The Agile Transformation

Many companies are trying to radically shift and adopt agile principles in their development efforts. In larger companies, the challenge can be great. Especially when working with people. People are really the reason many things are complex anyway. Now before you get mad at me, I am a person too. I say we make things complex as a compliment. Every person is unique and brings different perspectives, skills, and knowledge to the table. This needs to be celebrated more often; but usually it manifests itself in the form of contention and competition

An agile transformation is really all about the people. We try to make it about process, but that is really just a small piece of the agile pie. People have interactions, people create working software, people negotiate, and people respond to change. Some decide to mis-interpret the agile manifesto by calling out that individuals and interactions are more valuable than processes and tools. While we strive to value people over the process, process and tools are still important. The great thing about the agile manifesto is that all 8 items on the list are important. The transformation comes by making a choice to let the people collaborate and solve their problems. This means that we have to be willing to push back on the organization when it violates one of our principles. Organizations are all about processes, tools, contracts, documentation, and detailed planning. We have to learn to bring the two together in harmony and be able to demonstrate the waste that can exist in big corporate processes. Some organizations have process for the sake of process and those things might be targeted as the enemy (and rightfully so).

I see many people who are going through an agile transition even undermine its adoption by stating words like "we aren't agile, look how we are doing xyz". Then that turns into frustration in that our company has chosen to be agile, but isn't perfect yet. The message to the people who are going through an agile transition should be that this is not an overnight change. We will get some things right, and most things wrong. We have to practice what we preach with iteration on installing processes that support agility as well as adapting with continuous improvement techniques on the things that aren't working.

If your company is going through a transition, then celebrate that a decision has been made to change. Celebrate that the company is putting resources in place to support change. Celebrate the small wins you see everyday. For the problems you see, celebrate that we have them and can change. Push back on decisions you don't agree with. The most toxic attitudes are those that believe since the company is not perfect or doing well in quite a few things, that they don't think the company is agile. I don't see many companies that have everything perfect(simply because continuous improvement won't let you ever rest on your laurels). I even read articles on how "agile has broken this and that". People are the ones who break things. If you are in an agile transition and there are holes that are causing great business risk, that is a persons problem to help solve. If you don't have good product management that understands the market and opportunities, don't blame that on an agile adoption. That is simply a hole left in a transition that needs to be filled. There is nothing in the agile manifesto that states "work on backlog items in reckless abandon". It is our duty to deliver value as early as possible to our customers. It means we have go figure out how to understand what value is to the customer. The agile adoption won't tell you how to do that.

Going through an agile transformation is a journey. A journey that can only be accomplished successfully with people. Our attitudes are a big reason a transformation can succeed or fail. So if your company is trying to adopt agile ideals and principles; help them through it with a good attitude. Challenge decisions and seek to understand. Many times there are rational reasons we have to go slower on some things to turn the ship. It is a wild ride and more about endurance than sprinting. So buckle your seat belt and contribute to the change (at minimum with a positive attitude).


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