I recently declared that agile transformations aren’t the answer for product development, so why am I exploring who in the organization should instigate an agile adoption?
Because there are people in internal product situations who are still in the midst of an agile transformation or are staring down the barrel of another agile transformation (the first three didn’t work), or their organization is considering an agile transformation.
And because this question came up at a recent business analysis discussion group: “Should agile integration in a company start from top-down? Why or Why Not?”
Agile transformation is not the answer for product development.
An agile transformation can help your effectiveness as a product person if it occurs in conjunction with other actions. Those other actions are impacted a great deal by who drives the agile transformation.
Agile adoption should be top-down
Agile adoptions need the involvement of your senior leadership to be successful.
Your organization’s leaders need to clearly understand why they want your organization to become more agile. They also need to be honest with themselves about their expectations.
If your organization’s leadership wants to “become agile” because everyone else is doing it, the transformation is not going to benefit your organization very much. You’ll gauge success based on whether teams are doing specific practices. In other words, your organization will adopt agile theater and stop there.
If your organization’s leadership wants an agile transformation in order to do twice the work in half the time, they are setting themselves up for disappointment. That’s an excellent marketing title for a book, but an unrealistic expectation to put on an agile transformation alone. Plus it’s an indication that you may end up working in a feature factory.
If your organization’s leadership wants to position your organization to focus on outcomes rather than outputs and continuously learn, they will likely see adopting some agile methods as a way of enabling that behavior. Hopefully, they also realize that they need to change their own behavior when it comes to making decisions about what teams do and (more importantly) do not work on.
Your organization’s leaders need to make sure that everyone in the organization understands the reason for the agile transformation and set expectations for the outcome they seek.
Your teams need to be able to try things, learn from failures, and adjust appropriately. Your organization’s leaders need to provide the air cover to let that happen.
Your organization’s leaders need to make the tough decisions about what projects get done and which ones don’t. They need to make the tough decisions about stopping products that no longer make sense.
Agile adoption should not be top-down
If your organization is really going to adopt agile, people on your teams need to understand why the organization is undertaking an agile transformation and buy into the reasons for that transformation. They need to understand what it’s in it for them. If the people on your teams don’t buy into the agile transformation, no amount of change management or “the beatings will continue until morale improves” will change things.
Your teams should be truly self-organizing. They should be able to determine the methodology they use and not have that methodology dictated to them. This is where your organization’s leaders need to understand when to Stand Back and when they need to step up.
Your teams should adopt good engineering practices because they find value in good engineering practices – not because someone be it a leader, or a coach – told them they needed to. If people don’t understand why they’re using a specific practice and see value in it, they won’t continue to follow those practices effectively.
Set the vision, support, don’t dictate
So you want your organization’s leadership actively involved in an agile transformation to help your organization realize the desired outcome. That involvement should look something like the following:
- Clearly define why the organization is undertaking an agile transformation.
- Build a shared understanding of what that reason is.
- Prove an environment that allow self-managed teams to experiment
- Make timely, informed decisions about what efforts should be started and what efforts should stop
You don’t want your organization’s leadership “driving” the agile transformation if that means that leaders dictate what practices teams use, how they do their day to day work and monitor the teams to the point where it becomes a distraction.
Why should product people care about this? Because you can’t rely on an agile transformation alone to improve your product development processes. You want your organization’s leadership to allow teams to work in an agile manner, and focus most of their attention on making the key product decisions that ensure that teams are working in an agile manner on the right things.