By Chad Greenslade
I have often been asked about my lessons learned in delivering Agile transformations. Below is the first in a fifteen part series examining my lessons learned while instituting Agile concepts & practices. I hope that these lessons help you on your journey to Agile nirvana.
Lesson 1: Identify the Agile Sponsor & Champion
Before you start your Agile journey, you must identify a Sponsor or a “champion” from the ranks of the executive team. The Sponsor will be similar to the captain of a ship. You will work with this person to define the destination and ensure the “ship” (the Agile transformation effort) is on the right course. The sponsor will keep the larger executive team up-to-date on a regular basis.
In order to identify a Sponsor, you’ll want to find someone that is involved in several high-profile, important initiatives within the company. You’ll want someone who is approachable and understands the importance of relationship building. You’ll also want someone who is familiar with, and has influence over, gaining the funding you need to make the transformation. Finally, you’ll want someone who identifies the fact that the transformation you seek won’t happen without training the folks involved in the transformation and is willing to throw his / her support behind an Agile education initiative. Your Sponsor will be tasked with selling the need for proper training for both the teams executing the Agile practice and the executives consuming the Agile product.
Your Sponsor will be the organization’s representative for the transformation effort. You’ll want to work with this person to establish tenets of the transformation vision and clearly articulate why the organization is undertaking the initiative. The development of “talking points” and “elevator speeches” will be critical to effectively allay concerns of folks involved with, and affected by, the initiative.
The Sponsor will be the person that removes the “roadblocks” encountered during your journey. For this reason, it’s important to select a person who is comfortable with people at all levels of the organization. The Agile transformation team must be comfortable with sharing honest and open feedback with the Sponsor and requesting his or her assistance in accomplishing their objectives. Like any good leader, your Sponsor must possess active listening and follow-through skills in order for team members to feel heard. The Sponsor does not have to be a “technical” person but they should have a firm grasp of the delivery process. The Sponsor should be universally regarded as a leader throughout the organization and someone who has the influence, not necessarily the power, to get things done.
Lastly, it’s critical that the Sponsor have a firm grasp of the “big picture” and understand the cultural mindset shift that must occur. Prior organizational rewards mechanisms may need to be changed in order to properly incentivize people to make the changes necessary. It will be important to measure the transformation effort against established success criteria and publish successes, or setbacks, as required via development of necessary publication materials. Open recognition and publication of successes is critical to boosting team morale and enforcing the change that you need in order of the transformation effort to be successful.