Agile is the big word being thrown around these days, especially in the federal government – agile, adaptive, efficient, and effective are all words used to describe the development processes and outcomes that agile espouses.
We see a groundswell of movement away from the traditional waterfall methods of developing software that have proven to be time consuming, linear, process-centric versus customer-centric, and expensive. As we move towards agile we are sold on the promise of delivering value through a focus on reducing overhead, faster time to functionality, and at lower cost.
The reality is, however, that organizations are experiencing resistance and battling barriers that have been built and reinforced over many years, and we continue to underestimate the disruption that agile invokes within organizations. VersionOne’s annual survey The State of Agile has for 12 years sited, “Ability to change organizational culture” and “General resistance to change” as the top barriers to agile adoption. This again underscores the importance of cultural awareness, cultural change, and change management competence when implementing agile.
Whether you’re thinking about moving to agile or have already started the journey, here are 5 tips for helping you succeed:
Agile produces a culture shift – At whatever stage of adoption, know your culture and how it compares to one that supports agility. Organizational cultures take years to change (sorry to say it!), and a cultural assessment will arm you with the insight and ability to align aspects of your culture that support agility and pinpoint attributes that don’t.
Agile requires new management approaches – traditional, top-down, command and control management approaches are not well suited for agile. Agile software development has emerged as a shining example of knowledge work – where the information you have, and new ideas you develop and share equates to the business value you create. New approaches for managing knowledge workers include breaking down information silos, creating an environment where new ideas can flow and flourish, building trust, and improving the link between individual effort and organizational success.
Agile moves your seat – the design of your office space most likely will need to change. Agile teams work collaboratively in open settings, where information is radiated for all to consume, and how the team works – even the hours they work – are designed and decided by the team members. When an organization has a mix of agile and tradition teams sharing a common workspace, there may be a tendency for traditional team members to question their agile colleagues who, seemingly out of nowhere, are now working in drastically different ways. Make sure communication is flowing and management is supportive because this is an area where you will start to visibility see the changes that agile requires.
Agile hinges on open communications – most, if not all, organizations struggle with effective communications. Traditional hierarchical, command and control style cultures that encouraged gated oversight in order to suppress what information would be released and to whom will be directly challenged in the new agile era. Agile requires proactive communications and open dialogue and information sharing with a wide range of people – colleagues, leadership, stakeholders, customers in order to realize success.
Moving to agile requires change management – going from waterfall to agile is a difficult change to make, but undoubtedly worth it. It’s not just about process change; in fact agile impacts the whole organizational system. To be successful in agile transformation organizations must build and deploy change management competencies, practices and frameworks to guide their efforts. Effective change management is iterative, adaptive, and measurable and relies heavily on leadership, sponsorship and ongoing communications.
To recap – agile is more than just a process replacement; it represents a new and different way of thinking – a fresh mindset – that refutes many of the organizational norms of the 20th century. It takes some time, some monetary resources, a learning curve, but most importantly, this transformation requires the ability to look directly in our organizational mirrors and be honest with what we find, and open to doing what it takes to improve ourselves and how we delivery value for our customers.
With the right insights, flexibility and blueprint for change, agile can become a key differentiator to organizations beyond IT.