Agile Ain't Easy: 7 Steps to Achieve Agile Transformation Mastery
Implementing agile software development practices is not an instantaneous and smooth process—it requires a collaborative effort between management and the delivery team. When embarking on an agile transformation, you need to be prepared to face some challenges.
What follows is a list of important things to remember while implementing agile software development practices.
Establish a Culture of Trust
Building a culture of trust within a company isn’t easy, but when it comes to agile software development, it’s essential. Establishing trust takes effort from teams and leaders, who should be deeply engaged in every step of the process.
When managers don’t listen to team members, don’t understand them, condemn mistakes, and don’t foster an environment for open communication, they fail to build trust within the organization. Here are some useful tips to start building trust:
- Listen to your employees and ask them for advice. You might be surprised by what useful and constructive feedback you receive. You may learn of problems that you didn’t even know existed.
- Lead by example. Show trust to your employees and they will reciprocate.
- Encourage open communication. Work to establish a culture of “radical candor,” where everyone can share their thoughts honestly and without fear. By doing so, you will avoid distortions and will always stay grounded in reality.
- Don’t punish the team for mistakes. Take ownership of mistakes, fix them, then use them as shared learning opportunities.
When combined, these principles foster a culture of trust. Without trust, the transition to agile software development is impossible.
Build a Framework That Enables Continuous Improvement
Agile methodologies advocate for continuous improvement, which necessitates a sustained effort to improve working processes, as well as products or services. This on-going process is essential to building an agile environment that delivers value. Continuous improvement seeks to motivate teams and enable their members to increase skills and share knowledge, not only with each other but also with people from other teams.
To ensure that agile methodologies bring the expected results, processes should be continually evaluated for their efficiency and effectiveness, then improved upon. This requires a flexible culture where teams are able to quickly adapt to rapidly changing situations. When processes, products, and services improve, so too will relationships and strategies. It’s all about getting better together.
Continuous improvement helps to streamline and optimize workflows, improve quality, reduce costs, save time, and engage team members.
Ask the Team to Identify and Solve Problems
Make sure that when difficulties arise, teams are capable of addressing challenges on their own. Your employees are a rich source of knowledge and should have the power to respond to any issues that arrive.
To promote a culture of self-managed teams that solve their own problems, start with asking a team how they would solve a particular problem. They will brainstorm, bring together their knowledge and expertise, and present a sustainable and effective solution. Your responsibility then is to streamline a process where all members of the team act cohesively, using the collective knowledge base and operating infrastructure to find the best solution to any problem.
Without self-organization and effective teamwork, work will stop each time a problem pops up unexpectedly. Obviously, this is an undesirable scenario. Rely on the teams you create and they won’t disappoint you.
Make Quality Everyone’s Responsibility
Convey to each member of a team that the overall quality of the product is everyone’s responsibility. It’s important to understand that the risk of poor quality is hidden in every aspect and element of the software development process: requirements, documentation, code, delivery, automation, and support. None of these are the strict realm of a quality assurance team, and therefore, QA is not the only team responsible for seeking out and eliminating vulnerabilities. A quality-first mindset means that everyone in a team feels accountable to mitigate and manage risks, and puts every effort into maintaining a high level of quality.
Consider Where Waste Lives and Address It Constantly
Early delivery and continuous improvement are among the core principles of agile software development. Finding out where time is mismanaged and eliminating bottlenecks on a regular basis is something you should always remember if you are committed to making your company agile. Constantly identifying and addressing waste lies in the same area: The clear prioritization of tasks is essential. It’s important to avoid doing extra work and developing redundant features just to get the scope of work done on time.
Drive the Development of Products Through Principles of Quality
Quality should be a top priority in every aspect of agile software development. The right things should be done in the right way, and on time. As a leader, it’s up to you to ensure that all processes related to software development are consistent with quality principles and proceed in accordance with best practices. If a final product or an intermediate version of the product doesn’t meet customer specifications and requirements, an omission occurred. Quality should be your mantra, and you can’t be half agile.
Focus on Value in Its Smallest Form
Value delivery is a prerequisite for transition to and staying agile. Focusing on value in its smallest form means focusing on features essential to meet strategic objectives and customer needs.
Your mission is to get everyone focused on delivering value; to make all processes and product features value-driven. Everything should be assessed and measured: from the impact of a product feature on customer satisfaction to how costs can be reduced and return increased.
Do not repeat the mistakes of other companies that have overloaded their products with unnecessary features instead of focusing on the minimum set of functions to get a solution that actually adds value. That’s why user stories, describing requirements to features planned, should not be overlooked.
If you focus on value, you may be surprised by the return on investment facilitated by agile software development.
Bonus: Discipline is Everything
As stated above, the transition to agile software development can be challenging, but the result will exceed your expectations and make all your efforts worthwhile. However, beware of a pitfall: Once you get the first results, don’t be deceived into thinking your agile transformation is over. Implementing agile processes is not a one-time event—it’s a journey which requires patience and discipline.
Without discipline, companies and teams can easily regress into their own ways. Slipping from agile development principles results with halted continuous improvement, wasted time and effort, and missed deadlines.
Without building discipline and emphasizing its importance, you will be unable to master the agile journey. Consider someone who is a master at what they do—whether a musician, writer, surgeon, or even developer. If you asked that person how they came to master their craft, what would they say? An “easy trick?” A shortcut? Unlikely. Persistence, discipline, and determination are among the traits required to achieve mastery.
To gain success, you just have to keep putting one foot in front of the other.
Special thanks are extended to Cornel J. Montano for his assistance in the preparation of the article.
All images credit: Lionsgate