8 ways to “go agile” without an “Agile Transformation”

Many organisation are embarking on an “Agile Transformation” nowadays. Given the necessarily co-operative and collaborative nature of bringing valuable software products to market, an “Agile Transformation” only makes sense if it is ultimately about transforming your whole business to be more agile (i.e. being focused on early and often customer value and collaboration, quicker to market, more responsive to changing circumstances, etc.).

Why? Because if it is about just one team, group of teams or department (even I.T.), it is a fool’s errand (because, in theory of constraints parlance, it is a local optimisation). No single team changing the way they work and think can improve the manner in which the organisation delivers value to customers, nor create any sustainable business benefits from doing so. Even if such a team is fully cross-functional and has complete autonomy from both a capability and prioritisation/scheduling point of view to continuously deliver value to their customers, the mechanics and culture of the organisation around them will need to evolve to one which supports such a team and delivery model. Achieving this is no mean feat.

For that reason, an Agile Transformation is often a huge, costly undertaking, which might take years to truly succeed in any tangible way, if ever. It is thus worth considering — do you want an Agile Transformation, or do you want a daily focus on the things agile is about? If it’s the latter, with a will and a way, you can start today!

Here are 8 simple ways you can “go agile”, today:

  1. Change your language
    Change the questions you ask in current meetings/conversations. An agile thinker continually asks “What’s the simplest/quickest way to get value to the customer?” Are you asking that question on a daily basis? If not, there’s your first step.
  2. Collaborate, with a focus on customer
    Find someone like-minded who might want to work a problem with you from the customer’s perspective, e.g. “How might we accomplish this story in such a way that the feature is easy to delete/change if required, won’t break anything else, and we get value to the customer (or learn something about what we’re building) sooner?
  3. Visualise process
    Start to map out where the bottlenecks are in your team’s current process. Visualise all known steps, and see where queues form. Reducing queues will increase the speed of value delivered to the customer and the business. Tell folks you’re doing this, and why.
  4. Add feedback loops to meetings
    Spend 2 minutes at the end of every meeting to asks attendees “What would you improve about this meeting?” (of course, if you’re not the one running the meeting, first ask that person if it is OK). Change the next meeting based on this feedback (or share the feedback with the person running the next meeting).
  5. Frame deliverables as capabilities
    In planning/refinement events, frame all stories/work items as capabilities (or ask that they are done so), i.e. WHO benefits from implementing this work item, WHAT is the capability we are looking to give them and WHY is it beneficial. This helps greatly in prioritisation and slicing/splitting. Narrow down the WHO and WHAT to determine thin slices of incremental customer value.
  6. Check you’re working on the right thing
    Grab the CEO, or another senior stakeholder, as they walk past your desk and show them what you are doing. Ask them “is this what you would expect me to be working on?” Executives often think “slowness” is an execution problem, when in fact it is in many cases a prioritisation one. If they see you have been asked to work on something which is not of the highest business value, they will likely want to understand more about the process, and start asking questions of product and portfolio managers.
  7. Regularly take time to improve yourself
    Take deliberate time each week (or day if it suits you better) to explicitly reflect on how YOU work (both individually and in the context of your team), and what YOU can do differently next week (or tomorrow) to work just a little bit more effectively (or help your team work just a little bit more effectively).

You can do all these things without changing anything about your current structure or process, and without a formal “Agile Transformation”.

You see folks, becoming agile isn’t about implementing “Agile” or any particular practice/process/framework. It’s about applying a thinking frame to your daily activities, and influencing from where you are. If you wait for others to do this, or for the particular phase of the Agile Transformation where that behaviour change is expected (if indeed that phase exists), it likely won’t happen, or at least not in the emergent, habit-forming manner which tends to stick.

Are you a business leader? Well, lucky number 8 is for you:

8. Consider doing 1–7 before you embark on an Agile transformation

If you want your teams “doing Agile”, the accountability you are putting on them is about process, practices and ceremonies.

If you want your teams doing the things I’ve listed above, you need to start living and breathing these behaviours yourself, consistently sending out the right messages, and putting accountability on teams (not just software teams — also marketing, sales, management, operations, etc.) for outcomes, not practices.

Ask questions of your teams like:

What did your team do this month to create value sooner for our customers?

and appending:

“Here’s what I did!”

That second bit is very important. You want to create an environment of “we/us”, all pointing toward a common vision, all equally accountable in our daily actions to get there.

Also, note the difference between “create value sooner” and “get your work done sooner” — if you don’t understand that difference, PLEASE don’t embark on an Agile Transformation until you do understand it, and believe the former is the right way to go.

Thanks for reading!
If you are looking for help with your software or product delivery, I provide agile coaching and training up to executive management level.
I also provide theory and practical training. Check my website for upcoming public training opportunities. I can also run these internally in your organisation for a massively reduced cost, so please get in touch.