I am very emotional when it comes to the Being Agile. People say that I become very philosophical while explaining concepts of Agile to them. And they are right. Agile is not only my way of working, it’s also my way of living. It is a concept that resonates with everything I do. It does not matter if I am planning a vacation or managing small home projects, I find that I can apply Agile anywhere.

I am an Agile Coach and sometimes people ask me questions like, “Do you think Agile can work in this particular scenario, Vibhor?” and to them I say, “You are asking the wrong question.” you see, Agile has no limits, It’s a mindset, so the right question would be, “How can we act Agile in this particular scenario?”. When you really understand the values and principles behind Agile you can apply it to almost every situation. This is called “Being Agile”. This is the “Ri” on the scale of ShuHaRi, when you use your experience to tweak your practices and tools to work in almost any situation. All you have to do is to keep the values and principles that back those practices intact.

Agile is promising and dependable. It is spreading fast and becoming popular even with the large organizations. Ahead though, are some challenges. These challenges are required to be dealt with for a successful Agile transformation. The first step to “Becoming Agile”, is to decide on an Agile adoption strategy. This is where the organizations which are new to Agile struggle the most. They are required to come up with an almost perfect plan, strategy or approach whichever way you call it, to make Agile stick so that it can turn out to be a successful transformation not only for the company but also for the people involved.

This initial planning or coming up with an adoption approach is not an easy task. It requires people with an optimistic attitude and an organization wide shift of mindset. This is what Dr. Carol Dweck, a Virginia Eaton Professor of Psychology at Stanford University, calls a “growth mindset“, and an Agile Coach like myself calls it, very conveniently, an “agile mindset“. Both are one and the same.

More on mindsets later. In this series of posts, with this being Part-1, I am going to discuss a few of the most common Agile adoption challenges and a few ways to overcome them. So let’s get started.

Challenge #1: Senior management buy-in for Agile projects.

It all starts with the dream of a project manager. A dream to be more productive, to have better quality code, to accelerate time to market and to better align IT and Business objectives. In order to make this dream come true, sometimes project managers, who can clearly see the benefits, figure out a way to get enough buy-in from their immediate superiors to make Agile happen in their projects. They do this without obtaining a formal endorsement from higher management. The problem arises when this idea starts to grow more as a Grassroots Movement. Since senior management does not know about how Agile works, they fail to see the big picture, they do not support it to scale and unknowingly they become an impediment towards a successful Agile transformation.

Following are a few suggestions for project managers to get buy-in from senior management.

  1. Early education on Agile Adoption for Executives and Management. You don’t have to do this before piloting a project, although its always beneficial to get an early buy-in. Try doing this after your pilot is over. That way you can show the excitement that your team has gathered from the pilot’s success. You can also show the actual value that is delivered at the end of your pilot project. Agile promotes “working software over comprehensive documentation” for a reason. So show them the working solution. Using this approach you can get the management to agree for an Agile Overview Session, where you can educate them on the benefits of Agile.
  2. Engage an Executive Sponsor or more if possible. Engage someone who understands Agile, knows it’s benefits and will act as an internal change agent or an advocate for Agile transformation. You can start with one such executive and, of course, my favorite is when you can find someone at the CIO level. Then slowly but steadily find other people who are willing to become Agile champions and want to stand behind your initiative.
  3. Develop an agile transformation Vision and Road-map. This is very important. Some people don’t really understand that there are multiple levels of maturity in Agile and just by getting a couple of pilots to succeed does not mean that you are there. So try to have a Vision behind your initiative. Something that tells people, Why you are doing this? What are the benefits? What are the problems you are trying to solve? How will you measure your journey? What metrics are you going to use? Also have a Road-map. A road-map that explains your goals in the coming years with respect to adopting Agile, number of projects you are going to pilot and the processes or other improvements that you are going to make.
  4. Establish an Agile Champions Team with a Transformation Backlog. You definitely need an executive sponsor or several sponsors, if possible, to be engaged in this team. This is a group of individuals from different roles that are going to make sure that Agile sticks, that the transformation will be successful and the various teams and departments involved are going to be supported. This team also carries a Transformation Backlog. Much like a product backlog, this is a backlog of process improvements, a prioritized list of steps that your team is going to take to ensure successful Agile Transformation.

Agile transformation takes years. Although you will see some benefits immediately in terms of boosts in productivity and code quality, but larger benefits will start to become clear over time. Let me suggest you something. Agile adoption in itself is not the goal. The goal is for you to achieve high performance, build high performing teams and a high performing organization. It will take different steps, strategic thinking and planning around combining people and process transformation skills. So make a plan and adjust it along the way.

This is Part-1 of a four part series. You can find Part-2 of the series “Challenge #2: How to deal with Resistance during Agile transformation” here.