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Enterprise Agile Transformation Challenges and Solutions

18 August 2016

Srikanth Davuluri
Tata Consultancy Services

When even a small project team moves from traditional Waterfall to Scrum, they are taking on a challenge. The transformation involves all elements of a project, including processes, tools, and the change for everyone from a manager-led to a team-led mindset.

The team behavior or mindset change is the biggest challenge to overcome, and the team that has been identified as the pilot for such an Agile transformation should be a group of go-getters with high standards of self-discipline and a hunger to succeed. They must be willing to move outside their comfort zone. Also, given that in the initial transformation steps the team may hit roadblocks or failures, everyone needs to be able to move ahead without losing their determination to succeed.

Even transformation at a small scale, for a single project, is very challenging; it can also be more daunting for some individuals than others. Then consider the massive scale of transformation at an enterprise level and how challenging it is to even think about the change at this level. Most enterprise-level transformations fail due to lack of self-belief, commitment, and that never-say-die attitude that is so important for the team or leader spearheading the journey.

Based on my own experiences of enterprise-level Agile transformation, I have listed key challenges and how to overcome them.
Key challenges How to overcome them
Leadership team buy-in For enterprise-wide Agile transformation, the leadership team must buy in to the move to Agile from traditional Waterfall. This goal must be added to their yearly organizational goals and assigned to all next-level management teams. By doing this at the start, the expectation is set at all levels of management to accept the organization's goal of moving to Agile; it will lessen resistance to change in every group and project effort.
Training We think team training in Agile is simple: Walk them through the readily available presentations. In fact, training is the fundamental step for achieving an effective Agile transformation, and it must cover all aspects of Agile. This includes the practical simulation of each ceremony that team will perform: sprint planning, Daily Scrum, sprint review, sprint retrospective. The team must also be taught best practices for build automation, test case automation, project management tools, and so on.

Three separate training modules are needed: training for the team, the ScrumMaster, and the product owner. Roles and responsibilities for each need to be detailed in the training; role play is highly effective.

Organizations that provide this kind of detailed training can best move ahead to overcome the inevitable challenges that arise during an Agile transformation.
Automation One of the success criteria for Agile adoption is the effectiveness of the Scrum Team in meeting the automation goals for each sprint. Unless automation is done with a percentage goal for each sprint, the manual processes become overhead and waste that is difficult to reduce in the later stages of product development. The team needs to focus on automation from Sprint 1 onward and needs to incrementally build the automation tools needed. Automation will also help improve the quality of the code developed and reduce the defect count.
Focus on continuous improvement Each sprint retrospective should be done in the true spirit of Agile, and the identified actions should be implemented for closure during the next sprint. By delaying these improvement actions, the team does not learn from past mistakes and does not improve. Therefore, fundamental for continuous improvement is to work on retrospective actions sprint by sprint, monitoring improvements and refining and fine-tuning them and bringing them to closure. I would like to quote that “the sky is the limit” for improvement; a team that is complacent about their improvements generally does not improve further and ultimately fails in Agile.
Team motivation The Agile framework requires the team to show a working product on a near-daily basis. To improve team morale, implement steps such as these:
  • Have a conference room available as the team’s working place for the entire duration of the project.
  • Take lunch and coffee breaks as a team to improve the bonding process.
  • Celebrate birthdays with cake or another form of festivity.
  • Go out for games or movies at the end of each successful sprint.
  • Have team dinners at the office when teams are working late.
  • Start the day with an appreciation note. Each team member can write a note of appreciation to anyone in the team, simply to say a thank-you for the support or help provided.
The success of Agile is dependent on the team; a motivated team will go the extra mile in meeting the needs of the transformation journey.
Innovation One of the success factors of an Agile transformation is innovation. Innovation does not need to come from centers of excellence but from the team itself. After every four sprints, hold one sprint for innovation, during which all the teams in the organization can showcase POCs, new technology trends, best practices, success stories, etc. The organization can conduct contests for teams to put up stalls at each location and physically present their innovations. All the employees can view, understand, and learn from each other instead of constantly reinventing the wheel.
Synced Agile release trains One of the most challenging elements of an Agile transformation at the organization level is that each program is not executing in sync with the others. Dependencies between mismatched sprints can cause delays or even failure.

To avoid this, all the teams involved in the Agile transformation should hold sprints in sync, with precisely the same start and end dates. This can be achieved by having an enterprise transformational journey workshop at the pre-planning phase to identify the programs, Scrum Teams, and sprint plans and to come up with a Kanban board for the enterprise-level sprint plan.
Decision making In traditional Waterfall, organizations entrust the responsibility of decision making to top managers, who make every approval decision for the team. For Agile transformation to be successful, all decision making for a Scrum Team transfers to the team itself, "given up" by management so that the team can achieve agility and empowerment.


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.

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