Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Benefits of Agile Coaches for your Agile Transformation

Many companies begin their introduction to Agile by trying it on a project or two.  If they believe they have ‘enough’ success with Agile, then typically more projects deploy Agile.  The challenge is that at some point the company is unclear on what level of Agile deployment has occurred and what type of Agile is really being adopted.  Senior Management may hear things like “we are Agile” and not really sure what that means.  Worse yet, because of the inconsistency of understanding Agile, some teams will say things like, “we don’t need to document anything because we are Agile”, other teams will say “we don’t need any management support because we are self-organized”, while others will say “we can’t tell you what we’re building until the end of the project because we are using Agile”.  Now what do you do? 

This becomes even more challenging when the company begins to realize the amount of effort they are haphazardly spending on Agile adoption.  Sometimes the company learns that they are spending twice for the same thing like training and/or tools and often overspending because they are not leveraging the volume discount strength of the whole company.  This is particularly relevant to medium and large companies.  

Whether you realize it or not, when you have multiple teams heading in roughly the same Agile direction, you have already embarked on an Agile transformation.  So the question is, do you want to let the change occur in an unorganized and ad hoc manner or do you want to manage that change in an organized way and gleam the most benefit from the effort.

I do not believe there should be a prescriptive way to deploy Agile.  However, there needs to be some way to ensure the teams are working on the highest customer value work. An enterprise level approach can help.  This ensures that the company reduces the muda (a.k.a., waste), leverages and reuses what it can, and ensures all teams are building the highest customer value work.      

When you find yourself in the situation where there are many in your company wanting to adopt a certain tool, process, method, and/or culture, or if it is already happening in an ad-hoc manner, it is highly recommended to initiate an organized approach to the enterprise change.  In Michael Spayd’s “Evolving Agile in the Enterprise: Implementing XP on a Grand Scale”, he recommends that an “effective Change team” is established.  In my experience, seasoned Agile Coaches and/or an Agile enterprise leadership team provides significant leadership for the change effort.  The Agile Coaches/Agile leadership team (aka, change team) provides the framework for the enterprise but still allows for adaptability and decision-points by the teams so they feel ownership of their working process.
The Agile enterprise leadership team should include talent that has experience in Agile enterprise change such as seasoned Agile Coaches and those who have organizational level change experience.  Some members can be matrix-ed in from internal organizations.  They should function as a team and can be distributed according to the areas within the organization that they will support.   It is often best to bring in either full-time regular talent or external long-term consultants to ensure that they don’t just make recommendations, but live through the challenges of the change as they help product teams, senior management, and others.

What are some of the benefits of Agile coaches and/or Agile enterprise leadership team?  This leadership can help you establish and manage the following: 
  • Agile Vision - create a vision for where you can go.  A strong Agile coach has been to where you want to go. Without this experience, a company may never get there.  This may include a focus on the Customer to build the right thing and on the Employees to build the thing right" or similar.  By having a central Agile leadership team to focus you, you can better gain buy-in or at least get folks to understand why you are going in this direction.   
  • Agile Transformation Roadmap - identify common activities to help a product team come up to speed with Agile.  This includes establishing a set of “ready for deployment” materials to help teams get ready for the change to Agile.  By having Agile Coaches help you, it will save time and effort from each product team having to figure out the adoption activities themselves
  • Agile framework and practices - collaboratively establish an adaptable set of Agile methods and practices with the rest of the organization.  By having central Agile leadership coordinate this, it will save time and effort from each product team having to establish Agile methods and practices, although they will need to tailor them for their specific team. 
  • Agile terminology – establish a common working language for Agile so that members from across the organization can communicate and interact effectively with each other.  By having central Agile leadership establish this, this reduces the miscommunication issues that will arise across the organization regarding various and sundry definitions of Agile terminology.   
  • Agile training – establish a common set of Agile Training aimed at various levels of the organization (e.g., Scrum Team, Scrum Masters,  Product Owner, Middle Mgt, Senior Mgt).  By using a managed training deployment approach via the central Agile leadership team and education group, we will have consistent training and can get a better understanding of who has and hasn’t been trained.  By providing an in-house training approach, this reduces the cost of utilizing multiple vendors.  This increases common Agile understanding across the organization and product teams.
  • Agile Communities – establish a common organizational Agile website with links to internal and external Agile communities.  Having the central Agile leadership team establish and support this, ensure that there is a managed approached to sharing online Agile related information and resources (framework, practices, etc.) across the company site that is kept up-to-date.    
  • Agile Coaching - A key aspect of the leadership team is to provide Agile Coaching via the Agile leadership team to projects/product teams across the enterprise.  They may start with a small core of dedicated Agile Coaches and then can leverage existing Agile talent across the enterprise in establishing an Agile Coaching Circle.  Coaching significantly reduces the effort involved with “correctly” getting a team to adopt Agile and more importantly ensures they do not regress into their old traditional habits. 
  • Agile Adoption measures – establish a common and reasonable set of adoption measures to see what progress is being made in the Agile adoption within the company.  By having the Agile leadership team manage this, we have common adoption measures to ensure that the leadership team and product teams are meeting the organization objectives for Agile adoption.  Senior management can more readily get a pulse of the Agile status across the organization.
  • Agile Challenges Point of Contact (PoC) – establish a central point to manage Agile related challenges and issues.  This would include website, email PoC and the establishment of an Agile FAQ.  The benefit to having a go-to centralized Agile leadership team to manage this is that they can both become aware of these issues and then resolve the issues and challenges before they cause an impact.
  • Agile Vendor Liaison PoC – utilize the Agile leadership team to become the PoC for managing the company relationships with the various Agile vendors.  By using a central Agile leadership team ensures that the organization or company is gaining the most leverage from the volume discounts and negotiations for Agile related materials and tools.  
Finally, when employees within a company see that many are going Agile, sometimes it is comforting to see that the organization is providing support in the adoption effort.  It is even more comforting when those employees that haven’t yet gone Agile see that there is ready support for their deployment.   It is particularly problematic when the employees are seeing wide variations of “agile” being deployed some of which is not really Agile, and they wonder when the organization may provide some guidance in this matter.  Introducing Agile really is a culture shift.  If you are thinking about adopting it or already are, then it can be a benefit to have Agile Coaches and/or a centralized Agile leadership team to help you navigate to a success adoption of Agile.  

Good luck on your Agile adventure!

Note: this was originally written in 2008 with minor updates in 2012.    


  1. Thanks for sharing your insights and experience, Mario! Very helpful. Question - In your experience, what types of Agile adoption measures have been the most useful in demonstrating progress (or lack thereof)?

  2. Agreed that SIMPLICITY and CULTURE are paramount.

    Having some coordination for enterprise wide implementation makes sense. However, "analysis paralysis" and "command & control" are organizational learning disabilities that can insert themselves into the enterprise adoption very easily, as are the managerial myths of the "magic bullet," "illusion of control" and "one person to blame."

    Life is messy. Over-emphasis on keeping things neat produces angst. I've been in Agile situations where trying to do several simple things resulted in change adverse management saying "don't boil the ocean" and places where the mandate was "don't do anything until everything is ready to go at once, and has been approved." Neither felt Agile to me.

    Yes - benefiting from scale sounds good, although it's not so important that it all happens the same day or week, so long as "it" gets the right results. To do that most effectively, the enterprise needs to be open to options.

    Example: The whole scale training didn't take. The mgr begrudgingly allowed me to go in and sit 1:1 with 30+ individuals for 20 minutes each over a period of a couple of weeks. Usage went up 10xs and quality had a similar uptick, creating positive ripples throughout the organization. I was praised for making the process better. I didn't do anything to the process, I just made sure that the learning happened.

    1. I like the idea of 1:1 for 20min over a period.

  3. Thanks for the very interesting and insightful post. With regards to training: I agree that managed training deployment can help establish a common understanding of terminology, concepts, and ethos. However, I would additionally recommend that the development of proprietary content (very expensive) be limited to what is truly proprietary, and that it be integrated with the great wealth of open-source knowledge on the topic of Agile. In addition to bringing industry knowledge inside the walls of a company, it will encourage thought leadership outside of the company.

  4. Good points one and all!

    At jborice, per the adoption measures, I typically start with how many folks were trained and how many product teams are going agile. Of course, neither is an indicator of being Agile, just that folks are moving in the right direction. I do utilize Agile assessments but the results go back directly to the team for them to incrementally improve. I may include a measure to see if they have been through a self-assessment or coach-led assessment.

    At Karen, yes, training is often a less than organized approach. The larger the organization, the often more disjointed it is. Plus I often separate ScrumMaster training from PO training from Team training.

    At Bobby, yes, I would first try to create my own training. An Agile coach should be able to create training from their mind (if they truely have the experience they say they do). This is what I do.


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