What Senior Leadership Should Know about Agile Transformation

09 Sep, 2015
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Making the transition from Traditional Waterfall to an Agile methodology can be an arduous task just like any change management is expected to be. For senior leadership especially, the agile transformation can seem herculean, if they aren’t prepared for transitional pains. Truth is, the move to Agile does not have to be a complicated task. When coupled with the right strategy and tools, it can be an extremely valuable experience for team building and a great tool for amplifying team productivity.

The whole concept of Agile project management is rooted in the basic concept of ‘self-organization’. As per the Agile Manifesto, “The best architectures, requirements, and designs emerge from self-organizing teams.” However, because we are so focused on the ‘self-organization’ aspect of agile project management, we mistakenly believe that relying on self-organizing teams diminishes the role of leaders of agile teams. However, nothing can be further from the truth and in this blog post, we will discuss three aspects that senior executive leaders should know and understand, as these are key elements in determining the success of Agile transition.
1. Craft a strategy to get the agile transition initiated and off the ground effectively
The first step is to set reasonable goals and checkpoints. As a team progresses along with the transition, there are various steps team members as well as managers can take in order to make the team effectively. When setting out the plan at the beginning of each iteration, consider making your feedback cycle short enough that if things aren’t progressing as expected, you can quickly survey the situation and make improvements as you go along. An often used ‘strategy’, if you want to call it that, is to properly establish project goals and then break the entire workload into small parts that can be reviewed upon completion. The most important role of leadership is to ensure that the team members are able to work in harmony with the project deadlines and remove impediments where necessary, in order to foster a smooth functioning of the team.

While removing impediments is critical, it is also important to not micromanage. Nothing kills motivation like a manager standing over your head, getting into the minute details of how you are doing your job, and constantly making changes, in an effort to control the team. When hiring for an Agile team, you should already be bringing on board highly driven and self-motivated people, who, when given their workload and checkpoints, will know how to get the job done. Interventions only hamper work progress and team efficiency. It would be a wise idea to regularly check in with the team members to measure progress compared to the checkpoints, versus becoming the class monitor.
2. Create an environment where every person involved is responsible for a smooth transition
When you are adopting a new approach to building software products, you are bound to encounter a few hiccups along the way. While it may be convenient to pin the blame onto someone, it is definitely the worst way to optimize or make positive strides. As leadership, your foremost goal should be to not inadvertently create a culture of blame. Understand that, in an Agile team, founded on the concept of ‘self-organization’, failures will be an inevitable part of the process. Instead of seeing them as hurdles, start looking at that as an essential element of progress and innovation. No matter the setbacks along the way, your focus should relentlessly be on the best steps you can take to achieve project success.

Good communication is vital for the success of self-organizing teams. As senior leadership, you should ensure that a transparent method of communication is set up where the team members are able to interact with each other as well as the managers, with ease. To achieve this goal, regular meetings are a must. The team should be meeting internally on a regular basis, as well as, atleast weekly, with the manager, to measure the progress of the iteration, and the overall project goals.
3. Ensure that you are regularly reviewing the progress of the team and making adjustments to improve, when required
The goal for any manager is to deliver outstanding results. And for this purpose, performing a regular review through team meetings is crucial to understand how the Agile concept is actually working for the team, and where you need to make changes and optimize the process.  It is also vital for a manager to understand various personality complexities of team members involved and adjust the team orientation and assigned responsibilities accordingly, to maximize productivity.

If you are an organization, not bound by rigid hierarchical structures and thrive on innovation, then, going Agile, could just be the right choice for you. An Agile approach also works quite flawlessly for distributed teams as well, where flexibility and self-organization are an inherent requirement. There is no dearth of project management software to facilitate the process of self-organization either.

As senior leadership, your most important task is determining how effective Agile has been for your organization. Does going Agile bring you higher levels of productivity, efficiency, better product quality and amplified ROI? If your Agile team is responsible for achieving all of these, then you can be assured that your transition to Agile is a resounding success.

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Ankita Katuri
Software engineer at coMakeIT

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