I have had the experience of implementing Agile from scratch in organizations that were using no development methodology at all. And I have also had the opportunity of guiding and supporting several companies in the improvement of their Agile adoption. In both cases, you need to know how deep the company wants to go, what level of adoption they expect and whether they understand the benefits of being Agile (yes, several companies just do it because it’s trendy, but trendy is not enough when it comes to organizational changes).
As a coach, when guiding organizations in their Agile journey you will have in your mind several ideas on what you have to do to be successful. You will revisit those ideas and find out which ones are the most appropriate for your client. There are different approaches you can use, but at a higher level, you will have to choose between the two: let the organization detect what is the best way to meet their objectives, or use your previous experience to tell them what steps they should follow to succeed.
No matter which approach you select, you may probably think that your ideas are considered brilliant. After all, who can say Agile is not good nowadays? You may also think that everybody believes that the change is going to be beneficial for them (if most organizations are using it, why would it be different in this case?). Your work will be really successful!
But guess what? Things may start to get complicated. The steps you chose may make no sense anymore. Agile adoption may no longer be an easy way to go. So, what’s happening? Why are you facing all these challenges and setbacks? Well, the answer is simple: people. People are the major roadblocks when implementing Agile. They offer resistance, even when they do not make it consciously.
The big question is… why?
Even when this may seem a bit exaggerated, many people are afraid. They think they may lose their jobs, may be exposed and at risk for not having had good ideas in the past or not having detected the improvements before.
Lack of understanding
It may happen that people will not understand the approach you are suggesting. They may not be clear on what to do and how to do it. Thus, they feel unsafe, they think they may ruin everything. And don’t forget that all this is really important for the organization (they may feel the pressure, don’t you think?)
“If everything works this way, why should I change?”. This is one of the most commonly heard excuses. But what that generally means is “All this is so new, I don’t know if I’ll be able to do it. Just thinking about it stresses me out!”.
Then, what can you do to help people commit to and collaborate with the change?
1) Show yourself as a peer - you’re not the enemy and they have to know that
Reserve some time to meet people so that they know you. Spend time building relationships, understanding the main concerns of the people involved in the transformation. Tell them why you’re there and what you want to achieve. Let them know that your job is to serve, not to command.
2) Define a clear vision and, most important, the reasoning behind it
If the team has no vision, then they have no north. The vision is the place where they will go every time they lose focus. No matter how busy you are, you must ensure that the whole team knows what the final goal is and why it is important. Most importantly, they need to know why they will benefit from this.
3) Let the team decide their own path
Have the team not only detect their areas of improvement, but also define the specific actions to improve. Doing so, people will feel reinforced, they will believe in their autonomy and they will feel owners of the change.
4) Assign owners, avoid being the “boss”
You will be tempted to do everything on your own. After all, you’re the most experienced person in this journey! This is a tremendous mistake. If you do so, people will see you as the “boss” and all the effort you made to win their trust and to build relationships will be sent to the trash. Instead, remember that people need to feel important, they need to feel that they are adding value and that their work matters. Assign them important tasks, make them feel appreciated and valuable.
5) Guide them in the process of change, since change hurts!
We’re not designed to adapt to change. Our brains are not prepared for that. But the world in which we’re living requires adaptability from us, everything evolves so fast! So, given that it is pretty normal that people feel uncomfortable with change you should be their guide and help them overcome difficulties and deal with their own limitations.
6) Give them wings to fly (and to learn to improve on their own)
You will not always be there for them. The best legacy of a good coach is a person or group of people that can continue your work. Use your time with the team to identify those that have the required skills to support the company and its improvement cycle once you’re gone. Be a personal coach for them as well. This way, you’re job will be complete, you will have guided the company in its initial Agile transformation and you will have left people prepared for future improvements.