Agile Transformation: Overcoming Implementation Challenges

How Agile is your organization?

All organizations that start with an Agile implementation want to be successful at delivering value to the customer frequently while gaining a competitive advantage. How many of us are really successful at achieving these goals? How many of us who are implementing authentic Agile realize its real benefits? 

Implementation challenges

There are many hurdles to overcome in Agile implementation. First, senior leaders may show little involvement in the implementation. Any transformation should be a top-down approach. Successful Agile adoption is not achievable by teaching only the grassroots levels about Agile while senior/middle management lacks Agile knowledge. All levels of the organization must imbibe Agile.Second, the structure of the organization must support the implementation of Agile. Colocated teams with high levels of interaction are crucial. A colocated team must be, in fact, collocated: centrally located, not distributed through different areas of the office building or through satellite offices in other geographic regions. Also, if distributed teams exist, ensure that there is enough overlap among the time zones to run common retrospectives.

Letting go of the traditional manager role

The traditional role of a manager must also change. Command-and-control does not work. Let the team manage itself and have the ScrumMaster available to guide and motivate the team to ensure that it achieves the release goals. Moreover, Agile practices encourage self-organization and team accountability. Managers can guide at the program level, whereas ScrumMasters can guide at the team level. Neither task-level oversight nor micromanagement of hours is going to work in an Agile environment. Let’s drop that mindset.

Changing the organization's mindset

Involving the whole of the organization is important. This means that all departments, such as human resources, IT, operations, etc., should understand the Agile Manifesto. How can we expect the HR team to understand the team-level and behavioral issues in the Agile workplace when they themselves don’t understand Agile? HR must change performance appraisals to suit the growth of the Agile culture. The organization cannot follow the same old ways of doing annual/biannual appraisals whereby more weight is given to individual performance. A team-based performance appraisal is necessary. The feedbacks should be regular, not a one-time activity at the end of the year. These evaluations are meant to enhance the skills and competiveness of the employees. Let’s embrace the necessary changes in the appraisal system.

Recruiting the right ScrumMaster

Another impediment is the diluted role of ScrumMasters. Who can assume the role of the ScrumMaster? The most obvious answer has been anyone on the team who has less work and has some bandwidth left to do the ScrumMaster work. After all, they just need to coordinate some meetings. The ScrumMaster role keeps rotating happily from one team member to another. Right? No. The organization must understand that the ScrumMaster role is much more than that. A ScrumMaster must be a servant leader, a good facilitator, and a Scrum champion to play that role properly, otherwise the team will face tough challenges. Many of the Agile implementation issues are resolved if we have real ScrumMasters who are competently equipped to handle the team dynamics and motivate the team toward the sprint goal.

Stabilizing the teams

Finally, the organization must ensure the stability of the team. It cannot continually rotate team members between different releases and expect the team to grow in velocity. Allow the team to collaborate for at least a year or so and then determine the benefit of doing Agile. This is a crucial step for those teams who are new to the Agile culture.

Implementing Agile in bits and pieces and coming up with variants of Agile is the most common approach. Teams implement some of the practices that they feel are suitable or seem comfortable to implement. What organizations fail to understand is that Agile demands a proper implementation, discipline, and practice, akin to the Shu-Ha-Ri technique. In the Shu-Ha-Ri technique, the individual must pass through three stages to gain knowledge.


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