Agile is an approach that companies must be prepared to live, breathe and consistently practise to realise the full value of the methodology. This means full buy-in and in most instances, a mind-shift across the entire organisation. Add the rapid pace of industry caused by the Digital Age, it’s easy to see why every organisation needs a software development workforce to stay up-to-date and competitive.
Traditional product development lifecycles just don’t cut it anymore. These processes can delay a great idea by 12 months, meaning your organisation quickly loses its position against it competitors.
The Agile methodology was designed to help organisations respond more efficiently in a dynamic market environment. But there are critical success factors to Agile. If you don’t adhere to these, then you’re probably not seeing the benefits and wondering what all the fuss is about.
How to do Agile right?
1. To do Agile ‘right’, requires the organisation to foster a culture of innovation. Agile creates a ‘start-up’ vibe, which inspires employees. It is widely understood that a great idea can come from any facet of a business, and most certainly from any employee. Challenging the status quo is a characteristic that is at the heart of Agile. An organisation that encourages its employees to constantly challenge the status quo is going to inspire innovative thinking as part of its culture.
2. The team structure is critical. It’s the responsibility of the product owner in an Agile squad to ensure that the right people are in the right seat. A squad normally comprises of the following roles:
• Product owner
• Scrum master
• Technical lead
• Squad members (developers, designers, testers, data analysts and analysts)
The squad should then be supported by a scrum coach, engineering coach, and people coach. Coaches may seem like an unnecessary second layer but the coaches are essential. They are there to support, guide, and teach the tools and principles for successful Agile implementation. Without them, your squad will not have the benefit of previous experience.
3. Provide plenty of training. The dynamic nature of Agile means that teams must be constantly learning, evolving and adapting. Teams need a vast array of skills and experience to deliver on an Agile project. It is important to equip the squad with the necessary skills and knowledge to make the correct calls.
Why Agile goes wrong?
There are several reasons Agile in organisations fails before it gets going. Often it is the lack of simple but essential team features.
1. Autonomy. The product owner doesn’t allow or encourage autonomy in the squad. The squad must be encouraged to make decisions and consequently take ownership. Only when people feel a sense of ownership can they have the greatest impact on a project.
2. The scrum master must sustain performance. When scrum masters don’t drive performance, or demonstrate any creativity to improve team dynamics, communication breaks down and this ultimately breaks the quality and culture in the squad.
3. Compiling a team with the wrong skills. In a bid to get an Agile team in place, corporates often compile a squad without the right complement of skills and expertise. The result is that the team falls back into its old habits.
4. The product must be designed, spec’d and estimated before it is passed to the Agile squad to build. Thereby fitting a waterfall project into an Agile development drive train, but not allowing Agile methodology to build the product as you go.
How to start Agile in a corporate?
A top-down approach is always the best place to start. No doubt that buy-in from executives and senior management really help to cement a new approach.
Hire smart. Ensure you have the correct people with the correct skills on the team. Importantly, make sure you have a Scrum master who can keep the team running on a solid, even, and efficient pace. This person must be the heartbeat of the team.
Start with a fresh project with minimal dependencies. This will allow you to experience the strength of doing Agile ‘right’, and doing it right first time will give you a solid base for your next Agile project.
Don’t forget to look after your people. The environment, having the right tools for the job – and plenty of coffee - all play a big part. The team must be exceptionally cohesive.
Finally, be committed to the process. The ship turns slowly at first, but keep it turning and your business will find a pace that will allow it to be more dynamic than its competitors.