Agile Transformation in Practice: Part V

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Agile Transformation in Practice: Part V

Executive sponsorship is essential for Agile adoption at enterprise scale. Only narrow tactical improvements are likely without the clear support of senior management.

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Transformation Backlog

Executive sponsorship is an essential pre-requisite for Agile adoption at enterprise scale. Only narrow tactical improvements – those that affect individual teams rather than the whole organization – are likely without the clear and unambiguous support of senior management.

This implies that enterprise transformation must be considered at a strategic level. Although a strategic vision for organization-wide Agile practice is important, it is not enough. There must also be a clear means for implementing the vision if Agile transformation is to succeed in practice.

The strategic vision for Agile change is implemented using a Transformation Backlog (similar terms and constructs include Change Backlog, Pattern Backlog, and Practice Backlog). This is an ordered list of changes. Each change item on a Transformation Backlog ought to be structured according to an "Action Plan" for its implementation. A suitable plan can be structured in three parts as follows.

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1. Selected Patterns

Remember that change isn't done just for the heck of it. There must be a rationale, and in an Agile transformation, each change that is brought into effect should be expected to improve innovative potential in some way. Each item on the Transformation Backlog will, therefore, implement one or more Agile patterns or practices that have been selected by a sponsored Rollout Team. Antipatterns may be included if they represent organizational impediments (dysfunctions) for removal. Antipatterns are best tackled if they are treated as epics and subsequently broken down into the good patterns and practices which will eliminate them.

2. Target Beneficiaries

Each Transformation Backlog Item must be applied to specific organizational components in support of a measured and controlled program of sponsored agile adoption. Coaching, training, and mentoring from the Rollout Team will facilitate this, as can support from peers. By the successful application of a change, each "target” for that change will demonstrate, empirically, the improved Agile behaviors which the associated patterns and practices represent. Their ability to manage their own Agile way of working will improve. As they mature, less assistance will be needed and the Transformation Team can prioritize change in other areas of the enterprise. Any pattern or practice may be repeated across multiple items in the Transformation Backlog, as the same pattern may need to be applied in different contexts and at different times.

Note that the use of the word “target” can be misinterpreted or misrepresented as being confrontational. It may be necessary, in some transformation initiatives, to replace this with an alternative euphemism such as "change beneficiaries."

Now, although a Transformation Backlog Item can leverage multiple Agile patterns and good practices, its application should be deliberately limited in scope. This is another way of saying that it should target as small an area as possible and that at any one time the transformational Work In Progress should be correspondingly limited. It is better to clearly and unambiguously facilitate small improvements than to bite off more than the people who are affected can chew. To this end, the Action Plan should include an estimate that indicates the likely effort and complexity of implementing the change. A substantial change may preclude bringing other changes into progress before it is completed and retired.

3. Acceptance Criteria

Each Transformation Backlog Item must have clear Acceptance Criteria. These are the evidences that prove that the change has been applied successfully. They are often expressed in terms of roles, demonstrable behaviors, events and their outputs, qualities of specific artifacts, and (ideally non-lagging) indicators and metrics. Identifying good Acceptance Criteria is hard and it is arguably the most challenging of transformation skills that one can develop. Understanding the intent, structure, motivation, applicability, consequences, and implementation of each pattern is instrumental to this ability. It requires the joint input of the sponsor, the backlog owner, and the coaches to frame acceptance criteria successfully, although as delivery teams mature they will increasingly demonstrate this capability themselves.

Action Plan Refinement

Action Plan Refinement is an ongoing activity during which the Action Plan is created and subsequently improved for each item in turn. The item's Action Plan describes what needs to be done in order to effect a change so that appropriate Acceptance Criteria can be met. Remember that the greater part of this is likely to involve coaching and mentoring, and these can be expected to feature heavily in the plan. The plan for each change item will include a relative estimate of the effort required for its completion. At any one time, the Transformation Rollout Team should action only as many items as they expect can be handled concurrently. Work In Progress must be deliberately limited.

Action Planning should be completed on a Just In Time basis for each Transformation Backlog Item, i.e., for each change, as and when its implementation becomes imminent. Before then, the item’s plan may exist only in a sketch. The highest priority items should, therefore, have mature plans that are sufficiently detailed for their respective patterns to be achieved, whereas lower-priority items might be planned only at a cursory level with broad estimates that allow the backlog to be roughly sized. The overplanning of low priority items is potentially wasteful and must be avoided. As long as the items bring a sense of scale to the work remaining to be done and allow it to be ordered, then that is sufficient for the purposes of refinement. This is because the value of each Action Plan can be expected to decay over time. Precociously specified details may no longer be appropriate once the item becomes a priority for implementation. It is also possible that the proposed change may be obviated by events and removed from the backlog altogether.

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Transformation Heartbeat

A cadence is a regular, timeboxed cycle of no longer than a month. Each cycle provides an opportunity to assess productivity and to inspect and adapt working methods in order to improve them. The Transformation Rollout Team facilitates this by drawing changes from the Transformation Backlog and coaching their adoption. The evidence is gathered timebox-by-timebox and the effect of the changes being effected can be gauged. Once a group values cadence with respect to delivery duties, we can begin to refer to it as a Delivery Team or at least as part of one. Delivery Teams can exist at the project, program, and portfolio level. They may include teams with strategic management responsibilities as well as those that are more technically or operationally focused.

Each part of the enterprise that is to be involved in an Agile transformation should make a contribution to product or service delivery in some way, and which helps in the release of value. If it does not make such a contribution, then there is little need to factor it into the Agile adoption effort at all. Each target for change is therefore expected to contribute to delivery, and if it is to do so successfully then it must observe cadence, just as the transformation itself must observe cadence.

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It is very important to consider the matter of cadence when rolling out an Agile transformation. For one thing, we need to ensure that a suitable cadence is being observed by each Delivery Team. We must then verify that Agile change is happening; that batches of work are kept small and manageable, that inspection and adaptation do indeed occur, and that each team's deliverables are integrated where necessary and without delaying the release of value.

A Transformation Heartbeat should, therefore, be established and used for reference across the organization. It should be no longer than one month. Delivery Teams are free to choose shorter periods for their own cadences, such as two or even one week Sprints, as long as they all align with the Transformation Heartbeat. This organizational alignment allows the Transformation Rollout Team to assess the progress of enterprise change at a juncture that is sympathetic to all teams and their delivery responsibilities.

agile, agile transformation, enterprise, transformation backlog

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