Friday, December 11, 2015

The Shift from “Doing Agile” to “Being Agile”

Doing agile is a set of activities; but being agile is the state of mind, the ongoing capability, and the cultural adaptability.

Agile is an emerging methodology to manage software projects. Agility is a business capability to sense, respond, and act to changes. By following a set of Agile principles and philosophies, leading organizations are transforming from “doing Agile,” to “being Agile.” What’s the most important clarity on such a journey?

Agile transformation is a change in mindset. Agile mindset is about empathy, people-centricity, and improvement. Agile is not about free-thinking or doing without structure, Agile does not take less discipline, but needs more engineering and management discipline, so looking at mapping out a transformation plan with introducing change to leadership, training with a rollout plan across the organization, and pilot a team. You can not expect big bang mindset change so you need to start with some initial philosophy and some initial practices that pay off and reinforce, a mindset change is more difficult of a change and involves coaching/training/teaching and important discussions around what Agile is to the team/department/ company.

Most Agile transformation fails in the culture, not in the process. Welcome to the world of complexity... it only gets more complex, not less. The answer to this stems from the fact that most Agile transformation fails in the culture, not in the process. So the answer has to be "No, there isn't a framework which says everything about how we need to make an Agile transformation". There can't be because every organization's culture will throw up different roadblocks to Agile transformation success and the solutions to overcoming those roadblocks will always be different in each situation. So you have to harmonize the heart and mind, to make change sustainable and make the journey more enjoyable.

There are pros and cons to using a lot of the different frameworks for scaling up. If by the framework you mean an approach to business transformation that helps people change their mindset, yes such things do exist. There are pros and cons to a lot of the different frameworks (SAFe, LeSS, Nexus, etc.) with some of the obvious being company size and culture. Since many IT organizations are working in a complex domain for each of the Agile transformations, like many other complex endeavors, you should experiment with different Agile tools at your disposal to probe, test, and adapt with any chosen framework. Following the logic step in designing vision, with reality covers steps like value stream mapping, improvement, and measure effectiveness and evolves continuous improvement.

Being customer-centric is one of the most important Agile principles to follow, it means you have to adapt to the customer. It doesn't help to follow an agile process if the customer doesn't understand or buy into it, so a big portion is education and finding common ground. It requires a custom approach that involves understanding the baseline (existing process, culture, people, etc.), the desired state, and not just "I want a checkmark next to agile" but what do you hope the benefits will be, and what can you measure or qualify that would put you in the position to say "this was a success," and then do it to improve agility.

Being Agile means to solve business problems more effectively & collaboratively: Problem-solving practice developed over many years shows that breaking big problems into smaller problems is the best way to solve problems. Break them down until you have small enough problems to solve and then solve those small problems. By solving lots of small problems, you solve big problems. Same with business goals, by breaking big goals into smaller goals, each delivers a part of the big goal, you can more easily identify where the real value is and focus on the high value, cutting out the low-value noise. Thus, the best motivation is to have people understand why you need to not just do Agile, but being agile, which is, for many, a challenging,  if not impossible. For different organizations, industries, and projects, the rationale could be very different, but for sure critical to success... There is no one size fitting all!

Doing agile is a set of activities; but being agile is the state of mind, the ongoing capability, and the cultural adaptability. By following twelve Agile principles, not just walking through Agile practices; perceiving the wholeness of the project, not just crafting individual features; laser focusing on business goals and customer satisfaction, not just treating it as a technical challenge, these barriers can be overcome and achieve the next level Agile maturity.


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