Transitioning from a waterfall process to an Agile framework like Scrum can be a daunting task. However, you can make the effort a whole lot easier if you have a good idea of what needs to change – beyond getting rid of waterfall – if you were to take the plunge for your organization.
I have found that there are five broad success factors that need to be addressed in order to successfully transition to Agile. Without addressing these factors, you may be able to make a transition but the viability of the effort is likely to be short-lived.
In this context, we are referring to technology as any process, tool or material that helps solve a problem. Typically, this is the element companies tend to focus on first – and unfortunately often ends up being the only factor they focus on. Software tools like ScrumWorks, Mingle or Jira’s Greenhopper are good examples. So is frameworks like Scrum or XP; they all help enable teams to be successful and solve a problem. Unfortunately, by ignoring the other factors, transition efforts suffer.
We use the term ‘design’ here rather than ‘structure’ as this refers not only to the organizational structure of the organization, but also the physical (architectural) outline. If an organization is very hierarchical with several layers of decision-makers, your transition efforts will be challenging. Also, if resources are located in remote locations or have a clear ‘office preference’ where open space and collaboration are frown upon, you will have a hard sell on your hands. But don’t ignore this – you will lose a significant piece of Agile’s potential if your company’s organizational design is not addressed.
This can be one of the most important factors; leadership holds a lot of influence as they ultimately pay the bills and can allocate money, time or people to your transition efforts. Does leadership actively sponsor and support your transition efforts? Do they lend their influence to help Agile grow and prosper in your organization? Without leadership support, any transition effort is going to be difficult to sustain. If senior leadership is not quite on board yet, look for other influential leaders at other levels. However, if you find that you have zero support within the company’s leadership, I would categorize this as fatal to your transition efforts.
Ultimately, your organization’s employees are the ones that are going to make this work or not. If employees thrive on working in the basement alone, abhor team work or are not open to new ideas and ways to work, you are going to have a tough battle on your hands. Resistance is inevitable as change is tough for everyone, but you’re going to need some energetic, motivated ‘agilistas’ in order for any Agile transition effort to work. Look for people with energy, enthusiasm and low egos – you need to be humble in order to complete a successful transition.
Which leads us to the last – and most influential – success factor: culture. The organization’s culture has typically been developed over many years, so this is hard to change. But if you recognize what you’re dealing with, you are more likely to design a response to fit the situation. Agile thrives in a collaborative, team-based culture in which transparency is obvious and people are not afraid of making mistakes or letting other people in the organization know if there are problems (in fact, ‘failing fast’ is a virtue as it reveals concerns early on in the project).
If you find that your organization extols values in stark opposition to Agile principles (i.e. command and control, fear of failure, ‘CYA’ mentality, etc), this is something that needs to be addressed if you’re going to have any hope of a successful Agile transition.
In future Agile posts, we will look into the success factors further and discuss approaches for transitioning to Agile in a way that fits your company’s unique situation.
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