Preparing for an Agile Transition

Are you ready?

Transforming a team or organization to Agile thinking and working requires those involved to be ready for the change. Readiness on all levels: managerial, coaches and the people doing the work. Many organizations start implementing Scrum and/or Agile, often without regard for readiness. Those transitions might succeed in the short run but will likely bounce back into old habbits (the ‘jelly problem’).

Mind the grass roots

For years the main complaint in Agile was lack of management support. These days more often Agile transitions are started because upper management wants it. That’s great but it could lead to ignoring the grass roots. Make sure you create grass root support for Agile. Keep in mind that bombastic presentations about the benefits of Agile works for managers, not for the work floor. You need to light the Agile fire and that can take a while to get lit. One option could be to keep management support for Agile secret until the employees start to get exited about Agile.

Tip: Tell management that any organizational change takes years, especially in large organizations. Suggest to start very small, low key and possibly even under cover.

Tip: Use a big bang Agile transition only after a period of slow grass roots and management preparation.

Mind the managers

If Agile is introduced by management, they often think that it means management is not the problem and that can hinder the transition. Management really does need to change, otherwise you didn’t need Agile. It can also increase cynicism amongst the people because they feel it all needs to come from them. The biggest problem is management has a tendency to use command & control to implement Agile, which makes Agile a set of tricks not an organizational change.

Tip: Make it explicit that managers will not lose their job after the Agile transition.

Tip: Discuss with management what they want to change in their own behavior before or as part of the Agile transition. If they say ‘nothing’, try again or give back the assignment.

The Jelly Problem

Organizations are in a way like jellies. You can push them and something will happen, they will move and shake. You think you’re getting somewhere but leave it alone for a while and the jelly just reverts to its old shape. A lot of change programs, including Agile, end up with the same jelly as they started.

Tip: Don’t confuse movement for progress, make sure everyone is on board with the change and spend explicit time making the Agile transition permanent.

Tip: Find out how previous change programs took place, why did they fail or succeed? Learn from that and adjust your transition accordingly.

Change in Progress

Lean teaches us that overburdening (‘muri’) is a key to waste. It’s often overlooked that people can be overburdened with organizational change. Many organizations that  currently start an Agile transition will likely have other changes already in progress. Employees often have multiple changes to deal with:

  • Change teams,
  • change locations,
  • change your brand and vision,
  • change operating system,
  • change customer communication,
  • change to conform to new regulations,
  • change to comply with methods and certification (e.g. ISO),
  • change functions and roles (e.g. because of cost cuts or mergers)

How many changes are taking place while you are doing your Agile transition? How many have only recently finished? Are you sure people are not fatigued of all the changes? If so, your Agile transition will have a small chance of succeeding. So the key to reducing overburdening is using ‘pull’ for your change programs.

Tip: Don’t push your transition onto overburdened people, find indications that the organization really has the time and capacity for doing the next change. Especially be aware of inactive but unfinished change programs.

Tip: On management level keep track of all change programs that are planned or in progress in the same part of the organization (see image)

Change in progress

 

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Preparing for an Agile Transition

4 thoughts on “Preparing for an Agile Transition

  1. I like the jelly metaphor. It seems to me that organizations of humans are complex adaptive systems. When people try to effect change by driving a linear cause-and-effect sequence, they overlook the fact that we can’t predict the outcome of an organizational change deterministically. A typical pattern is that after the consultants go away, the organization reverts to its previous equilibrium state. The jelly metaphor captures this pattern very nicely.

    The lean community has it right (I think) when they emphasize (a) begin where you are and change gradually, guided by measurement, and (b) take a “sense and respond” approach so that systemic effects will not surprise you and overwhelm your improvement program. When we take that approach, the only thing people have to do to be “ready” for change is to become aware that they have a problem.

  2. Machiel Groeneveld says:

    One aspect of Lean adoption is also that Lean trainers train people from your company to spread Lean, without internal agents it will not last.

  3. Bin says:

    When reading in the section “Mind the manager”, i see:

    ” It can also increase scinisim amongst the people because they feel it all needs to come from them.”

    What does it mean by scinisim?

    Thanks :)

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