5 Keys to Using Agile

Many companies and teams try to adopt Agile before fully appreciating the investments that need to be made to maximize its chances for success. You need to trust your teams to “figure it out” while also giving them the time and tools necessary to do so.

1) First, Embrace Cultural Change

People get emotionally invested in their work and often take change personally. Know going in that Agile may change most, if not all, of your organization. Rather than fight it, seize on this as a long overdue opportunity to refactor your business process.

Make sure that your team knows the move to Agile doesn’t have anything to do with people “doing it wrong” in the past. Emphasize that you’re just looking for a way to “do it better” and make everyone’s lives easier in the long run.

2) Practice Trumps Theory

While there are many great resources (books, blogs, and user groups) available to help you learn about Agile, if you’re looking to implement it based solely on what you’ve read, you face a daunting task. It’s possible, but you’ll make most of the mistakes others have already made.

Learn from the mistakes of others by making sure your team has a good Agile coach. When deciding on a coach, get references and have each candidate go to lunch with the team they’ll be working with. Poor cultural fit can doom a transformation before it begins.

It’s hard to overstate the changes in business process and culture required by a shift to Agile. Most of Agile has no analog to traditional waterfall approaches. There is no substitute for having someone who is experienced with implementing Agile to guide your team through the adoption and transformation process.

3) Collect Useful Data

While you’re busy staying out of your team’s way so they can “figure it out,” make sure you’ve identified and are tracking data points (bugs, story points per iteration, etc.) to see if they’re trending in the right direction or if they need help. Collecting data can be cumbersome for your team. Try to find tools that gather the information you need as part of your team’s regular workflow, rather than taking them away from their work to fill out separate status reports.

4) Change Takes Time

Part of the cost of implementing Agile comes from the time it will take for your organization to figure out how to make it work for them. Missteps will be made. There will be setbacks and frustrations.

In my experience, a best-case scenario for Agile adoption is for it to take at least a year or two. Set expectations up-front and plan accordingly.

5) Have an Exit Strategy

Agile isn’t for everyone. There may be valid reasons (legal, cultural, etc.) why it may not work for your organization. Identify those risks early in the adoption process and make sure they’re being addressed.

If you’re not satisfying key stakeholders, know when to quit.