The Starting Problem Series – The Problem with Agile Recipe Books

Ever tried getting a recipe book and recreating your favorite dish made by your favorite chef? You have followed all the instructions, gotten the right ingredients, and channeled your inner Emeril, but the dish still does not come out a 5-star meal. What has this got to do with agile transformation? Read on.

You heard a colleague boast of results they achieved using agile methodologies at her last job, or maybe your boss just asked you to drive agility into your organization. To get the ball rolling, you are now reading a book on agile requirements and doing lots of other research on agile frameworks. You have officially embarked on your agile transformation journey. Let's assume you are in an organization and at a level in the pecking order that you can influence change. Also, let's assume that you have convinced your peers to support you in this transformation. Where do you begin? What is the recipe to agile transformation?

Agile transformation is much more than recipe, ingredients and following instructions. The journey is about being open to experiencing the transformation, giving up control and exploring new boundaries of leadership. The prize - an organization so self-organizing and committed to delivery that every associate enjoys coming to work like nowhere else they have been!

You will know if your transformation is heading in the right direction when, for example, a developer makes suggestions about changing your release processes, drives it through your organization and his plans and ambitions are not held back by the "owner" of release management process. This, my friend, will create the joy to be at work. Your organization will rejoice as examples like this become common place and they start realizing this is the sort of work place they want to be..

Here are some ingredients that may be part of your recipe:

1) Talk to your leaders, listen to their concerns - their leadership is most valuable to make the transformation successful. Engage your leaders with delivery responsibilities and map these responsibilities to the outcomes that are expected. Publicize these outcomes within your organization, support your leaders and hold them accountable for timely progress. Your leaders must deliver real change - not reports or a new reporting mechanisms – rather real change that impacts the way people work.

2) Cut the red tape - every process that does not add direct value to the customer is waste – you can bet that you have plenty of waste in your system. Create a backlog of this waste, prioritize based on the impact of eliminating the waste, and execute the backlog by putting automation or a leaner process in place. One at a time - do it.

3) Set money aside to invest in DevOps - free up your developers to focus on one thing - delighting your customers with flawless software. In other words, let them be software craftsmen. Get your developers and testers out of the business of creating manual builds, deploys and manual testing.

4) Get your best people to build your technical practice. Let your architects solve the biggest technical hurdle - getting your development operations to flow. Ensure that your technical practice delivers continuous feedback to all stakeholders involved.

5) Bring an über transformation specialist, or “transformation chef” onboard - a dedicated, experienced agile transformation specialist. There is no substitute for this ingredient. The reasons are simple. First, the transformation obstacles this “chef” has experienced do not need to be repeated by your organization - avoid unnecessary pain where possible. Second, the “chef” can help you plan out your agile journey and some near-to-long term waypoints.

While there are many outcomes to be expected, exercise good judgment in picking your “transformation chef”, the recipe and the ingredients. Imagine if your executive team is expecting a gourmet meal from your transformation and you end up serving them a Big Mac! You might find yourself working at the golden arches!



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