Eat the Agile Elephant
2 September 2015
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If management is 200 percent committed to creating an Agile business, the company is likely to survive in the 21st century's global economy. Let's be clear: Agile is here to stay. It is well known that people, not processes and tools, drive change. The challenge organizations face today is how to motivate people to embrace change while keeping current priorities intact.
Software development is not what it was ten years ago. If you don't iterate, you die. Leaders are the enablers for change, so the onus is on them. Leaders at all levels, not just top management, need to embrace change. Of course, Agile has brought about its own set of challenges. Cascading these challenges top-down and enabling decision making, with casual oversight at various levels, leads to a better outcome.
Transformation can only occur when there are changes in behaviors and mindset. What is important to consider is how to introduce this change to people with different skills and experience levels. Common sense might suggest it's easier to change people with little or no experience, but therein lies the challenge. If change does not happen at this level, everything else fails. Therefore, the organization must empower managers to lead change. However, we also know that in the context of Agile, there is no traditional role for a manager. He or she needs to be a servant leader, a role that your managers must understand well. What have you done to promote this concept of the role? It's easy to say to your managers, "Be a servant leader." However, do a few days of training and mentoring make one a servant leader? Is there a metric or yardstick by which to measure your managers to determine whether they are successfully transforming into servant leaders? These are tough questions, but you must ask them.
Not everyone can become a servant leader. Some managers are very good managers; they get things done and produce results. Retain this talent within the organization, but don't waste time trying to transition them to become servant leaders. Be bold and move them around. Agile is a religion, at least at the beginning. If someone cannot imbibe this new religion, move them to another team where they can succeed. There are others who will make a natural transition to becoming a servant leader, a coach, or a mentor.
Also remember that external coaches make significant contributions to help drive Agile transformation. Define the yardstick for them, support them, and trust them. Listen to their advice, and learn from what they preach and practice. When these coaches are good at what they do, they are true servant leaders. Let your new managers mirror them and emulate them.
If Agile is not embraced first, your Scrum, Kanban, or eXtreme programming will fail. Therefore, you must first understand what Agile is. Then you will be able to conduct Scrum or any other Agile event. Eating the Agile elephant is not easy, but, with a little patience, you can take one small bite at a time.
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