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Sustaining an Agile Transition PDF Print E-mail
Written by Dan LeFebvre   
Monday, 27 September 2010 21:00

Transitioning to agile is hard. It involves learning new techniques, thinking in a different way, and stepping out of your comfort zone. Many organizations have been designed with traditional product development models in mind. Functional silos are put in place to handle the different aspects of the software development lifecycle with people who spent their careers becoming experts in a particular silo. Senior managers have spent many years developing rules of thumb, instincts, crisis management models, and metrics that have made them successful in this way of working. So successful that they've actually become senior managers in their company. This situation creates a lot of forces that act against a successful agile transition and pulls a company back into the traditional lifecycle.


No wonder so many agile transitions revert back to previous ways over time. A change in management or a loss of the agile Champion is often a catalyst for this process. New managers unfamiliar with agile will redesign the internal systems to work the way they are comfortable. The loss of an agile Champion removes one of the largest forces pushing an organization forward; thereby, allowing entropy to set in. For an organization to sustain an agile transition, management must install several mechanisms to help counteract these forces.

This series of articles will go over the three mechanisms that I help organizations put into place to help sustain their agile transition. The first is an impediments escalation mechanism, the second a means for providing internal coaching, and the third is a portfolio management process.

The first important mechanism I like to help organizations establish is an impediments escalation mechanism. I often combine that with the transition actions that are handled by the initial rollout team. Without this mechanism in place, the energy and enthusiasm of the teams is killed by the inability to handle or resolve impediments that are beyond its control. Many teams start off identifying many impediments during the daily standup and the retrospective. Many of these impediments the team can handle themselves but a few require management or the greater organization to make some changes to help the team out. If these impediments are raised and then are never heard about again, the team will lose faith in the organization's commitment to agile.

I've seen two models work for this mechanism. The first is a model based on Ken Schwaber's and Mike Cohn’s description of an ETC or Enterprise Transition Community. This is a group of senior managers, often led by the agile Champion, responsible for creating an environment where organizational impediments are handled. Their job is to prioritize the impediments and then create teams, either assigned or volunteers, to resolve the highest priority impediments. This is a very visible mechanism that is supported at high levels of the organization and reaffirms its commitment to a successful agile transition. The second is a ScrumMaster council that gathers impediments, prioritizes them, and drives to get them fixed. One of the jobs of the ScrumMaster is to be the organizational change agent so this structure makes sense assuming the ScrumMasters have the authority or the backing of senior management to make lasting change happen. Either way, this mechanism is essential to sustain an agile transition and to maintain the momentum.

Next week I'll go into the importance of internal coaching.


Last Updated on Friday, 08 April 2011 21:42

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