Once, I was hired at a big company as a team lead with a mission to create an agile team from a group of twelve skilled people. It was hard to transform the group (80 percent of whom were consultants) into a self-organized agile team consisting of 80 percent company employees, some of them offshored. This setup was a major success for me and my agile mentors as we transformed from a bunch of developers to an agile team, but I wasn’t able to celebrate because I had a problem. I was pushing too much self-organization onto the team, and one year of low (but increasing) velocity combined with stepping too hard and often on my boss’s toes, was fatal for me. My boss had to repeatedly explain to the CIO why we did not show the expected results.
Today, this company utilizes agile processes and is doing fine, with whole teams offshored. It was my mistake to not adequately communicate the investment needed. What could I have done better in my agile implementation? If I could have a new try, I would have implemented the six steps to agility discussed below, and, as the results started showing, spread the word in the company to keep the company engaged.
1. Decide if Agile Is Right for Your Organization
First of all, I should have been more convinced that agile was the right thing for this particular company.The agile mentor is one tool for building up this knowledge if you are not sure or need facts or success stories to support your approach. The mentor can help you build confidence in your agile practices. Note that we differentiate the agile mentor from the agile coach. The coach is a part of the project who is initially 100 percent allocated to it in order to provide hands-on support. Over time, the coach reduces his allocation to zero when the processes get easier as the team gets better; ideally, the team members should become mentors. Agile consultants may have problems reducing their presence, but doing so shows they are true agile coaches.
The agile mentor, on the other hand, is the person you can tell everything to and no one should care about him except you. The mentor builds up your confidence as an agile manager and helps you take small agile steps toward your self-organized team and your new role as an agile manager. You must be open to advice from your mentor, who has no stakes in your organization. I suggest you have her sign a non-disclosure agreement, because you will be telling her all of your business secrets.
Regarding my own predicament, I should have gotten an agile mentor early on in the project. I also should have tried harder to convince management that we needed to adopt agile and stood up for our low velocity at the board meetings. Now, a year later, my agile mentor told me we were way ahead of our competitors in agile adoption, but for me it was too late.
2. Get Managers’ Buy-in with Data
When I gained confidence, I should have knocked on my managers’ doors in an attempt to get their buy-in with facts and figures. The State of Agile Development Survey 2010 (VersionOne) states that the top two reasons for companies not fully adopting agile methods are: “management opposed to change” and “loss of management control.” This sums it up well, and we can only hope that as managers, we dare to be pioneers who see the benefits from being agile managers who build up the team over time. Your company must embrace the agile stuff as an investment in sustainable human capital, as well as have a long-term plan to address this opportunity.