6 Steps to a Successful Agile Transformation
What does it mean for a business to be Agile? The common definition of Agile is the “ability to move and think quickly and easily.” In the business world, Agile refers to a set of values and principles that emphasize team collaboration and ownership. Agile business and technology teams work closely to ensure that there is cross-functional communication, full alignment on project objectives, and the ability to respond quickly to change.
Take for example Microsoft, which over the course of ten years had a gradual “bottom-up” adoption of Agile practices among several development teams. By implementing Agile, these teams overcame the common pitfalls of large organizations that have become bogged down by bureaucracy — slow decision-making and resistance to change. They also served to demonstrate to the greater organization that “going Agile” could yield significant success. Eventually, under the leadership of CEO Satya Nadella, who had previously led one of these Agile teams and knew the benefits firsthand, the entire organization embraced an Agile mindset that subsequently became an integral part of the firm’s culture.
Microsoft’s Agile transformation journey is akin to how most organizations finally adopt enterprise agility. However, there are many different ways an enterprise can pursue and achieve agility. McKinsey describes how some organizations are born Agile, while others may reflect one of three other types of Agile journey:
- An all-in approach, which requires an organization-wide commitment to becoming Agile
- Step-wise, which is more systematic and discreet
- Emergent, which describes a bottom-up approach, similar to the one illustrated in Microsoft’s transformation journey
In this blog, we will define Agile transformation, describe an Agile workflow, and take a look at the benefits of Agile planning. We’ll also cover the overarching steps to an Agile transformation, potential roadblocks, and their solutions, and review our approach to helping businesses achieve Agile flexibility through transformation.
What is Agile Transformation?
An Agile transformation is when an organization embarks on the journey to fully adopting the Agile development values and principles, as outlined in the Agile Manifesto. At Kenway, we define Agile transformation as an approach under which requirements and solutions evolve through the collaborative efforts of self-organizing and cross-functional teams, product owners, and the customers/end users they represent. Our methodology advocates adaptive planning, evolutionary development, early delivery/feedback, and continual improvement—all while remaining highly responsive to change.
An Agile workflow emphasizes team collaboration, testing and learning, and the four core values derived from the Manifesto for Agile Software Development:
- Individuals and interactions over processes and tools
- Working software over comprehensive documentation
- Customer collaboration over contract negotiation
- Responding to change by following a plan
An Agile workflow is cyclic and there is no assumption that the client can describe what they want. This contrasts with a traditional workflow, which begins by identifying requirements, then developing all or most of the solution, all of which is contingent on the assumption that the client can accurately describe what they want and the development team will be able to create it.
A key characteristic of an Agile workflow is the idea of learning by doing. At Kenway, for example, we have traditionally used the Scrum methodology to implement Agile. Teams are encouraged to begin developing working software or solutions. We use the recurring meetings of retrospectives (internal sprint debriefs) to talk about what is going well and what can be improved. This way the team has improvement processes embedded into the sprint cycle that enable them to continuously improve every sprint.
Organizations that would greatly benefit from adopting an agile workflow are often experiencing pain points such as:
- Late delivery of software/product
- Constant revisions or redoing of work
- Teams struggling to communicate or work together effectively
These are just a few examples of issues that can be alleviated by implementing Agile workflows and may signal a need to consult with outside help.
Benefits of Agile Planning
There are several benefits to implementing Agile processes and planning in your business. These include:
1. Increased employee morale & motivation. In an Agile workflow, team members engage in frequent product/project review sessions and receive regular feedback throughout the project which makes teams feel like incremental progress towards the goal is always being made. Additionally, Agile teams have more autonomy and authority over their deliverables, which creates a greater sense of project ownership and self-management.
2. Improved communication & collaboration between teams. Frequent in-person communication is prioritized within Agile teams. Regular meetings, occurring as frequently as every day, help to keep teams in sync on tasks and ensure that project objectives are aligned.
3. Faster time to market with more flexibility for changes. Agile teams are empowered to be significantly more flexible than their more traditionally managed counterparts. Agile teams work in smaller iterations, known as “sprints,” that create more frequent opportunities for feedback from stakeholders and allow teams to implement changes on short notice, from one sprint to the next.
4. Embedded self-evaluation and improvement. Product owners and developers regularly assess progress throughout sprints, allowing them to catch potential roadblocks early and address them before they become larger obstacles. Retrospectives are also conducted to identify opportunities where the team can improve in the next sprint or project.
What Are the Steps of an Agile Transformation?
The benefits of incorporating Agile are clear — but what does it take to reap them? Let’s take a look at the steps an organization can take to begin their own Agile transformation.
1. Understand and embrace Agile values and principles. It is imperative that for a full Agile transformation to take place, employees at every level of the organization must understand and adopt an Agile mindset and apply the principles to their processes.
2. Define your organization’s roles and responsibilities. Leadership teams should be created with the express purpose of coaching their respective teams to embrace change and begin to implement an Agile mindset. For example, teams should be led to self-organize by experienced scrum masters to continue maturing in Agile and facilitate more collaboration and better communication across teams.
3. Find expert coaching on Agile frameworks and practices. Agile coaches should be appointed to evangelize various Agile frameworks and practices. Scrum, kanban, crystal, and feature-driven development are all examples of Agile frameworks. If your business does not have the relevant subject matter expert available internally, consider bringing in outside corporate consultants, like Kenway Consulting to oversee your Agile transformation and help establish effective frameworks from the start.
4. Build a transformation road map. This step will help you specify your objectives and build corresponding checkpoints into the process. Your road map should include:
- Defining the end goal or the vision for the finished product
- Laying out achievable, time-based milestones
- Moving away from teams operating in silos to a cross-functional setup
- Defining the objectives and key results (OKRs)
5. Test, learn, and course correct. Practice and learn by running sprints, identifying any issues or roadblocks, and making updates to the process as you go. You don’t have to be running Agile workflows flawlessly to be able to test and learn.
6. Assess Your Transformation Progress. You should be tracking your business’s transformation journey and ensuring that you are moving towards a more Agile environment. Look for areas of the process where traditional development or project management is still prevalent and consider what may be holding back the adoption of Agile practices. If your progress has stalled, consider bringing in outside transformation consulting to support in making your transformation efforts stick throughout your organization.
Potential Roadblocks—And How to Solve Them
There are some common hurdles that you may encounter on your Agile transformation journey. To avoid becoming “Agile in Name Only” (AINO), here are some problems you’ll want to avoid:
- Inconsistent communication throughout the process
- Broken or non-existent feedback loops
- Imprecise requirements
- Traditional development processes are still in play/failure to adopt Agile practices
Solving These Issues
Achieving organizational change is no easy feat. The simple format of “start, stop, and continue” has proven effective at identifying problems with workflow processes or behaviors. Once identified, an organization can list potential improvements and prioritize which ones to focus on first. Tackling one or two problems per sprint can make the change more manageable.
Another approach is to utilize Agile workflow frameworks, such as Scrum. Scrum is a lightweight framework that helps organizations generate value through adaptive solutions for complex problems.
The Kenway Approach to Agile Transformation
The key to beginning an Agile transformation is to simply start and learn by doing. Using the principles of Agile and specific frameworks, like Scrum, teams are encouraged to begin developing working software and solutions. Recurring sprint review meetings (demonstrations to the product owner and other key stakeholders) and retrospectives (internal sprint debriefs) provide for built-in improvement opportunities within the sprint cycle that enable continuous process refinement.
Valuable Agile Techniques We Leverage
- Work on the customer’s highest priorities first
- Mandate right-sized documentation
- Enable high collaboration
- Deliver a working product early in the life cycle
- Mandate a product showcase with customers/sponsors
- Identify issues early when they are cheaper to fix
- Mandate retrospectives (a.k.a. lessons learned) to improve
Agile Transformation: The Final Takeaways
Looking back at Microsoft’s Agile transformation, some notable points are worth mentioning. First, their transformation began with a bottom-up approach. A few teams implemented Agile practices first and achieved a level of success that made other teams wonder how they did it. They tested, learned, and eventually the transformation was expanded to the larger company. This point leads to the second takeaway — Microsoft’s transformation took time. Effective Agile transformations are often slow processes of change and process adoption over time. Third, the best Agile transformations eventually affect every area of a business and should become rooted in the culture and mindset of the organization.
Achieving an organization-wide Agile transformation is no small task. An enterprise may realize the value of becoming more agile and its need for transformation, but may not have the internal resources to see the process through to completion. This is where partnering with a transformation consultant with the expertise to fill in the gaps and identify your company’s needs could mean the difference between success and failure. Kenway specializes in helping their clients digitally transform their businesses and reap the benefits of becoming more Agile.
Connect with us to learn more about how we can help your business achieve its Agile transformation goals.