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Build Agile Cities Instead of Agile Skyscrapers

16 March 2016

Ryan Jenkins

Is scaling Agile the right goal?

Human nature is to build lasting structures, often looking to build the next bigger than the last, including buildings, cars, institutions, monuments, and more. We build these things to celebrate our knowledge and our history, and to leave lasting legacies that we can see and touch. But let's think about the legacies in business that we create and can't see but that have such a lasting impact, like organizational change and corporate culture.

Build your cities, not your skyscrapers

Most large organizations, even when moving toward a shared and well-communicated corporate vision, are still working in multiple teams on separate projects, with little or no day-to-day coordination required between them. While a single, gleaming skyscraper can be a great showcase for your Agile city, it does not help if it is surrounded by nothing. Rather than build these large-scale practices, focus your efforts on the things that make will make your community great to support those skyscraper projects by aligning your organization to your Agile goals.

With a focus on a long-term commitment to spreading and growing Agile sustainably throughout the organization, rather than scaling it, you will have a much stronger foundation for sustainable Agile adoption throughout the organization. In alignment with Agile principles, this approach allows you to deliver value through Agile in smaller, more manageable pieces, gaining knowledge and mitigating risks along the way.

Grow and spread Agile rather than scale it

In building your Agile city, focus on things that will enable the long-term, sustainable growth of Agile throughout the organization, and the larger the organization the stronger the underlying community needs to be. Build roads (communication channels and messaging), subways (organizational alignment), schools (communities of practice), parks (Agile playbook), and ambassadors (engaged leadership delivering the right messages). This community, developed through a thoughtful transformation, will help create teams to build products and solve business problems through teamwork and collaboration. All of these components will work to create a shared understanding around Agile and what it means inside the organization.

Clarity, transparency, and measurable progress

Any organizational change is going to be difficult, especially for large organizations. Job titles change, responsibilities change, new roles are created, and old roles are eliminated or consolidated. Large-scale Agile transitions have the potential to be incredibly disruptive if not done with a mindful approach. By focusing on building a strong community, you can help your organization avoid some of the panic and uncertainty around this new way of working. A strong community and clear and consistent messaging from your organization's leadership, delivered on a regular cadence (not just once!), will start to ease some of these concerns. The latter will often require "managing up" and coaching of leadership so that they understand what they are asking for and the commitment required.

I have heard many times that senior leaders may want their teams to deliver faster, transition their projects to Agile without encouraging a mindful approach, or promise their directors and managers that Agile will save them money. These should be red flags to begin focusing on change in the wider organization, and a warning that there is a misalignment of goals and messaging. In working with Agile teams, I've seen that this sends the wrong message to the team and can be incredibly disruptive. Leaders and managers must instead focus on increasing clarity of organizational, program, product, project, and team goals as well as transparency of process and communication. Last but not least, they must focus on enabling the team to deliver sustainable, measurable progress in their software delivery.

Start building your Agile city

Think about what Agile adoption means in your organization or company -- do you have the tools and community in place to share and spread Agile practices throughout? Could you build a community of practice to share ideas, challenges, triumphs, and best practices? Do you have champions and ambassadors for Agile who act as change agents? I would like to hear what other practices are in place to enable organizations to deliver great services and products!

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: 4.5 (4 ratings)


Gretchen Knode, CSM, 3/16/2016 11:47:23 AM
Great job! I like the imagery :)
Elena Astilleros, CSP,CSM,CSPO, 3/20/2016 12:46:31 PM
What a great reminder to be present to what we are building in our agile environment. I love the thought and clarity behind it.

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