Insights into Agile Transformation Success, Part 2

Agility at the Product, Delivery & Execution Levels

Contributors: Mike Dwyer and Richard Lowery

SolutionsIQ is passionate about helping enterprises successfully kick off and execute large-scale Agile Transformations. In our first blog article on this topic, we introduced our five-dimension model for setting up an Agile Transformation for success, and we looked into the first two dimensions: Leadership and Organization. In this continuation of that discussion, we’d like to iterate on this a bit further with the remaining three dimensions of a successful Agile Transformation: Product, Delivery and Execution.

Product

We have observed a direct correlation between the level of investment in the Product Owner role and the overall degree of success in achieving the desired outcome of an Agile Transformation. The correlation between product ownership and Agile product management, however, is not one-to-one, as traditional product and portfolio management roles change in an Agile enterprise. In our findings, enterprises that invest heavily in product ownership and product management skill sets tend to have the most enduring and pervasive success with Agile Transformation. In particular, Product Owners champion the new Scrum roles of the teams they support, which includes embracing the responsibilities of their own role. Some POs also invest in training and coaching people to be successful in their new roles. A solid product ownership foundation is critical because only by getting the basics down can the enterprise unlock certain higher-order capabilities, including portfolio management, product vision and product roadmaps.

These product management best practices are crucial because in many organizations the people fulfilling the Product Owner role have no formal training or background in classic product management. Focusing on creating a clear, effective working relationship between product ownership and product management is another indicator of success for Agile transformation.

Delivery

Delivery focuses on the practices and processes of teams and groups of teams delivering a project, program, or product. This includes how well individual teams and sets of teams are using Agile frameworks like Scrum and Kanban, how Lean is being applied to other aspects of value streams, and the enterprise’s success with Agile scaling patterns and frameworks like LeSS and SAFe.

In our findings, the enterprises succeeding in their Agile transformation pay much attention to getting the core Agile foundations right from the start. This is critical given that key success indicators such as release planning and scaling patterns are all built on top of solid foundations of Agile-Lean knowledge of Scrum, Kanban, and XP. Enterprises that have lasting success with Agile Transformation typically have a small army of highly effective ScrumMasters who are evangelizing both the core foundations of the frameworks as well as the overall goals for that enterprise’s Agile transformation.

It is critical to focus heavily on the Agile Foundations at the team level.  Many enterprises will first introduce Agile coaching at the team level in a pilot program so they can first understand the sets of impediments that are likely to prevent team success. Then when that is understood clearly and the team starts to see change in the right direction, the organization can build upon this success with a much broader team coaching plan. Eventually the enterprise can build in a scaling solution that will allow the organization to have deliver quickly and responsively on a large scale.

One company we recently worked with showed a lot of capability at the Delivery layer and can serve as a model for other organizations to emulate.  The company came to the realization that it was critical to invest in foundational Agile training for teams. They decided to offer Agile coaching for teams and to create a cadre of highly effective ScrumMasters.  In addition, they had dedicated teams with focus and little to no context switching.  These investments in laying down a firm Agile foundation and developing competent Agile teams allows them to execute multi-team release planning events today with a high degree of effectiveness and predictability.

Execution

For every company that has had success with the Delivery side of an Agile transformation, there are just as many who aren’t seeing that success because they haven’t made the commitment to transform into a modern Agile software development shop. This is why we put so much emphasis on technical execution in our Agile transformation strategy. Simply put, Execution is what enables the enterprise to see faster delivery cycles, higher quality with fewer (if any) defects, etc. Other benefits seen include a higher degree of innovation, higher collaboration and transparency, and more dependable delivery estimations. The technical practices that yield these results stem mainly from Extreme Programming (XP), including test-driven development with test automation, refactoring, code smells and technical debt remediation.

In our findings, the organizations investing heavily in test automation are having large-scale success with Agile. They also ensure that:

  • Software engineering best practices such as unit testing are being used all the time.
  • Technical debt is being tracked and time is set aside to remediate this debt.
  • Delivery progress is transparent and radiated to all stakeholders.

Clients seeing the most success have also made investing in their software development and testing environments a priority. In the future, through such an investment, they will be able to use higher-order modern software engineering practices such as Unit Test Driven Development, Acceptance Test Driven Development (ATDD), pair programming, mob programming, and self-organized cross-functional teams. These high-performance practices are made possible directly and indirectly from transformative changes at the organizational and leadership levels. A higher expectation of peer involvement, knowledge sharing and collaboration within teams is a key element of Agile transformation, which gives rise to an improved sense of community that expands well beyond the development teams.

Summary

Looking back on 2016, SolutionsIQ continues to be thrilled by how many of our clients have achieved enduring and pervasive success with their Agile transformations. Very little of that success was pure luck. In every example of success, there was a deliberate and focused strategy for how to establish and execute the transformation to Agile. To this end, we have identified five key dimensions in a successful Agile Transformation strategy: Leadership, the overall Organization, Product and Business, Delivery and Execution. Enterprises that are succeeding in their Agile transformation are putting emphasis on these areas as follows:

 

If your enterprise is about to start your own Agile Transformation in 2017, or you’re concerned that you have not been realizing the long-lasting success you had originally hoped for from your Agile Transformation, consider replicating some of these success patterns as part of your overall strategy and roadmap.

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