The Agile Way
by Bogdan Melu
In today`s business world we hear more and more about companies that vary in size (from small to giants) desire to switch from Waterfall or other “traditional “project management methodologies to Agile.
Why are they feeling the need to change?
There is an old saying: ”You can only plan your journey as far as you can see”.
That means that planning everything in advance is not the best way to conduct a project or an organization.
The answer to this problem is Agile.
So more and more companies and organizations switch from the “traditional” management way to the Agile way.
But what is Agile?
Of course you can say that is a combination of different methodologies or light weight frameworks which allows a company to better respond to client needs and market variations.
It is also a time boxed, iterative approach, that builds the product incrementally from the start of the project instead of trying to deliver it all at one near the end of the project.
And you will be partially right.
From the point of view of Processes and Tools, Methodologies and some Principles you are correct.
But Agile is more than that.
Successful Agile at individual and organizational level is about the Mindset. It`s about continuous learning at individual level and about the Learning Organization.
Processes and Tools:
Of course all the methodologies,” traditional” or Agile use tools and processes.
Most of the teams today work in open space areas and have white board whit post-it notes or use Jenkins, Jira or Confluence.
The work load is divided in Sprints, Cycle-Times, Lead Intervals, etc (fixed duration work intervals, 1 day to 4 weeks long, repeated during the whole life time of the product development), have particular meetings (Planning, Daily Stand-up, Review, Retrospective, Grooming, etc), or use various techniques like Pair Programming, Story writing, Road Map Creation, etc.
On their own, they are pretty useless.
And they can be fitted in a “traditional command and control” environment very well.
Methodologies or Practices:
May include Scrum, Kanban, Lean, Extreme Programming, Design Thinking, SAFE, LESS, etc.
They are rally easy to understand and very hard to implement.
We see a lot of teams adopting Scrum doing all the ceremonies, using Kanban boards and Jira but still struggling to get any value out.
This happens for one simple reason.
The teams performing the work and the organization are missing some key elements.
The first one being:
Principles can be things like “we are going to complete all the committed work for the sprint”.
But they are also more than that.
If encouraged by the organization and adopted by the team members, they allow the team to focus on the sprint scope, eliminate pressure of performing work outside the scope of the sprint and eliminate silos.
At this point structural, organizational and cultural changes are required.
The first step is the transformation of the roles of “traditional” management.
Managers need to take a step toward being the “servant – leader”.
Part of this transformation is getting rid of the mentality: “As a manager I am the smartest person in the room”.
Mangers need to become leaders.
One of the first steps will be to admit that “none of us is smarter that all of us”.
So, the managers need to listen more and to encourage the people doing the actual work to come up with ideas to improve the process.
This opens the way for another important part of a successful Agile transformation:
A nontangible key element and the “foundation” of an Agile team or environment.
The building brick of this “foundation” is Trust.
For an Agile team to perform at its best, the team members need to be able to relay on each other. They need to Trust one another and the organization for support.
Trust is achieved via Respect, Courage to speak out (without fear of consequences) and Transparency.
If all these values are encouraged then the organization is on the right track towards a high performance state.
This is the first step towards Learning Organization.
For all the mentioned Values to reach their full potential also Mindset needs to change at personal and organizational level.
This is the hardest element to see and achieve in an Agile adoption.
Lots of organizations and individuals complain about failing to learn the “Agile Mindset”.
So, how can you teach Mindset?
Well, you just can`t!
There is no magical formula that allows you to do a mindset transformation.
Most likely, just like state of Zen, the Agile Mindset is achieved not by learning something specific but by unlearning all those “traditional” Project Management skills, getting rid of all the “command and control” approach.
The Agile Mindset is the state where you “are Agile” rather than “practicing Agile”.
There is an old military saying: “Initial plan is perfect until the first engagement with the enemy”.
In a constantly changing environment it has been proven that “traditional” Waterfall and “command and control” organizations can`t keep up with the market and client’s needs.
A cultural change leads to a mindset change. And this transformation involves all the levels of the organization from the exec team ,hr ,legal, financial, mid management, sales to delivery team.
This is what Agile way is all about.
It is a journey witch starts with a cultural change and continues with a change of the mindset.
It`s transforming the way we interact and think.
This transformation is done incrementally, in small steps.
And it takes time.
So before starting on this path, be aware of the time need for an Agile adoption.
Keep an open mind, experiment and adjust accordingly by working in small increments.
After all, the best Agile implementation is the one that best suits your needs.
About the author:
Bogdan has been an Agile enthusiast since the mid 2000`s, he likes to get involved and to keep a good balance between practice and theory.
He is a Certified Scrum Master, a Certified Agile Practitioner, and an Agile Coach & Trainer.
In his free time he loves to sail on sailboats, he is a licensed skipper (Captain Scrum J), to play rugby at the Arlechinii Bucuresti amateur rugby team and kayaking.