Where to Begin Your Transition to Lean-Agile


Start Where You Can
The good news is that the transition does not require great organizational changes before seeing improvement. You can start where you are. Here are two effective and relatively painless approaches that we have used.

  • Limit work-in-process. Limiting the amount of work-in-process (WIP) in those places where people are clearly working on too many things. This naturally frees up the parts of the value stream that get clogged up and overwhelmed with work and, therefore, create delays. It will have a ripple effect to unblock the flow of development. It will not seem natural at first but this does work.
  • Make product managers your allies. If your company works on many large projects at the same time, you can enroll product managers into modifying the way they manage the portfolio of products. Not only will this focus the organization on building the right products, it will lower the amount of work that is almost certainly overwhelming development teams.

You have many more options available to you today than we had in the past for deciding where to start the transition to Lean-Agile. Increasingly, there are business leaders and management who recognize the need to become an agile organization. They may have been trained in Lean thinking. They have been exposed to the Toyota Production System and the Toyota Product Development System. They are more likely to see the need to develop strategic plans for the transition to Lean-Agile software product development. In our experience, involving leadership to create a top-down vision with a bottom-up implementation is always better. Developing this top-down/bottom-up approach requires careful, strategic thought. Consider using a coach who is experienced in working with senior leadership. Such a coach can bring to bear the experience of others to create a strategic plan that is likely to succeed and will have the proper business justification.

In your transition to Lean-Agile software development, it is critical to keep focused on the goal: Business agility. Creating more agile teams is good but only as it helps the entire value stream deliver product to customers more quickly and sustainably. Work on those changes that will produce the greatest results overall. This involves looking at all four of these critical areas:

  • Business
  • Management
  • Team agility
  • Technical skills

In an interview with Agile Collab, Ken Schwaber, co-founder of Scrum, said, “I estimate that 75% of those organizations using Scrum will not succeed in getting the benefits that they hope for from it.” Since Scrum implementations typically start with team agility—just one of the four critical areas – a one in four rate of success is not surprising. It often is a question of doing the wrong thing—not doing the right thing wrong. Keep the larger picture in mind and you will naturally enjoy greater success.

Note: This article is based on the Lean-Agile approach to software development described in Lean-Agile Software Development: Achieving Enterprise Agility (Shalloway, Beaver, Trott, 2009). 

About the Author
James R. Trott is an senior consultants for Net Objectives a global consulting/training firm focusing on corporate-wide lean-agile transitions. He has collaborated on several books including of Lean-Agile Software Development: Achieving Enterprise Agility , Design Patterns Explained: A New Perspective on Object-Oriented Design, and the Lean-Agile Pocket Guide for Scrum Teams.

About the author

About the author

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