Friday, May 24, 2013

The Agile Boulder

I recently guest posted on Jim Ewel's great blog,, about creating roadmaps for agile marketing,
a technique I advocate for to help reconcile the potential for fragmented agile marketing campaigns.

Afterwards, Jim and I were discussing the difficulties of transitioning to Agile and Agile marketing. He made the good point, that there seem to be two different approaches to the organizational change necessary to implement agile practices. You can either go all in, or you can try to ease your way in.

Going all in means, taking the time to get full buy in from the executives and hiring a coach to guide the transition.

The other option is to easy your way in. Don't even use the words "agile" or "sprint" and certainly don't post up a manifesto! Rather, introduce one practice at a time and slowly reveal a better way of doing things.

My previous transitional effort was very much an attempt to ease the organization slowly into Agile. That experience led me to believe that it can't work. My conversation with Jim has me seeing it differently.

Organizational change is like moving a boulder

Introducing agile practices will only work if the processes aren't counter to the current culture. If the culture is in place, you're at the top of the hill. Simply apply a gentle amount of pressure; the boulder will gain speed on its own. Without the culture, you're in the wrong valley.  Outside help will be needed to help you get to the top of the hill and down the other side.

Where are you now?

If your culture already shares elements with the agile mindset, you can probably go with "easy does it". What does this culture look like?

- Shared accountability for delivering high quality products on time
- A collaborative approach between different disciplines
- A relatively flat structure
- Willingness to be wrong
- Adaptability

If most of these cultural elements are already in place, the processes will fit more easily.  Daily stand up meetings, visual task management and retrospectives won't go against the grain.  This allows you to make some small changes, demonstrate some easy wins and gain trust, before loudly declaring "WE'RE DOING AGILE NOW"!

If the culture you see around you doesn't so much look like that, you're not just looking at process changes, you're looking at cultural changes and culture comes from the top. In this case, you're better to focus on executing effectively under the status quo, building trust and slowly selling management on a better way of doing things. In this instance, you can benefit from the large volume of literature. The fact that "Agile" is becoming a buzz word can actually be your friend.

In this case, hiring an outside consultant is probably what's required to signal to the team the intention to change how people interact. Outside energy (the right outside energy) can also inject some enthusiasm around the possibility of a better way of doing things.

photo credit: cobalt123 via cc