Why should an organization adopt an agile way of working?
Welcome to part 8 of our agile coach interview questions series where John McFadyen answers common questions asked of agile coaches and scrum masters in interviews and client engagements.
That’s actually a good question.
- Why should an organization consider agile?
- What are they trying to achieve?
- What do they think Agile is going to help them do that they currently aren’t able to do?
- What problem would Agile solve for the organization?
I know this is an interview question but truthfully, an organization shouldn’t adopt an Agile way of working -whatever is meant by that phrase – because the methodology, in and of itself, means very little to nothing.
Identify opportunities and threats.
What the organization or department needs to do, is work out what will best serve their needs and objectives, and identify what they are trying to achieve from a business objectives perspective.
Every organization or department has a unique context, application, and purpose for its existence.
Identify what those elements are and define them.
Agile is a set of tools, a mindset, and values and principles rather than a deeply prescribed methodology such as PRINCE 2 or traditional waterfall-style project management methodologies.
This is where it can, sometimes, be confusing for people. Agile doesn’t tell you what to do and when to do it, it is often a lightweight framework combined with a set of values and principles that act as a guide for what you want to embody, as an organization, and how you want to create products.
- What are the threats your organization or department face?
- What are the opportunities you are trying to exploit?
- Where have you identified opportunities for improvement?
- How will a process of continuous improvement serve your team?
- What problems are you currently unable to solve?
- What would happen if you were able to effectively solve those problems?
So, in closing, you don’t ADOPT agile, you BECOME agile.
Through a combination of transparency, frequent inspection and adaptation, you become more responsive, creative and collaboration in your problem-solving and product development processes.
You are more responsive to your customers, and you use frequent and rapid feedback loops to inform product development. In essence, making sure that you are building the most valuable product for your customers and solving their most compelling problems.
You are responding to competitor activity in the marketplace, and you are responsive to changing customer requirements in that marketplace.
Understand application and context.
Agile is a great answer but it isn’t the only answer to every question.
If you work in a complicated or simple environment where all the variables are known, upfront, and for the most part, there will be little in the way of change or disruption, then waterfall-style project management is a great answer.
If you are trying to move X number of bricks onto a truck, Agile isn’t going to work for you. If you are looking to build a bridge, following the same formula that you have used to successfully build hundreds of bridges in the past, Agile isn’t going to work for you.
A great agile coach will help you identify that in the first few conversations that you have.
- What business are you in?
- How do you currently work?
- What problems do you have?
- What are you trying to build?
- Who are you trying to build that product/service for?
Before you aim to adopt Agile, think about its application in the environment you serve and seek to understand if that is a great fit. It may be but it may not be a great answer too.
Remember, many of the ways of working that exist today, work.
If they didn’t, we wouldn’t have achieved so much as a species, nor would you see all the great things that you witness on the planet today.
Sometimes, you don’t need to fix something that isn’t broken.
- Are we in a complex, interrelated and interdependent industry?
- Are we experiencing great uncertainty, volatility, complexity, and ambiguity?
- Can we follow a formula for success or is each new initiative or item unknown?
- Do we understand many of the variables that may impact our organization, or must we discover, even sometimes as we move along, what those variables are?
- Are people required to bring their brains to work, more so than their hands?
If the answer to these questions is an emphatic yes, then you have a great case for agile but need to further understand their problems and opportunities to decide on an agile framework, such as scrum, to work with.
- Explore the opportunities of Agile within the context of the organization.
- What parts of the organization does it make sense to adopt an agile framework?
- How do we start and how do we evolve into a great solution?
- What does success look like?
- How will we know if our hypothesis is correct?
Remember, Agile is a product development approach, developed in the software world. If the organization doesn’t have products, it doesn’t make sense to adopt Agile.
Also, assess the appetite for change. Agile doesn’t fix problems, it reveals problems. You are going to understand, fairly quickly, what needs to change and why it needs to change. If the organization are not prepared to make those changes, then Agile is going to simply cause frustration and disruption.
If the organization understand the need for change, and embrace the process of change informed by data and evidence, then Agile is going to be a perfect fit.
You need to understand this upfront. You need to know how serious the organization, executives and leadership teams are about the need for change.
- If the organization need to change, but refuse to do so, that is going to cause great frustration. Can the organization afford that?
- If frustration escalates past a tipping point, great people are going to leave. Can the organization afford that?
- If a number of people leave, are you going to be left with the ones you want? If not, can the organization afford that?
- Do you have powerful sponsors onboard that can help remove impediments, frustration and affect policy to ensure that the organization consistently improve?
So, in closing, organizations need to consider a great deal before simply adopting agile. A lot of great questions need to be answered and executives / leadership teams need to commit to doing what is necessary to facilitate the change that is necessary.
Agile is wonderful when it works but can be incredibly painful when it goes wrong.
About John McFadyen
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