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Agile Transformation – Does it have to be Disruptive?

Agile transformation is the new “thing”, most software delivery businesses are trying to get a grip on. There’s a divide in opinion, facts and politics around it. Many running after the “credit” they get in changing a thing or two to get their names in the list of contributors, which may be soon converted into a tombstone. Others are combining the best practices, changing processes overnight and rebuilding culture to support the sudden changes. Everyone wants a piece of the action but the grave consequences are affecting the business they represent. Why? Because everyone expects it to happen faster, disruptive and trying to change things overnight which wasn’t changed for decades.

Unfortunately the message delivered to them reads like this – “Move into agile methods and you can get more products delivered in the same time”.

 

The most underrated fact around these, when we talk about “Agile” is –

“Agile methods will not double your productivity, in fact it will slow you down to begin with. Agile principles are about providing the sense of creating the most valuable product first.”

The above fact is ignored a lot of time and rouge consultants starts selling “Agile” promising more productivity in compared to Waterfall. Terms get thrown from all sides to the person responsible for budget and a chain of middle management roles wait patiently to get a cut. Members who are not supporting the “movement” either receives a calendar invite from HR or get clinically radicalised to the new religion “Agile”. Why are we trying to do Agile? No idea.

Disruption = Difference in Opinion

 

.If this difference in opinion is not resolved, you can never become agile as it depends on the organisation maturity in every aspect. Reason why many of us heard the phrase “Culture change” thrown at us during an agile transformation. A new bread of management leads the bandwagon towards a belief that doing agile will resolve all problems, improve output and finish project early. But here’s a subtle difference which establishes the Value to the business –

Output ≠ Outcome

 

Outcome may or may not be an intended feature, it can be a lesson which we learn from a failure in an iteration. Some might wonder – “What’s the value of this lesson from a failure which is not generating any revenue?” Well, as an example, a failure can teach us how ridiculous a feature is to begin with, so we don’t invest in future iterations of the feature. Hence reducing the risk of creating a worthless product based on the failed iteration which can be a short term success and a long term burden for a business.

Agile transformation, hence, should reflect a sense of purpose of what we are doing and WHY we have to do it. If, as an organisation we are unable to share the big picture to all employees, there is no way we can be agile in a distant future. Agility is not about implementing a framework or method or tool in place and hope for the best. It’s about self evaluation as a company to learn what we can or cannot do, accepting the limits and exposing the barriers which stops us from being agile. We execute, learn and improve.

The best agile transformations are gradual, slow and have a good amount of time invested in learning while we try to move away from the traditional approaches.

On the Contrary, there are exceptions where Disruption is the Only way!

Gradual improvements are welcome where there is no need for drastic change. But in some organisations this empathetic mindset can be taken for granted. We will find personalities who are extremely qualified and have a very good knowledge of what is right. But milking it seems a better idea for them rather than improvements while exploiting the same knowledge of agile transformation. This is especially true if they are not a “Permy”, as their political existence is based on how long they can stretch the project to get maximum benefit out of a contract/temporary role.

I would be wrong, if I say all contractors are like this. Of course not. In fact, most team level contractors are exceptionally brilliant and embrace agility. The issue starts when we have the middle management as a contractor, who can influence crucial business decisions. These personalities will not harm the business but won’t improve it either. They will keep it as it is and in the name of “Agile Transformation” the project can last for years to come.

Agile Transformation doesn’t happen in a quarter, but it shouldn’t take over a year either.

 

If it takes more than a year with low or no relevant value delivered, we can be dead sure that it is being prevented by a crucial impediment, a process or a personality on power. It can be anything. A year long transformation should be a warning that, not everyone is on board. In these situations, empathy should be shown to personalities who are on board and the rest should be disrupted to make a crucial business decision.

Do you feel the same way?

Which version of the transformation have you experienced/experiencing? Would love to hear your thoughts on this.

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