Agile adoption is a journey that results in a transformation in the ways the IT organization and the business work. Successfully traveling the transformational path calls for enormous effort in managing the change -- changes in the organization's structure, people's behavior, team dynamics, tools, processes, stakeholder interactions, and so on. This article explores the change management aspects of an Agile-adoption journey. Though many of these are based on standard organizational change management practices, the specifics of an Agile transformation are highlighted here.
This article is written from the standpoint of the IT leadership and the implementation team, which could include senior stakeholders from IT and business.
Describe what is changing
This is perhaps the most the important step that the leadership team should consider when beginning the transformational journey. Leadership should clearly articulate the vision for change and how the business and the IT organization would benefit from that change. They should describe how traditional practices of solution development will change when embracing Agile ways of working. They should highlight why the decision to try and implement the Agile model has been made and why and how they have chosen the timing for introducing the change. As part of this communication, the leadership should also indicate how the key stakeholders would be impacted by the change. In other words, they should help the stakeholders answer the question, "What's in it for me?"
Create the implementation team
Once the transformational vision is articulated, leadership should identify the right set of people to own, plan, and run the transformation agenda. Clearly this team should include senior members from the IT organization and business. It is a good idea to include members who have experience in Agile development. But more important, this team should include people who were running projects under traditional methods but are now convinced that Agile would yield better benefits.
The leadership should unambiguously assign specific roles and responsibilities to the implementation team members. At the same time, they should make sure that the reporting structures are simple and not limited by organizational hierarchy. The steering committee, governing body, and other such senior groups would tend to oversee and monitor the transformation. This is fine as long as the Agile change implementation team has freedom and flexibility to navigate through the organizational structure and get their tasks done. The senior groups should provide timely advice and recommendations for course correction if necessary but not intervene frequently in the implementation team's work plan.
Identify quick wins
Now the implementation team takes over. They should identify the low-hanging fruit and make sure that the business, the IT leadership, the project teams, and other key stakeholders see some quick benefits through the Agile ways of working. For example, they could identify a couple of projects or a bunch of enhancement requests that could deliver a set of critical functionality to production faster using the Agile methods, and then create a business case for pursuing these opportunities to gain quick benefits.
It is important for the team to secure buy-in from the development, operations, and the business stakeholders to focus on these quick-win opportunities. The team should also take into account the infrastructure or other support from vendors necessary for realizing the quick benefits.
Brand and socialize
With the inputs from IT and business stakeholders, the team should create a brand or a tagline for the transition to Agile ways of working. The tagline should be catchy and easy to remember, so it can stick for a long time. Taglines such as, "Go Agile, go sooner to market" would include both the tech and business perspectives. The team should adhere to the applicable corporate policies and leverage the necessary guidelines while designing the branding campaign.
Agile transition is a mind-set change. Continuous communication is necessary to reinforce the need for Agile and its benefits to tech and business teams. Communication and socialization could happen through multiple channels, such as brown-bag sessions, corporate newsletters, leadership blogs, internal road shows, posters, contests, and quizzes.
Train and coach
While running the broad-based socialization campaign, the implementation team should plan for training the tech and business teams in Agile. The training could be structured and packaged to impart knowledge on the fundamentals of Agile, then be followed by a more focused training on Scrum. Depending on the implementation strategy, a course on Agile engineering practices could also be included in the training program. A key component of these training courses should be behavioral aspects of the team.
Along with the training sessions, the implementation team should also plan to coach identified teams on Agile practices. Typically, the teams responsible for the "quick-win projects" will be the ones coached early.
Often IT organizations that are new to Agile seek the services of external consultants, trainers, and coaches to conduct structured and information-packed sessions to the teams. The coaches would provide on-the-job input, tips, and best practices to the teams while they implement the Agile practices in their projects.
Experiment early and make course corrections
Here the implementation team focuses on the projects identified as "quick-win projects." The Agile method would be piloted in these projects with the help of coaches. A key step at this stage is to define the success criteria for the pilots. The leadership and the project teams should be absolutely clear about when the pilots would be declared successful. The business stakeholders should also be brought onto the same page to work in tandem with the pilot teams. After all, they are the ones to see the maximum benefits of Agile.
As the teams are new to Agile, early sprints may not finish as planned. Several issues may crop up, including the following:
Scrum ceremonies conducted as status review meetings
PO or business stakeholder still not committing the necessary time to the tech teams
Ambiguous Definition of Done and teams not knowing when to stop work on a given user story
Eventually the team over- or undercommitting -- resulting in a gap between what was agreed upon with the product owner and what was actually completed
Leadership should accept the fact that such issues could come up and allow the teams to experiment with options and make course corrections. It is critical for the leadership to empower the teams to make their in-flight corrections and not penalize them for initial failures.
Scale to the entire organization
Based on the results of the experiments, the implementation team should plan for implementing Agile practices across the IT organization. Here again, the branding and communication activities are the key. Pilot results should be broadcast to the organization, reinforcing positive messages and explaining the way forward. As part of the communication campaign, IT leadership could request the key business stakeholders to come and address the larger IT group, explaining the benefits that they have realized through the IT projects that adopted Agile early in the transformational journey. A possible option to scale up Agile adoption could be staged as an implementation from noncritical to critical portfolios.
Leadership could also encourage nontechnology projects and initiatives to adopt Agile practices, with necessary tailoring. This way the entire organization would be tuned to work in an Agile mode, bringing in broad-based changes and improvements.
Institutionalize and continuously improve
To successfully scale up Agile adoption, the implementation team, with direction from leadership, should draft the long-term plan to sustain the change and embed it in the organization's culture. Rewards and recognition are key tools to communicate the leadership commitment and support to sustained Agile adoption.
While governing Agile adoption, the IT leadership should seek feedback from the stakeholders, especially the business leadership, on a continuous basis to validate that the business is in fact benefited by the large-scale adoption of Agile practices.
Thus Agile transformation is an organizational change management exercise. It should be planned and executed in an integrated manner with support and commitment from all stakeholders.