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5 important takeaways from Agile transformations outside of software development


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Article written by our European office of ADAPTOVATE
By Maja Kurzyna 

For the past 20 years, Agile has transformed profoundly the culture of IT and software development teams.

Today, as many companies are completing their digital transformations, Agile practices are spreading internally. Online or mobile sales channels are not a shiny innovation anymore. They became the core business – main operations and source of income for many enterprises.

The influence of IT on enterprise culture is increasing, creating pressure on scaling Agile for internal alignment and shared practices with sales, marketing, HR and operations teams.

There are also numerous failed initiatives of implementing Agile at scale. Some of them start with extensive Scrum training, followed by attempts to implement the approach religiously and “by the book”.

Usually that leads to internal resentment, rather than self-organized, autonomous and proactive teams. When you read the 1983 Harvard Business Review article today – “The new new product development game” by Hirotaka Takeuchi and Ikujiro Nonaka – the one that became an inspiration for the Manifesto for Agile Software Development – it still keeps its edge 37 years later.

Corporations face the same challenges – functional silos, internal inertia, command-and control approach that leaves little room for flexibility. Two generations later organizations make the same mistakes.

Looking at different Agile initiatives that we lead around the world – either starting from scratch or supporting customers at later stages – we always go back to the basics.

Regardless of how mature the market has become with hundreds of approaches, tools and techniques, implementing the core values, principles and mindset is the biggest effort and challenge. How do we assure that we achieve what we are aiming for?

Here are 5 key takeaways, that will help you lead Agile change in your organization.

1. Focus on creating outstanding business environment

Focus on creating outstanding business environment, not implementing methodology. Clear understanding of why we are doing this and what elements of Agile mindset we’re after – will guide us later, when potential problems arise. It might be innovation and shorter time-to-market. Less bureaucracy and more internal transparency.Or something as basic as putting cross-functional teams in place to finally start talking to each other and working together.

As you scale Agile within an organization, you will come across people with different expectations, experience and level of knowledge – very motivated or highly skeptical about the change. Common goals and direction are the glue that holds things together.Creating alignment around the fundamentals and high-level objectives will assure everyone moves in the same direction in spite of differences in opinions and perspectives.

2. Look at Agile transformation as a journey

Look at Agile transformation as a journey. Yes, Agile is all about speed, but don’t rush the change. You can implement tools fast, or even aim to deliver Agile transformation overnight. People will always need time to digest new ideas and new ways of working, think them though, discuss and see for themselves if they work.

Allowing that process and guiding people though it, week by week, is key to achieving sustainable change. Agile is not a miracle diet, it is a healthy lifestyle based on new healthy habits. Patience is key.

3. Stick to the non-negotiables

Stick to the non-negotiables, be flexible on the details. Some people will say that Agile ceremonies and practices are overly complicated, others will criticize basic Scrum framework as too simplistic and push for more elaborate approach. Getting into endless debates on technicalities will bring little value.Don’t aim at a perfect model from Day 1.

Details can be worked out step by step, through trial-and-error as you go. Scrum framework ensures self-correction (inspection & adaptation). Let the teams figure out their own way of working, while guiding them through the main principles and allowing for differences of opinion.

4. Use interdisciplinary approach

Use interdisciplinary approach. Many issues that you come across will require a broader view to solve than using Agile, Lean or Kanban approach. As you progress with the transformation, you will need to deep dive into other frameworks and best practices – problem solving, strategic planning, coaching and training, internal communications, knowledge and change management, IT, human resource management, project management, psychology and other – just to name a few.

Create an interdisciplinary agile change team and encourage broad thinking about the issues, challenge the status quo, allow room for mistakes. Encourage the accumulation of knowledge from all areas of management, different levels of organization and functional specializations.

5. Focus on internal alignment

Focus on internal alignment. Instead of aiming at quick success, focus on alignment between the senior leadership teams, Product Owners, Agile coaches, Scrum Masters, team members, suppliers and other important stakeholders.

Use the Agile ceremonies and other tools to create transparency and collect feedback. Make sure the benefits are clear to everyone. Be close enough to understand people’s positions, obstacles and concerns. While some tensions and peer pressure will create healthy challenge, watch out for unhealthy conflicts of interest. Facilitate conversations and solutions will emerge as a result.

Don’t stop half-way

True Agile transformation is a change in thinking that will impact every person in an organization. Understanding your customers, delivering value quickly, listening to feedback – those concepts can be used successfully in many functional domains.
Once Agile is expanded throughout the company, you will be relieved from having to follow both old and new processes. The number of meetings will drop, and the teams will free their time for high-value, creative work.

In the end, it is about creating an environment, where people have possibility accomplish their best.

 

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