The Required ‘Cultural Transition’ For Agile-Scrum Teams

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18th Sep, 2018
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The Required ‘Cultural Transition’ For Agile-Scrum Teams

"It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent. But it is the one who is most adaptable to change" - Charles Darwin

Technology today is evolving rapidly at an exponential rate. Business entities in order to survive and thrive must adopt and adapt to technological advancements at a rapid rate. The dwindling profit margins, the shrinking in time to market, globalization, and the technological advancement of competitors mandate organizations to innovate put out their products and services as soon as possible.

Software project management has evolved rapidly over the last few years. Organizations large and small alike are rapidly transitioning into using Agile software development and engineering frameworks resulting in technology advancement at an exponentially rapid pace. The struggle of adopting and adapting to Agile delivery for organizations and teams alike is well understood and documented. The culture of the organization and the team plays an important role to facilitate this agile adoption.

The effects of globalization and technology have a direct impact on the Software Development Industry as well. Software project management too has evolved rapidly over the last few years to cater to this change. Organizations large and small alike are transitioning into using change-driven software development and engineering frameworks rather than sticking with plan-driven software project management approaches.

However, the struggle of adapting to Agile practices is a universal problem and this may the case for years to come. An area of difficulty in terms of this adaptation to agility is organization and team culture. Today, through this article we will look at the culture of traditional plan-driven software development organizations and then the requirement of culture for change-driven Agile Software Development organizations.

Culture as an enabler

agile transformation
Culture is often defined as ‘the way things work around here’.  Schein (1980) defines culture as the pattern of basic assumptions that a group learns, or which is taught to new members as the correct way to perceive, feel and think in relation to situations they encounter. Many organizations do similar activities, but no two organizations do activities or tasks in the exact same way as the other, and no two organizations feel the same.

Transformation into an Agile team should first happen at an organization level that they can be cascaded down to the team level. It is the senior leadership’s responsibility (owners and CXO’s) to embrace agility, and then to create the corporate values, beliefs, behaviors, and practices necessary to activate this culture. Scrum masters as the Agile leadership of the organization must understand this corporate culture and then adapt the same to teams as necessary. Schein defines the culture at 3 levels.

  • Level 1: Artifacts or the visible features, which reflects the culture (roles and people, symbols, narratives, activities etc.)
  • Level 2: Beliefs and values which the organization and the scrum team (leadership, integrity, trust, etc.)
  • Level 3: The deepest and most important level which consists of assumptions which shape level 2 and level 1 elements listed above.

The Agile leadership is responsible for creating and communicating cultural elements at all 3 levels to team members so that they understand, embrace and develop the Agile culture.

The transition in Agile culture

Below is a depiction of 4 basic types of culture as defined by Handy (1999).

agile culture
Traditionally software development organizations followed plan-driven SDLC approaches to develop and deliver solutions. The Power and Role cultures were evidently visible in these sort organizations. The power in terms of initiating a project, deciding on the resource requirements, deciding on the budget and deciding on the scope was with a few key individuals within the organization. Role of the customer account manager, project manager and the other project roles such as developer, business analyst, QA engineer was clearly defined. If any information was required or if a client demonstration was to be carried out the team had to wait for a considerable period of time to communicate, take necessary approvals and to implement the same. These organizations and teams inherently had the problems of role conflicts, contradicting priorities, miscommunication and slow decision making which ultimately resulted in delayed low-quality projects.
plan driven and agile development
The task and person cultures are more suitable for Scrum projects. Yes, the scrum master, product owner, and implementation team roles and the communication lines defined properly for an Agile project to run smoothly. But the team must be self-organizing to identify tasks to perform in order to create and deliver value to the relevant stakeholders. Each team member must be a cross-functional team player capable of fitting into any role and perform any task as required to deliver the solution. The scrum master must facilitate discussion within and across multiple teams and stakeholders as deemed fit to remove impediments and move the project forward. Team and individual success must be celebrated along with the achievement of common project objectives.

For more information on types of culture please watch the video through below link.


Conclusion

Agile requires a paradigm shift, which is more specifically a shift in the culture of management to leadership. This must come from the top down and be embedded in corporate strategy. Harmonious dissemination of this information to all relevant stakeholders both internal and external will ensure the success of Agile projects.

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Rumesh Wijetunge

Chief Innovation Officer - Zaizi Limited, Chief Operating Officer - LearntIn (Pvt) Ltd., Director /

Rumesh is an IT business leader with over 12 years of industry experience as a business analyst and project manager. He is currently the CIO of Zaizi Limited, a UK based data management company heading the operations in Sri Lanka, the COO of LearntIn, a global training institute based in Sri Lanka and is also a lecturer / trainer at multiple private universities on management, IT, business analysis and project management subjects. He is the current president of the IIBA Sri Lanka chapter and is one of the most qualified and sought after trainers in Sri Lanka. Refer his LinkedIn profile for more details and to see more articles he has written on linkedin