Does the term Agile Flexibility sound redundant to you? To those familiar with Agile Development, it is implied that Agile practices will allow for flexibility… in theory. In practice, there is often resistance to modifying the Scrum ceremonies to meet the unique circumstances or adding more traditional waterfall approaches in a hybrid approach.
- “We can’t extend the sprint, that’s not how we run Agile here.”
- “You can’t set a hard deadline, this is Agile!”
- “All team members, regardless of their IT division, need to be involved in this sprint.”
- “Where is my project owner? Why aren’t any business people in this Scrum?”
- “You can’t run multiple sprints at the same time.”
- “We don’t do Agile; we only use the Waterfall Model.”
- “This project is all or nothing, Agile just doesn’t make sense.”
These are real phrases that we have heard at client sites while managing projects that are categorized as using the Agile methodology. In actuality, a Hybrid Agile Methodology needs to be put in place.
Hybrid Agile or Agile Flexibility
What is the difference between Hybrid Agile and Agile Flexibility? Agile is, by definition, flexible. After an organization moves from a traditional Waterfall to Agile, the transformative experience can have left gaps in vision, planning, and coordination, and with that often comes frustration and an unwillingness to blend approaches in a way that meets the unique needs of the environment. Often, the most fervent Agile evangelists are hesitant to try a hybrid approach due to the belief of regression or the scrum team losing control and being directed from the top.. Deviating from tried and true Agile methods in the eyes of the converted presents a cavalcade of risks.
A Hybrid Agile approach allows for teams that are currently using Agile to continue using Agile and gradually blend any Waterfall teams or Program Management into the equation to ensure alignment and the ability to stay in sync with the needs and objectives of the organization. Change is not easy and this strategy allows certain processes that can combine the methodologies familiar with Waterfall and Agile concepts. For example, multiple longer-duration, concurrent sprints can be used at the onset of a project. This works well with the Waterfall experienced teams. Eventually, these sprints merge into combined sprints as the project progresses, molding into a more traditional Agile structure. With large projects, a “Scrums of Scrums” can be leveraged in the early stages of the project, to keep teams aligned. A “Scrum of Scrums” or Program Meeting is a regularly occurring forum that brings together representatives from the various sprints and scrum teams in the same meeting which allows for information sharing, collaboration, and planning.
A Kenway Example: Agile Transformation
Kenway was tasked with implementing Agile on a large complex project that involved five independent IT teams; two that used traditional Waterfall methodology and three that used Agile Development. The project was on an 8-month (32-week) timeline.
In order to cater to the different teams that used different development methodologies, the initial sprint structure for the first 6 months had Agile and traditional Waterfall teams on concurrent sprints schedules and a program manager. The three Agile teams used traditional, two-week sprints, and the Waterfall teams were allowed to run individual, concurrent sprints with longer lengths of 4 to 6 weeks. This gave the teams new to the process (i.e. the two Waterfall teams) time to learn Agile tools, become familiar with daily Scrum and stand-up meetings, and the stakeholder reviews of requirements, retrospectives, plans, and backlogs. By extending sprints to four to six weeks, the learning curve around Agile meetings and tools was much easier to handle. Over the final nine weeks, the last three sprints were positioned as a final merge or blend of all of the teams.
Amazingly, the traditional Waterfall teams embraced the Agile methodology about two months into the project (roughly midway through the second sprint), and by the time the sprints were merged, several of the traditional Waterfall team members became such strong supporters and became “Agile Evangelists.” That is, instead of taking the expected six months to adopt Agile, the traditional Waterfall resources embraced it within two!
By allowing extra time and presenting Agile in small steps, the traditional Waterfall teams not only had the time to learn the tools and the methodology, but were also able to experience the value of Agile Development—concise design documentation tools and processes, more rapid QA cycles, immediate feedback, and regular interaction with business teams.
Top Two Benefits of a Flexible Agile Approach
So what are the benefits of embracing Hybrid Agile? Below are only some of the benefits seen on projects that moved from a traditional waterfall product development model to one with Agile.
- Employee morale and motivation often increase in Agile, because this reward of production-ready code is frequent (monthly or even weekly) as opposed to the longer traditional Waterfall cycles. To see your work moving into production using timely software releases following manageable blocks of effort is measurably rewarding.
- Furthermore, increased communication between technical and business teams, often a challenge at first, becomes rewarding and enjoyable. The Hybrid approach using program management with multiple Agile teams not only breaks down the communication barriers that often exist between business and IT teams, it allows leadership the ability to influence and guide the efforts in keeping with the strategic and operational objectives of the organization. Agile groups quickly realize that the two organizations are working together toward a common objective. Scrum and stand-up meetings, as well as the backlog grooming, retrospective analysis, collaborative planning, and regular stakeholder meetings, allow personalities to shine and bonds to form that may not have previously occurred. On many occasions, I have witnessed programmers and business managers that had been sitting on the same floor for years without speaking become trusted work partners, even fostering friendships and socialization outside of the workplace! Agile breaks down social barriers as well as business and technical barriers. Yes, cats are playing with dogs, and now white coats and blue coats can eat lunch together!
Finding the Ideal Agile Partner
Undergoing an Agile transformation to improve your organization’s processes is no small undertaking. To discuss how Kenway can help with your Agile development concepts and Agile transformations, connect with one of our consultants to learn more.