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Agile Transformation in Practice: Part VI

In the sixth part of his series, Ian Mitchell discusses team cadence, change actioning, and daily cadence within Agile organizations.

· Agile Zone

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Team Cadence

Agile development and delivery should be performed with respect to a certain cadence. At a minimum, this cadence must regulate the taking of productivity measurements and provide systematic opportunities for a team to inspect and adapt its process so as to improve it. This simple and effective approach is common to most Lean Kanban delivery teams, which assess their throughput and other measures, such as latency, over set periods of time. Other Agile teams will batch related work for completion within each set period in order to achieve a significant product-focused goal. The Scrum Sprint is an illustration of the goal-driven approach in action. Success with regard to the goal (which is to say, the delivery of the batch and the mitigation of significant risk) provides a useful point of reference for inspection and adaptation. Sprints occur on a regular cadence of no longer than a month. At the beginning of each Sprint, a batch of work can be planned, and at its conclusion, a corresponding increment of  functionality can be reviewed, demonstrated, and potentially released. The Scrum Team's process will then be subject to inspection and adaptation during an end-of-sprint Retrospective.

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Each Delivery Team's cadence of inspection and adaptation should align at least once per month with the Transformation Heartbeat of the organization. This allows multiple teams to synchronize organizational deliveries and gives the Transformation Rollout Team a regular indication of overall progress towards enterprise agile adoption. For example, if an organization has a Transformation Heartbeat of four weeks, then teams might reasonably have cadences of four, two, or even one week in length. The cadence of any given team would thus align every first, second, or fourth occurrence with the four weekly Transformation Heartbeat.

The Transformation Rollout Team should promote cadences that are appropriate for each individual Delivery Team. Any given team's cadence should be as rapid as efficient practice will allow. The timebox must be short enough to enable inspection and adaptation with minimum delay, yet long enough to permit the retrospective analysis of a significant sweep of team experience. If batches of work are planned into each timebox (as would be the case with Scrum Sprints, for example) then there is an additional consideration to bear in mind. In such cases, the Team Cadence must be short enough to stop large batches of undelivered work from building up and depreciating in value, yet long enough to allow meaningful Sprint Goals to be achieved.

Choosing a suitable cadence for a team is hard, and experimentation may be needed before the right balance is found. When promoting a suitable cadence, the Transformation Rollout Team should also consider the ability of the Development Team to absorb items from the Transformation Backlog and to inspect and adapt its practices accordingly. In the early stages of Agile transformation, this is likely to be more important than any other single factor.

Change Actioning

Agile change is encouraged and coached to the organization by the Transformation Rollout Team. It is their responsibility to ensure that each change is managed and measured and to realize the benefits of appropriate Agile patterns and practices. This is done by helping the target beneficiaries to understand the desired change in their behaviors and practices, the strength of executive sponsorship for change, and the expected outcomes that specific changes will bring. Coaching and mentoring are the watchwords here.

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It is not necessary to explain (nor even to mention) the patterns themselves when assisting these parties through the process of change. In fact, “Agile patterns” do not even need to form part of their vocabulary. Rather, they must be coached and mentored in the application of appropriate practices that allow each pattern to be realized and its Acceptance Criteria achieved.

The Transformation Rollout Team actions change from the Transformation Backlog according to each item’s order of priority and the Action Plan for implementing that change. A plan will typically involve the coaching and mentoring of teams and the leveraging of appropriate patterns so that the Acceptance Criteria of the change can be met.

Daily Cadence

Teams in an Agile organization must review the work in progress and the value that is being accumulated and released, taking corrective action if necessary, as early and as often as is practicable. This stops waste from building up and prevents small errors from snowballing into larger ones.

A best practice is to hold brief and focused team meetings once per working day. Fifteen minutes is generally recommended. A timebox like this allows teams to plan their work for the day, and to revise any existing plans if needed, such as plans for meeting a Sprint Goal. This daily cadence of reviewing and refocusing allows for minor course adjustments, and it helps to ensure the team meets its delivery responsibilities.

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From the Transformation Rollout Team's perspective, the Daily Cadence is also an opportunity to assess (with minimum delay) the rollout of changes drawn from the Transformation Backlog. The Daily Cadence preserves the momentum for Agile transformation. It can stop the Agile initiative from drifting, or indeed from crashing, due to a failure to escape organizational gravity. The Rollout Team should look for evidence that each team has made progress in applying the relevant Transformation Backlog Item, that the acceptance criteria are on course to be met, and that the associated improvements are in an increasingly better position to be leveraged. Even if a Rollout Team is working with a Delivery Team on a full-time basis in order to achieve such results, it is enormously valuable to review progress daily.

Suitable illustrations of daily cadence include timeboxed Daily Scrum meetings and Kanban standups or huddles. When done well, the application of several good Agile patterns will be seen at work here, including timeboxing, inspection and adaptation, and teamwork.

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