Agile transformation programs today need to begin in the boardroom. This is because the barriers to the success of Agile implementations are the corporate controls that have been implemented and used for years to evaluate, approve, fund, monitor and deploy projects using Waterfall methodology.
“Why are we not using Waterfall?”
This question always arises out of boardrooms, as Waterfall is the way companies have always managed projects through their enterprise project management office (PMO).
This is true in spite of the fact that large scale, multi-million dollar Waterfall projects are often behind schedule, poorly scoped, exceed their budgets and implement solutions that are often not completely utilized and take months or years to produce value.
To address these issues, large enterprises are considering adopting Agile frameworks to develop their software products.
The benefits of an Agile approach have been documented for some time. Agile projects are three times more likely to succeed than projects managed with traditional methods such as Waterfall. In addition, Agile can compress innovation cycles by more than 75%. As a result, companies can enter into an upward growth spiral driven and accelerated by constant new offerings.
Key to the Agile approach are concepts, such as “fail fast” and “lean startup,” that eliminate waste and boost the value produced during the development phase. These approaches increase the chance of success without requiring large amounts of funding and complex plans that try to define and achieve the “perfect” outcome from the start. Agile teams try something, get fast feedback and immediately inspect and adapt, or terminate before more time and resources are consumed.
Specifically, Agile teams are free to experiment to achieve desired outcomes, but quick to abandon development tracks that do not bring desired results. Customer feedback is critical to this approach, to ensure that limited resources are not invested in designing and implementing features users neither want nor need. Feedback is important (especially when it is not positive), in order to provide timely response and better value. Agile’s continuous delivery capabilities allow you to react quickly to feedback.
Why Some Agile Transformations Fail
Adopting an Agile stance requires more than the simple introduction of new project management processes. Rather, it involves–indeed, requires–fundamental cultural and organizational changes.
Because of this, it is not uncommon for large enterprises–with long established processes based on Waterfall and command-and-control management–to encounter pitfalls, or even fail, when trying to migrate to Agile.
For example, development teams are asked to adopt Agile frameworks such as Scrum. Yet the rest of the organization still demands (among other barriers) the corporate controls they have used for years to evaluate, fund, approve, monitor and deploy Waterfall projects.
In some cases, an enterprise tries to change the entire organization all at once by imposing direction from above. This results in planning a migration to Agile in a Waterfall fashion, with all aspects decided upfront (e.g., the selection of which tools will be used).
There may also be the temptation to create a new framework from scratch, rather than adopt proven concepts such as Scrum or Scaled Agile Framework (SAFe). This will add to the complexity of the effort, and require you to create and deliver ad hoc training to all personnel involved, both existing and newly hired.
Keys to a Successful Agile Transformation
To avoid these pitfalls, transformation efforts should be aligned with Agile principles, grow organically over time and be supported throughout the organization, starting in the boardroom.
- Activities, teams and people involved in Agile efforts must have backing from the boardroom at executive levels and throughout the organization.
- Avoid trying to change the entire organization at once by imposing direction from above. Rather, begin by identifying a small group of motivated and curious individuals that can operate as an independent startup for a period of time (e.g., 6-12 months), be left alone and allowed to fail and learn fast.
- Rather than implement a new approach from scratch, adopt a proven framework such as Scrum. This allows you to more easily train existing personnel, as well as hire new resources already skilled.
- Do not underestimate the contribution of skilled Scrum Masters and Agile Coaches. Self-managed (and empowered) teams are a central Agile/Scrum concept. It takes time for a team to mature and be able to self-manage. Concepts such as Shu Ha Ri, Kaizen and Tuckman’s forming-storming-norming-performing must be taken into account. Therefore, Scrum Masters and Agile Coaches are key to developing teams–and their roles are radically different from traditional project managers. A common mistake is to assign the Scrum Master role to a project manager who is used to Waterfall, with only minimal or even no Agile training.
- Over time, other teams can be added to the Agile efforts. Coordination should happen via the most lightweight approach (i.e., the Scrum of Scrums).
- As soon as possible, show successes to the rest of the company, including better working processes and faster delivery with higher quality. The goal is to make other teams interested in the new approach, willing, even jealous, and clamoring, to use it.
- After a certain number of teams have adopted Scrum (more than 50 people), it may make sense to go to a simple two-level SAFe approach. Eventually, after a large number of teams have embraced the framework, the organization can move to a three-level or four-level SAFe approach.
- The selection of management tools, such as Jira or Aha!, should not be decided upfront, but only after the need for them has been clearly identified by teams.
- Work with the right partner to help establish Agile methodologies up front. CTP has extensive experience in implementing Scrum for client engagements, and possesses in-house expertise in leveraging Agile principles and frameworks, including SAFe, kanban and Scrum.
Adopting Agile frameworks can better exploit the flexibility provided by cloud environments, as well as enable closer alignment with business objectives. At the same time, we need to point out that an enterprise migration to Agile is a very complex and delicate effort that requires you to focus on key critical areas.
It is important to remember that one size does not fit all. Different organizations have different backgrounds, cultures and needs. It is difficult to identify the best overall approach from the beginning. Here, those same Agile principles should be adopted: start small, experiment, fail fast, learn, iterate and grow.
By following CTP’s lead and adopting our recommended methodologies and technical processes, we can together ensure the success of your cloud adoption projects, and the growth of your organization toward higher levels of cloud maturity and efficiency.