March 3, 2016

7 Essential Changes to Transform Your Waterfall Organisation to Agile

We have previously discussed how to gently introduce Agile techniques to your Waterfall organization. Sprints, daily stand-ups and retrospectives are part of everyone’s vocabulary, and your team have observed first hand the benefits of Agile. Now you and your team want more, and you’re ready to take the big leap.

If you are asking “How do we become an entirely Agile company?”, I will answer your question in this blog. Before we do that, however, let’s understand what Transformation is, and whether Transformation is what you’re after.

Transformation vs Adoption

When you adopt a change, you introduce the change on piecemeal basis to the teams that make up an organization. You introduce Agile practices to one or a few teams at a time, and gradually build momentum as more teams embrace the change. Slowly and steadily, the entire organization goes Agile, adopting structural changes along the way.

Agile Adoption usually takes a significant amount of time

The amount of time directly correlates to the size of your organization. The bigger your organization, longer it will take to get everyone on board. And sometimes, Adoption is the best first step for a big company. If you have introduced Agile techniques incrementally to your organization, you are already adopting Agile practices.

Agile Transformation is a different beast

The best analogy being the Big Bang Theory of how the universe was formed. As with the Big Bang Theory, Transformation brings sweeping change to the entire organization. This sweep brings with it significant structural changes that at once provide tons of new opportunities and take everyone out of their comfort zones (which is a very good thing).

Agile Transformation refers to a scenario where overnight, the organization sheds waterfall and embraces Agile. The change impacts every team in the organization, and from the lowest to highest levels. Teams and processes need to learn to work in the new environment almost immediately. This type of change brings with it surprise and shock: some teams will see an overnight increase in productivity and wonder why they didn’t do Agile before, others will suffer initial setbacks as the change brought them more pain than they anticipated.

Transformation needs to be carefully planned

Despite the connotation that ‘planning’ brings, it’s important to understand any organization – big or small, needs to brace for the impact that sweeping changes bring. More often, it is hard to foresee everything that could go wrong when undertaking Transformation; it is, however, possible to prepare adequately.

Why is preparation necessary?

To conduct business as usual, of course. Your customers don’t care if Transformation will bring more benefits to them faster than they have seen in the past. They want to be able to log on to your app and conduct their usual business. Your regulators need you to adhere to laws and regulations by letter and spirit – no matter what. Your suppliers need to be paid – if you want to stay in business.

Transformation, therefore, needs to be a well thought-through decision. You need to initiate robust planning and mitigation of risks involved, with enough redundancy built in. If all key stakeholders in your organization are bought in and working together to achieve Agile Transformation, it is possible.

And the benefits of Agile transformation can’t be stressed enough.

  • Your organization will become more – you guessed it – Agile.
  • You will see immediate improvement in productivity and delivery – it will take far lesser time to deliver products and services to customers.
  • Introducing new products or transforming current products will become significantly easier and quicker.
  • You will have the ability to deliver more product cycles per year; therefore, stay current in customers’ minds.

I can go on, but you get the point.

Whether you choose Agile Adoption or Agile Transformation, it’s good for you, your team and your organization. Transformation however, will help the company reap benefits of Agile faster and more fully.

Whatever your choice – Transformation or Adoption, before you can roll up your sleeves and get down to business, you need to consider five important aspects that drive the level of success you can achieve.

#1 Training

Any change requires those it impacts to get some training. Training familiarizes everyone with the change conceptually, to put in to practice. Agile is no different.

Training is therefore integral to Agile Transformation. The question is, how do you approach it?

Public wisdom says Agile training needs to be just that – Agile. Let us look at the science behind that.

Classroom Training

It’s tempting to ignore classroom training and justify it as not keeping with agile. The classroom, however, does have its place. A training strategy that ensures everyone receives adequate classroom training, and intersperses classroom sessions with real-life project work and hands-on coaching, will speed up internalization of learning and dramatically improve results.

Begin with Train the Trainer sessions, identifying Agile champions in each team. Get them trained on core Agile principles.

Crunch the numbers – does it make sense to outsource training or get Agile champions/coaches certified and capable of delivering training internally? For bigger firms, training is a substantial expense so find a solution that works for your situation.

Ideally, members of a project team should attend training together, simultaneously kicking off new projects. A sample training calendar could look like this:

Day 1:

  • Introduction to Agile practices (3 hours)
  • Real-life Project Initiation with Agile Coaches and mentors facilitating (4 hours)

Day 2:

  • Introduction to Product Backlog and Agile requirements concepts (3 hours)
  • Product Backlog definition for the Project initiated on Day 1 (4 hours)

Day 3:

  • Introduction to Release and Sprint Backlog, and Planning (2 hours)
  • Release and Sprint Planning for the Project initiated on Day 1 (5 hours)

Note that the idea is to introduce key concepts and provide for enough real-world project work to help internalize.

#2 Continuous Learning and Improvement

Recruit Agile Coaches. Period.

Ok – it’s not simple as that. Agile Coaches bring deep knowledge and experience in Agile practices, and can help mentor teams on a day-to-day basis.

Embed Agile coaches in the organization’s delivery teams – with each coach typically facilitating multiple scrum teams each. With coaches around to oversee multiple teams and deliver professional training, your training costs can be rationalized. This helps infuse training into day-to-day delivery, enabling continuous learning and immediate real-life application.

The market for Agile Coaches is mature, so finding some for your team should be straightforward. In the long term, consider upskilling in-house champions into coaches.

#3 Commitment

Agile has been around long enough to build a repository of success stories. And failures too – however difficult that may be to accept. Committing to Agile Transformation isn’t easy – especially if you’re not a young company, or a small company. And you will discover that sticking with the commitment isn’t painless either.

Transformation means doing away with long-held behaviors, practices and processes – however comfortable, critical, indispensable they may seem. In my experience, there is no process that can’t be improved. You have to do away with the remnants of Waterfall processes that are still hanging on to the windows, corridors and ceilings in your organization. Where it is a necessary evil, tweak indispensable processes to suit Agile ways of working.

Across the organization, slow down delivery (cut down targets) for the first few months. This will allow teams to cope with the new ways of working, and yet work to high quality standards. Review every scrum team’s velocity at a scrum-level, allowing them to gradually take on more and more as they get used to Agile delivery.

A dip in productivity may ensue in the initial months as everyone gets familiar with Agile. However, the overall velocity for your organization should see an upward trend at the end of a quarter – and will only get better. A couple of quarters in, you should see Agile delivery overtake past Waterfall performance comfortably.

#4 Structural Changes

Good Transformation generates positive disruption. Disruption implies – to some extent – displacement.

Take for example, an IT organization that organizes its delivery teams into channels (Mobile, Browser, Telephony), CRM and core verticals (for simplicity’s sake, let’s ignore other teams). For any change to a product, a delivery team needs to initiate 3 corresponding changes – to channels, CRM and core. Each team have their own processes and procedures, and different ways to manage demand and supply. Agile transformation in this case, could involve re-organizing the delivery teams from silos into multiple self-contained scrum teams that can deliver all channels, CRM and core work necessary, and give each scrum team the ability to deliver a project end-to-end. This means distributing each skill to each scrum team, and re-skilling or multi-skilling where there is shortage or surplus.

Such transformation will bring standard processes, procedures and demand and supply management practices to the entire organization. It will also mean people at all levels will find themselves doing things differently, or doing different things, or doing nothing. For instance, an IT colleague of mine once reported to a boss who had only one direct report – guess who? When transformation happened, the boss naturally represented an unnecessary layer that needed weeding out.

For those that have nothing to do, it is not the end of the road – we need to find them meaningful roles in the new order. Often, having nothing to do at the end of a transformation means you are ready for something entirely new and exciting – there are many many examples of people finding challenging, rewarding and fulfilling careers at crossroads such as these.

#5 Re-draw your planning efforts

Monolithic organizations perform annual budgeting and prioritization well before the beginning of a year, not allowing much flexibility for unforeseen opportunities or problems. I have yet to see a plan that has in reality delivered any more than 50% of original targets. The quantum of effort and money poured into planning can instead be saved by switching to Agile planning practices.

For example, you could have quarterly high-level planning cycles that identify top X priorities for the organization, with mandatory projects kicking off scrums straightaway. When done right, quarterly cycles should yield quarterly (or thereabouts) results. This is especially helpful for Digital organizations whose industry landscape changes constantly. Supplement quarterly cycles with monthly reviews. And with the right tool set, reporting and reviews can be almost 100% automated, and decimate spreadsheet management as we know it.

Any necessary evils like regulatory reporting can still be achieved with agile practices; and shareholders will understand when you show them how an Agile organization will ultimately improve bottom line.

#6 Communication and culture

Eliminate email – well, almost. When I was helping a senior leader in an IT company with 10000+ employees improve his department’s productivity, I happened to prod how much time his developers spent actually developing. We deployed a tool to a sample set of developers’ PCs that tracked where they spent their time the most. To everyone’s consternation, we discovered that a developer on average spent 80% of their time on email! We improved productivity 4-fold by simply forbidding any developer from using email to discuss their project. Instead, they began using Agile boards to discuss and log, in the process also creating a repository of valuable, cross-referenced artefacts.

Encourage open communication among teams – nothing should be out-of-bounds for everyone in the team, and any confidential discussions should be handled by exception through other channels like email, instead of the other way round. Slack is a good example of a team-communication tool that encourages open collaboration.

Build Agile rituals like the daily stand-up or scrum meeting, sprint planning etc. into everyone’s work lives and vocabulary. Forget ‘team meetings’ and ‘townhalls’.

#7 Choosing the right tools

Finally, the right tools will complement your efforts in Agile Transformation. Planning, reporting, delivery and communication can all become infinitely easier with the right tool suite. We use our own ReQtest software for Software Testing, Bug Tracking and Requirements Management. We also provide an integrated Agile board to facilitate collaboration and reporting.

ReQtest software also offer simple integration into the likes of JIRA, as well as enable you to easily migrate your projects on to our platform. And many of our customers have immensely benefitted from switching to the ReQtest suite when adopting or transforming themselves into agile workplaces.

In today’s rapidly changing environment, you cannot possibly survive when stuck in twentieth-century, waterfall-oriented, plan-dictated organizations. Your organization’s Agility in adapting to the winds of change will directly influence its continued success. Now is the time to untether yourself and your company from the past, and step into the future – by going Agile.

As always, don’t approach the decision to Agile Transformation lightly – carefully consider your company’s culture and tolerance for such a significant step change, as well as your line of business, customers and regulatory environment. To reiterate, when you are shifting your company culture from Waterfall (Plan-driven) to Agile (Results-driven) development, you need to consider five important aspects of the change:

  1. Training,
  2. Commitment,
  3. Structural Changes,
  4. Communication and Culture, and
  5. Right Tool set.

Working through these considerations will help you choose whether Agile Adoption or Transformation is right for your team’s success. Remember – whatever option you choose you will do better than you are. Now roll up your sleeves – the winds of change are calling!

Have you witnessed your company embarking on Agile Transformation or Adoption? What are your experiences of the process? Share your experiences and comments below.

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