Agile/Lean Product Development and Delivery: Mastering the Art of Change


In a scene from the film the Wizard of Oz, based on L. Frank Baum’s novel The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, Dorothy befriends a Scarecrow, a Tin Woodsman, and a Cowardly Lion. As we all know, the three decide to accompany Dorothy to go off to see the Wizard to obtain their desires (a brain, a heart, courage and a way home). Along the way they are plagued by a forest of angry apple trees and several attempts to stop them by the Wicked Witch of the West. There’s no real threat, only the possibility of what may lie behind the trees. Imagination takes hold, and fear moves from one to the other, until the entire group is fraught with apprehension and dread. A picture of what could lurk in the woodland is all that’s needed to change the behavior of the traveling companions. The camaraderie of happy explorers is transformed into a small group of hunched-over, shaking individuals who walk slowly, not realizing the danger is an imagined one, and their fears have no basis in reality; as Dorothy laments, "Lions and tigers and bears, Oh My!

I bet if you are or have attempted to be agile and lean you identify with Dorothy and her friends as you walk down the path of agile and lean system/software development and delivery. Like Dorothy, the Tin Man, the Cowardly Lion and the Scarecrow being agile and lean takes wisdom, passion and courage, a desire to be better and openness, especially to change.

Based on a survey conducted by Version One, distributed to 80 countries and the returned 2,300 responses (see Figure 4.0) the top two barriers to being agile and lean are:

  1. Ability to change organizational culture
  2. General resistance to change
Figure 4.0 – Barriers to Becoming Agile

Unfortunately, available evidence shows that most organizations can become agile but that we often make terrible mistakes when we try because we simply are not prepared for the transformational challenges. This is so because most agile transformation efforts fail to realize that becoming agile is a reengineering, re-strategizing and cultural renewal effort. As a result the most overlooked aspect of being agile and lean is effectively dealing with change.

So what can be done? Here is what I have seen work.

Start with a vision or roadmap (see Figure 5.0) that is embraced and realized by the entire organization from the top down and bottom up.

Figure 5.0 – Roadmap to Being Agile and Lean

Next one must be keenly aware being agile and lean has its roots in W, Edwards Deming’s Plan-Do-Check(Study)-Act (PDCA) quality improvement cycle, as depicted in Figure 6.0, which is all about planning a little, doing a little, inspection, adaptation and iteratively and incrementally improving.

Figure 6.0 – William Deming’s Quality Improvement Cycle

In fact PDCA is at the heart of the Scrum Lifecycle. What makes the difference is when the individual, the team and the enterprise internalizes and then externalizes that being agile and lean is all about repetitively checking how things are going and adapting to change.

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