing room to allow for new ideas or to remove poor ones. At the team level, regular retrospectives allow space to reflect on what’s working and what isn’t. At the organizational level, consider using a continuous improvement backlog to identify and prioritize changes like improving communication or structuring teams differently.

Have you encountered any other useful lessons during an Agile transformation? Share them here!

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