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Lessons Learned from Agile Transformations: Part 8

Eighth in a Fifteen Part Series

· Project Management,SDLC,Agile,Scrum,Chad Greenslade

By Chad Greenslade

I have often been asked about my lessons learned in delivering Agile transformations. Below is the eighth 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 8: Logistical Ground Rules & Assembling a Diverse Team

Ideally and if possible, you'll want to find a physical meeting space where team members can be co-located all the time. The team requires a space where they can all sit in close proximity to one another, and have room for collaboration. This is typically a large conference room, capable of supporting eight to twelve people, depending on the size of the team.

In today’s ever increasing virtual workforce environment, and the IT industry’s inherent predisposition for work to be completed remotely, many IT organizations have embraced the work-from-home model. There are now many effective collaboration tools on the market that eliminate the need for team members to physically sit in the same geographic location. While it can be highly effective for an initial agile team to be physically co-located while they are executing agile fundamentals for the first time, physical co-location of team members has proven to be not a “hard and fast” requirement. Many agile teams in industry today function as virtual teams only. Agile’s inherent frequent inspect and adapt cadence coupled with the evolution of online collaboration tools ensures the proper amount of management oversight is applied.

Probably the most difficult concept for any non-agile organization to embrace is the idea that agile team members are dedicated to the agile project 100% of their work day. In non-agile organizations, internal IT employees are typically spread very thin across many projects. Additionally, team members may have both development and production support responsibilities. This can lead to a culture in which projects are completed in a resource’s “spare time”, and project delivery work can suffer seemingly endless delays as resource labor is consumed by production support activities. There are countless studies illustrating knowledge worker productivity losses due to context switching. Furthermore, the reliability and predictability of agile performance metrics is compromised if resources are not dedicated full-time. You’ll need concrete metrics if you’re going to prove the success of your upcoming pilot project and effectively navigate the cultural and political headwinds you could face in the future. The bottom line is that if you want success both in your upcoming agile pilot project and the larger agile transformation initiative, the organization must make the human resource capital investment required for success. For an agile project and transformation program, this means that resources on the team perform only the team’s work. Outside influences and external demands on team member output drastically impact your team’s ability to make and deliver on commitments.

The agile team makes the magic happen. They deliver value to the organization. Strength is found in the diversity of your team. Just as you engaged stakeholders and supporters, you must engage team members in the same way. You’ll need input from many different perspectives and you’ll need to win-over certain key influencers in the organization. It is important to realize that your selected team members may be currently delivering value using a different methodology. Inclusion of these team members, for example, will provide valuable insight into current operations and help you successfully navigate internal cultural resistance.

Your selected team members should be a representative sample of your organization. If you only select team members who are already 100% on-board with the agile transformation, you’ll deny yourself the opportunity to win-over the nay-sayers. When you win-over someone who was skeptical and / or opposed to the agile transformation, they can become powerful allies who evangelize the concepts to their colleagues.

Your selected team members should also be a representative sample of the general attitudes found in any workplace setting. Including a representative sample of these attitudes will gain you advocates and accelerate the transformation. In an agile transformation initiative, you’ll typically encounter the following attitudes, listed in order of most difficult, to least difficult, to win-over:

  • People who hate change and avoid it at all costs
  • People that challenge any type of organizational change or initiative
  • People who are extremely knowledgeable in their field but are difficult to work with  
  • People who are extremely knowledgeable in their field and open to collaboration

Last but not least, and most importantly, you must select team members who have the technical skills to deliver business value. In a typical software development delivery process, you’ll typically find the high-level disciplines of software developers, database administrators, testers, and infrastructure personnel. Within specific disciplines, you’ll find specializations. For example, software developers may be skilled in some languages, but not others. Similarly, database administrators may be familiar with some relational database management systems, but not others. At this point, you’ll need to put in some forethought on your “pilot” project, which will be further discussed in Lesson 11.

You’ll benefit by creating a matrix of the above mentioned skills, attitudes, and backgrounds needed for your team. As you select team members, ensure you’re including adequate representation from every area in the matrix. Effectively mixing these variables ensures you win the influence you’ll need to realize your transformation goal.