5 questions to ask before embarking on an agile journey

There is a large amount of information about Agile and much of it is conflicting. Organisations struggle with among others where to start; deciding if to implement, what to implement and how to implement it. Experts at First Consulting outline five key questions that leaders need to ask themselves before implementing an Agile transformation.

1) What does it mean to be Agile?

There are two things to keep in mind before implementing Agile:

a) Agile is not always the best option
b) Agile is a mindset and framework, not a methodology

Agile is based on four core values and twelve key principles. The Agile principles and values are important, and it is key that the leadership community are familiar with them when starting an Agile journey. However, from an implementation perspective it is often most effective to begin by implementing an Agile structure and defining the new way of working whilst slowly integrating the mindset and values in the process.

2) How do we pick the right framework?

There are many different Agile frameworks that each suit different businesses and will realise different strategic objectives. The key aspect that unites these frameworks is that each will help organisations to reduce risk by releasing early and often, gathering feedback continuously and providing a platform for rapid adjustments and complexity management. Whilst Scrum is the most common framework, a plethora of Agile frameworks are available.

5 questions to ask before embarking on an agile journey

When organisations/departments are considering adopting Agile, they first need to define what their goals are and where they are in the product/service delivery cycle. For example, a team providing maintenance services, may choose a methodology like Kanban. Conversely a start-up defining and delivering a new product is better suited to Lean Start-up or Scrum, or even a combination of the two.

Larger organisations, looking to implement Agile across numerous departments, need to think about how they want to scale Agile, and the implications on the ways of working for the effected department(s)/team(s). Scaled Agile Framework (SAFe), Enterprise Scrum, the Integrated Agile Transformation model and the Spotify model are the most common frameworks/models for scaling Agile. It is important for an organisation to explore and consider the different options and make conscious decisions along the way.

3) Do we need an Agile capability before we start?

Yes. Organisations need help facilitating their implementation and adjusting their employees’ mindset. They can leverage the experience of internal resources or get help from external Agile Coaches or Scrum Masters. Why? It takes time for individuals to adopt the Agile mindset. Many failures in implementing Agile are rooted in the absence of experience or the right coaching. Therefore, having the right support from the start is crucial.

During transformations, it takes time for people to understand why they are changing, how to adapt to the change and how to adopt the new way of thinking, and at the same time continue with their day jobs. To adopt the new mentality, they will need support; people to ask them the right questions and help them to deliver value in the new way of working. Without providing the right support, organisations risk their employees becoming disillusioned with the new way of working and building a resistance to Agile; which will ultimately, result in an unsuccessful implementation.

4) Where do we start?

Transforming a large organisation overnight is impossible. Start with one department and then slowly expand; inspect and adapt. A common approach in Agile, and namely Scrum, is defining an MVP (minimum viable product), testing it, delivering it to the market and gathering feedback. This is exactly how Agile should be implemented.

Another core concept of Scrum to be considered when selecting the ‘implementation MVP’ is effort; select the weighted shortest job first. This refers to starting with the area that would benefit the most from the change, and where the change can be implemented with the least effort.

Once you have identified the best place to start, design a blueprint, implement it, gather feedback and adapt. This will improve the implementation of the new ways of working in the following phases. It will also show that the new way of working is adopted throughout the organisation.

5) Do we need executive buy-in?

Executive buy-in is key to major organisational changes. It is key from a budget and decision-making perspective and from a change championship perspective. Executive buy-in will enable you to:

1. Make decisions quickly
2. Gain organisational buy in for those decisions

It is the leadership team’s role to manage expectations about the transformation and share the organisation’s priorities as a first step. The opportunity for a smooth transition process and thus buy-in from the rest of the organisation can be lost without executive support. Without their support, organising teams, making decisions and empowering employees will be difficult not only at the start of the transformation, but throughout.