The Agile-o-Meter

How Agile Is Your Organization?

26 March 2014


I sometimes ask people where they feel their organization is on the path to Scrum or becoming Agile. The replies are always interesting and tell me more about the type of organization they work in and how it views itself than it does about how Agile they may be.

Of course they do a stand-up every day, and work in sprints, but these simple ceremonies don't make an organization Agile.

In an attempt to be a little more objective about the whole subject, I have produced the following questionnaire. I thought it best to try and keep it short but incisive, so there are only ten questions. I believe these are the ten most important questions in determining an organization's Agile maturity.

Actions speak louder than words, so take a long, hard look at your organization and give it an honest rating on what it does -- as opposed to what it says it does.

Mark each question with one to five stars: 5 = more Agile, 1 = less Agile. You can even give a category 0 stars if you feel it's deserved!

1. People and resources

Organizations that treat their people as resources see them as interchangeable units of cost. E.g., "Developers are £300 per day; how many do you need on your project?"

 Here is a brief summary of key differences:
 
People Resources
Learn Interchangeable
Think Generic
Adapt Expendable
Valuable Inexpensive
Skilled Dumb

Does the organization treat its people as people, or are they human resources?

5

4

3

2

1

         


2. Requirements or user stories

Does the organization speak in terms of outcomes, or is it generating requirements?

5

4

3

2

1

         

This may seem trivial, but requirements infer a top-down, old-school mentality ("We require you to build the following solution"), whereas correctly worded user stories are articulated in terms of outcomes ("We would like to achieve the following...") that the team is then challenged to find a solution for. Note: Incorrectly worded user stories can still be requirements!

3. Valuing your teams

Organizations seem to talk a lot about teamwork and how they recognize the value of teams, but sometimes they seem to do very little to encourage them.

Do you reward individuals (annual bonus)? How do you reward your teams? Are stable teams the norm, or is everyone shifted around on a regular basis to meet the needs of the business? Are your teams high performing, or just continuously forming and storming?

5

4

3

2

1

         


4. Command and control or consensus

Nobody said that running an organization was easy. Leadership in a knowledge-based organization requires people who are capable of listening, understanding reality, then building a shared vision. Are the views of your frontline workers listened to and respected, or are they underlings expected to do the bidding of their masters? Are project deadlines handed down to teams without consultation?

5

4

3

2

1

         

A top-down hierarchy is probably going to disempower your people.

5. Digging or learning

Is everyone too busy digging to look beyond the hole? Are retrospectives an "also-ran" activity done when you have the time, or are people learning from them? Is there constant change and innovation across your teams?

5

4

3

2

1

         

If you identified some adaptations in your last retrospective, is the team empowered to implement the solutions? Do you finish sprints clean, or is there a bow-wave of partially finished work (including bugs) spilling into the next sprint?

6. Process or framework

Is Scrum just another project method to be implemented, or does everyone understand that it is a framework with guiding principles requiring a change of culture?

5

4

3

2

1

         

Process-centric organizations want to see their team using the same processes -- for example, uniform story point estimates, so they can make comparison measures of the productivity of their teams or easily swap around team members. Why?

7. Conveyor or stop-start projects

Are your people located in cross-functional delivery teams, or are they still sitting in their departments being matrix managed?

5

4

3

2

1

         

Creating stable, cross-functional product delivery teams and feeding your projects into them is more efficient than moving your people around your projects.

8. Transparent or opaque

When you walk into the work space, do you get an idea of what's going on -- or do you think you took a wrong turn and walked into the accounts receivable department? Productivity tools can be deceptive. Sure, they make life easy, but what's the cost if your stakeholders struggle to see what's going on? Do your teams hold meaningful sprint reviews and in-sprint demos?

5

4

3

2

1

         


9. Cost or value

Does the organization obsess over cost (this can be linked with treating people as resources), or does it understand the value its people are delivering?

5

4

3

2

1

         


10. Collaborative

Are people sitting down together to work out your problems, or are they too busy for that soft stuff but happy to generate lots of emails and paperwork? Are people in your teams coaching and sharing their skills to get the work done, or do you have a "hero" culture? Being in cross-functional teams helps collaboration, but people need to be part of other communities -- both inside and outside the organization.

5

4

3

2

1

         

Add up your results.

My interpretation

0 - 15 = It looks like its going to be a long, hard journey. Do you really want to work there?

16 - 30 = You're making a good start, but keep an eye on any backsliding.

31 - 45 = Wow, you're well on the way.

46 - 50 = Email me immediately. I want to work at your organization!

I hope you can see what a large role organizational culture plays in the move to Agile. Smaller organizations can be naturally Agile, but as they grow they have to pay attention to the above in order to maintain that agility. Do you ever hear people say, "Remember how easy it was when we were just 50 employees?" At some point an organization's size outgrows its founding structure, and implementing Agile before this time eases the transition. The alternative is an "Agile" change plan some time in the future. In my opinion, if it's too far in the future, it may already be too late.

Whatever your answers, and whatever the maturity of your organization, have a think about the barriers to agility. What can you do to remove them, and what can you take away from this questionnaire?



Opinions represent those of the author and not of Scrum Alliance. The sharing of member-contributed content on this site does not imply endorsement of specific Scrum methods or practices beyond those taught by Scrum Alliance Certified Trainers and Coaches.



Article Rating

Current rating: 5 (2 ratings)

Comments

Kaushal Rathore, CSM, 3/26/2014 2:13:06 AM
Nice Article
David Lowe, CSP,CSM, 3/27/2014 6:04:17 PM
Hi Rex,

Although surveys like this often cause discussion about approaches, they are also very dangerous. A company could score well on your 10-point scale but be missing core agile values (e.g. a lack of collaboration with users, not accepting change during the sprint, not making small and incremental improvements based on the action points from the retros, and so on). I don't disagree that good teams answer well against your questions, just that there is more to being agile than anyone could fit into a generic 10-point survey.

However, your approach does generate debate. I'm just worried that some might take your test, pass, and stop trying to improve. Maybe I'm just being paranoid.
Rex Lester, CSM, 3/30/2014 1:15:45 PM
David, I hear what you say and in reality the judgement for each item is still fairly subjective. I agree with your health warning and wonder if an organization that scored highly would sit back and stop trying to improve, I would hope not?

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