Agile is not a new concept. It’s a collective mindset that has been in practice for hundreds of years, though not necessarily in product marketing or software delivery. In the last 20 years, we have seen a rapid and explosive growth in organizations adopting Lean and Agile principles. Various practices, frameworks, and tools have sprouted all over the place, each competing with another and vying for the best alternative for traditional practices in the current economy. This has created greater confusion and chaos for organizations planning to change their operating practices to a Lean and Agile way of working. And while these organizations were deciding on a specific type of Agile practice, the economy turned global.
In these times of global marketing and delivery of products in a distributed setting, priorities for organizations have changed, and so have their choices. Now these organizations have to contend with their teams scattered across the globe. The concept of a Lean economy and its Agile adoption has now become the top concern for all. How do we adopt Agile in a distributed environment?
While enterprise Agile is a collective mindset, distributed Agile is a phase shift in that collective mindset. This is because in such settings, some Agile principles are likely to be compromised. These include:
- Colocation of team members, in both business and technology
- Face-to-face communication of team members
- Maintaining a constant pace of delivery
Adoption: Shifting gears
A phase shift alone, however, is not going to help. There has to be an adoption strategy for scaling to a distributed environment. Organizations will have to rethink their priorities about their need for and commitment to Agile practices.
Gear 1: Need and commitment
There is no such thing as an automatic Agile adoption. The fist gear is always the most difficult to maneuver without stalling. While organizations may see the need for going Agile, they must also understand the business drivers and the organizational culture in a distributed Agile setting. In most cases, the cultural backdrop is a major setback due to various differences among people, languages, communication, time zones, etc. The onus is on the corporate executives to ensure the right culture for their Agile needs.
Gear 2: Infrastructure
The second gear is somewhat easier than the first but continues to need focus and control, as it is still possible for the adoption to stall. There are other factors that have to be addressed here. The organization's stakeholders must be in a position to identify specific goals and objectives to accomplish. They must also identify the barriers to adoption and put measures in place to overcome them. Change is inevitable in any setting. So, the organization must have a plan to respond to changes — unexpected or otherwise. Finally, this adoption will take the organization in a new direction and the employees need training. Setting up training sessions and mentoring on a continuous basis becomes mandatory.
Gear 3: Pilot
In this stage, the adoption has already picked up speed. It is now time for kicking off a small initiative. A dedicated Agile team is created, focused on delivering a small and finite piece of functionality in a timeboxed environment. This team is empowered to make critical decisions regarding their objective. The results are measured in terms of people, process, and quality of the product delivered.
Gear 4: Scale
The success or failure of the pilot phase dictates what changes the organization has to make in order to move forward. Upon success, the organization must now make plans to scale in terms of product scope. Strategies for successfully delivering products at a regular cadence must be laid out. To use the terminology of scaled Agile, value streams are identified at an enterprise level and multiple teams of teams are created to plan and deliver products within common releases. Measuring productivity and making constant improvements must be enforced.
Gear 5: Distributed, high-performance organization
The adoption has reached cruising speed, and it is now time to take to the Agile interstate. Teams must be identified by their geographical distribution and cultural make-up. In this stage of Agile adoption, it becomes critical to identify product scope for enhancing the construction of self-contained teams fully capable of making key decisions without too much oversight. The organization must have a clear policy of empowerment for these distributed teams. This, however, should not preclude the key stakeholders from providing governance and oversight for accomplishing the corporate goals. There must be total transparency and visibility of the results at all levels within the organization. Once again, constant measurement and improvement are mandatory at all levels.
Gear R: Repeatability
Unlike the automobile, the “R” gear here pertains to the repeatability or maturity of the Agile adoption process. As with the other gears, measurement is on a constant basis, and improvement opportunities must be followed up on meticulously.