Agile Transformation Q&A

By: Sam Barnes

Tags:

  • agile

Last year we decided it was time for us to change our approach to delivering projects.

Up until then, the methodology we used was more akin to Waterfall than anything else - and do you know what, it worked great for a long time. The business saw huge growth over a decade and the platform we built became multi-award winning.

However, as the platform continued to grow and marketplace evolved, it became clear that our project delivery approach needed to change to become more efficient. We needed to be able to embrace change rather than avoid it and have people hired to write code actually writing code instead of writing long specification documents.

Thus we decided to move towards an Agile delivery approach using Scrum to facilitate this in the development team.

A photograph of one of the boards now used for all things Scrum
Out with specifications and GANTT charts, in with stories, Scrum boards and Burndown charts

Agile transformations in any organisation are notoriously challenging and often do not succeed. After sending two of our team to train as Certified Scrum Product Owners, we learnt that the most common reasons for failed transformations are:

  • It’s thought to be a development change only, rather than one affecting the whole business.
  • Underestimating the scale of the challenge involved in a transformation.
  • Not having the two most critical factors: Collaboration with the customer and effective prioritisation.
  • Failure to have right people in place to act in critical roles such as Product Owners and ScrumMasters.
  • Reverting to previous delivery approaches while in the early phases / steep learning curve.
  • Implementing diluted versions of Agile and Scrum that result in either Wagile (Waterfall that is masquerading as Agile) or Fragile (Hacking that is masquerading as Agile)
  • Trying to transform alone with no expert assistance.

Knowing these reasons, plus reading many times about failed transformations, we felt it was absolutely critical to do things right and thus we enlisted Agile consultants RADTAC to help us with the transformation.

Six months on and we’re unrecognisable from the team we were. We now have multiple Scrum teams up and running working to two week sprints, following all best practices.

We’re delivering faster, with fewer issues, smoother deployments, increased test automation coverage and as a team are working much more closely with the whole business.

Lauren Barnes, Head of WhiteLabelDating.com, and Kabs Ghale, Senior Account Manager said:

“From our perspective, Agile has totally transformed the way in which projects are undertaken and executed.”

They continued:

“The process has been significantly enhanced; we are far more up to speed now with platform enhancements and updates, meaning communication between Development and the Partner Team, and between Partner Managers and Partners has greatly improved.

Aside from this, and equally as important, the time in which projects are deployed has been cut immensely due to two week sprints, meaning the business is able to address any issues/updates imminently, with efficient turnarounds; pre-Agile/Scrum we would be looking at months-worth of work.”

We recently brought Jose Casal from RADTAC back in for a one day ‘Scrum healthcheck’ where he sat in on our daily stand-ups, backlog grooming, sprint planning meetings and sprint retrospectives to see how we’re doing.

He also spent time with our Product Owners and ScrumMasters to review their approaches and tools to advise on progress and possible improvements.

Most people in our industry have some idea of how notoriously difficult Agile transformations are given it’s not just a development team that must change, but the whole business, thus we feel we’re doing really well, but let’s ask the expert!

What are the most common issues you come across when companies are trying to transform to Agile and what would be your advice to combat these?

The list of common issues we come across can be a long one, but there are some that probably have the most significance and impact:

  • Seeing Agile as a development-only activity without realising that for Agile (and a business) to be successful it also requires the full participation of the business.
  • Seeing Agile as a set of practices and techniques without realising that it has a direct profound impact on the company’s culture.
  • Trying to adopt Agile at a pace that is faster than the company’s tolerance for change and, as a result, creating significant disruption, resistance and friction.

Which areas are we doing well in when compared to other transformations you’ve seen?

Two things that I consider a very strong indicator.

First of all was your desire to run a very widespread set of interviews so that we could build a realistic understanding of where you were starting from and what were the most significant causes of dissatisfaction affecting your overall ability to deliver at the peak of your ability. The second item is the willingness to have a someone seconded as a full-time Agile change agent to help drive your Agile initiative forward.

Which areas do we need to improve on?

Agile is a journey of continuous improvement. There will always be things to improve on.

During my last visit I noticed a lot of very good progress. It was very encouraging and I really enjoyed the enthusiasm and determination to make things better.

We discussed a few areas where we could focus our efforts. Some examples included the use of avatar in the boards to visualise which items are being worked on by who. We also discussed a few changes in the story refinement process and I would suggest that we still need to look into some of the business objective alignment and cultural findings that we discovered during our initial visit.

So, the six million dollar question, based on the recent one day healthcheck, overall, how do you think we’re doing?

A resounding thumbs up from me. As I say, it’s part of the journey, but I was very encouraged by what I saw.

What were the biggest differences you noticed from when you first visited us to now?

The most visible change was the visual boards and the changes in product ownership and story creation. The most positive aspect was seeing an extra notch in your enthusiasm and energy levels. It is now a case of translating all the good work you are doing in into an improved business performance!

Have a superb 2014 full of achievements!

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About the Author

Sam Barnes