Agile Transformations: Is Cultural Change a Byproduct of the Implementation Process?
If you're implementing Agile correctly, will you need to actively focus on culture at all?
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I was asked the other day what Agile Transformation success looks like.The obvious answers are:
- Teams become highly predictable.
- Fewer bugs in production due to shifting left.
- More saving due to concentrating only on the problems with the highest business value.
- Earlier Return on Investment due to using smaller increments of change, which allows the customer to charge for the product and realize revenue earlier.
- The product is what the client wants due to smaller batches, frequent feedback, and the ability to change when needed.
- Teams rapidly transform through suppositions to see what works and what doesn’t.
Another question was asked: was this a result of changes in culture, or changes in procedures that created changes in culture? Hmmm. That question made me rethink my premise that a change in mindset was a requirement of adopting Agile. Was it really a result, an output of adopting Agile?
I doubt I would find many that would oppose that a change in culture needs to be adopted within an organization to take Agile from a Waterfall governance framework successfully. The tenets of Agile are entirely different, albeit not tricky, but it makes fans of Waterfall quite anxious to step out of their comfort zone. The issue most organizations struggle with is whether to actively work on changing the culture to be more consistent with the principles of Agile before or as part of the Agile transformation. On the one hand, if people do not trust in the Agile mindset, how approachable will they be to take the Agile training and implementing the new processes. On the other hand, if you don’t have the knowledge of what to change and why, how will you know what to do?
To get your toes wet, I would like to propose a third tactic: don’t actively try to change your culture at all. I know that’s blasphemy. Now that I have your attention, let’s go in a little bit deeper. I offer that an organizations culture will change on its own if it is put under the correct set of stimuli and business value. In other words, for each action, there is an equal or greater reaction. Implementing Agile can be a quite simple three-step plan to include:
Focus groups of people into teams
Form a list of business value priorities
Create working tested products
Anything that is an impediment to that must be removed or minimally managed. The steps are easy until you try to remove the impediments.
Most organizations can be quite successful in implementing Agile in small project settings. The dynamics change a bit when we try to scale this, how to fund and approve work, and how to demonstrate how a return on investment is obtained. Let’s be truthful, eliminating impediments necessitates time, money, and most importantly, support. It also requires leadership from all levels to not just support the work, but to be engaged. We also need to show that the changes that are being made are measurable regarding success, results, and it continues to make sense from a return on investment. Lastly, we need the ability to form hypotheses, validate, and change as required. These details are where most Agile implementations can fail.
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