Sunday, September 7, 2014

Are you Ready for your Agile Journey?

The common pattern in approaching an Agile implementation is to begin by conducting Agile practices training typically on Scrum or another Agile method.  While this will allow the team to begin mechanically applying Agile practices, it doesn’t address the culture shift that must occur, a culture shift that helps to inform the mind and shape behaviors, a shift toward "being Agile".  I term this approach of focusing on the cultural aspects of Agile as “readiness”. 

Readiness is the beginning of the process of acclimatizing the mind toward Agile values and principles and what they really mean.  It includes making decisions on the elements for your implementation. It emphasizes collaboration, customer centricity, adapting to the market, and more. Although it is important to lead with readiness, this framework may be used iteratively depending on whether you plan for a more holistic implementation or iterative deployment of certain elements.

This first starts with the premise that Agile is a culture change.  The implication is that Agile is more than a change in mechanics or learning a new skill.  A culture change is a transformation in belief and behavior that we learn our way toward value.  It requires a change by more than one person, and instead by a number of people within your organization.  As you can guess, this takes time.
Over the years, I’ve established what I term the Ready, Implement, Coach, and Hone (RICH) deployment framework specifically focusing on readiness activities that help you prepare not only to adopt the mechanical aspects of agile practices but more importantly, begin a meaningful transformation of behavior toward an Agile mindset. 

Readiness starts the moment someone asks the question, "Is Agile right for me?” The goal is to work through this question, understand the context, and figure out how Agile might be deployed. Essentially you are being asked if you are ready to be an adaptive organization who recognizes that customer needs and market conditions change regularly. Readiness can start weeks and even months before you really get serious about moving down the agile path. However, it can also begin when you are ready to commit.

What are some of the “readiness” activities?  These activities can help you shape the implementation according to the context and need of an organization. Readiness provides us with an opportunity to:
  • Assess the current environment and current state of agility
  • Lay the educational groundwork of agile values and principles
  • Understand and adapt to self-organizing teams and away from command and control
  • Shift the focus to delivering customer value and away from an iron triangle mentality
  • Discuss the business benefits that agile brings
  • Gauge the team and management willingness

Readying the mind should not be taken lightly. It is important to understand the ‘what’ and ‘why’ prior to discussing the how and when.  It is important that teams understand and really embrace the Agile values and principles.  Does senior management believe in the principles?  Do the teams feel they can operate in an Agile manner that aligns with the values and principles?  In fact, I dare say that if the team acts in the manner that expresses the Agile values and principles and forgoes the mechanical application of agile practices, then there is a greater chance that Agile will survive and thrive within a company and your company will more easily derive the business benefits that agile can bring.  

Since there is already an overwhelming amount of material that focuses on “how to implement Agile” from a "doing" perspective, may I suggest that a different approach.  Provide the time to prepare the mind toward the Agile mindset and then incorporate this mindset into the culture, education, and decision-making process for your proposed implementation. With that goal in mind, let the readiness games begin!  How ready are you?

To read more about the importance of readiness and additional readiness activities in detail, consider reading the book Being Agile

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