How to Improve the Odds of Success in Your Agile Adoption

April 19, 2011

Studies are demonstrating that the most significant barriers to further Agile adoption are:
  • The ability to change organizational culture
  • General resistance to change within an organization
  • Management
(VersionOne State of Agile Surveys, 2008, 2009 and 2010)

How can you improve the odds of success with your Agile adoption and overcome some of that organizational inertia?

In a word: Management.

The introduction of autonomous teams is a BIG change for many organizations. However, espousing the virtues of autonomous teams and declaring, “We don’t need no stinkin’ managers!” will NOT set the stage for the help and support you need now – let alone the championing change that should come later.

And later will come. Managers are the very ones who can grease the wheels of organizational change required to make Agile development stick. Like championing changes to your performance management process. Or removing impediments, up to and including firing those who can’t or won’t adjust to the collaborative, team-oriented nature of Agile development. Ultimately, managers can help to move Agile development from a “test the waters” exercise and into the mainstream at your company.

For many organizations, transitioning to Agile development will be a significant change, and a major step in implementing change is to develop an understanding of what that change is and what it means to the organization. Managers in particular will need to understand what they must continue doing and what they need to stop doing in a world where autonomous teams are the norm.

Pete Deemer has a great article and a must read: The Role of the Manager in Scrum. Books geared towards management and project managers like Jurgen Appelo’s Management 3.0, Lyssa Adkins’ Coaching Agile Teams, and Mike Cohn’s Succeeding with Agile are great sources of information on Agile development that managers should find enlightening.

Conferences are a natural, and taking courses like ScrumMaster and Product Owner training will help managers become acquainted with and comfortable the roles and boundary conditions that must be respected for proper execution. Managers aren’t likely to have any real-world experience in these roles, nor are they likely to get that experience, but a manager should understand them.

Equally important are the regular conversations about Agile development and the successes, challenges, and failures in the spirit of exploring, learning and improving as an organization. ScrumMasters and Product Owners can have regular dialogs with management about how things are going – right and wrong – so that everyone improves their knowledge. And don’t forget that managers possess knowledge and skills that can help teams, like dealing with conflict and facilitating effective meetings. Education can be a two-way street!

I’ll provide a few other options in my next post.