Tips for Implementing Agile the Right Way

by | General, Leaders Lunch

There’s lots of buzz about agile — as well as plenty of misconceptions about what agile is and isn’t.

Agile offers a variety of benefits, from a better final product to improved collaboration, which has led many organizations to adopt an agile approach. But seeing those benefits requires a thoughtful implementation. Go about it the wrong way and you can end up turning people off.

Successfully implementing agile in a non-agile company was the topic of discussion at our latest Leaders Lunch on May 15, 2019. ProFocus President John Boone moderated the roundtable discussion of Portland-based PMO leaders.

Below, we’ve rounded up some of the valuable advice, best practices, and lessons learned shared during the one-hour discussion:

Best Practices for “Going Agile” in a Non-Agile Company

  • Streamline business stakeholder engagement. Involving business stakeholders is a core practice in the agile methodology. Make it easier by not requiring stakeholders to come to you. If the IT team is in a separate building from the managers, move IT team members to where the business stakeholder is instead.
  • Don’t be dogmatic. Agile is about ongoing, continuous improvement — it shouldn’t be a one-size-fits-all mandate. If you’re too dogmatic in your agile implementation, you risk turning people off.
  • Get everyone on the same page about what agile is. Take time to explain clearly what agile means for your organization. For example, many people assume agile means getting rid of the traditional organization structure. Explain that it’s not about abandoning structure — just organizing into smaller packets.
  • Use waterfall when appropriate. Sometimes you just have to hammer out some projects. Waterfall development can help you get it done.
  • Use storytelling. “Social proof” is a powerful tool. Share stories of other business stakeholders in your company who got great results from the agile process.
  • Get a product owner. If the business owner doesn’t have time to be the product owner, convince them to hire or assign one.
  • Help business stakeholders use agile in their own business activities. This will make them more willing to work with agile methods for their IT projects.
  • What keeps your stakeholders up at night? Find out — then share how agile can help prevent those problems.
  • Get managers on your side. Let managers know that they will get to see more regular progress, get more input in the project, have more flexibility to change their project over time, and have higher success on projects.
  • Work with your business partner. Find out their availability, what team members they have who can get involved, what they need, and how you can work together. Then recommend a project strategy that uses waterfall or agile or whatever is needed to best get the work done.
  • Don’t wait to start. It’s OK to start a project with waterfall and transition to agile later.
  • Avoid top-down mandates from the IT department. This would require all IT team members to inform business stakeholders that “we’re now doing agile” on all projects. It’s better to lead the business side into it slowly over time.
  • Don’t call it agile to business stakeholders. Keep the wording in business terms instead of using a lot of agile terminology.
  • Get value to the business stakeholder quickly. Put some quick deliverables in the first sprint. Get them done and on time for an early win.
  • Start small. A great place to start from scratch with agile is to have a daily standup meeting.
  • Sell it well and then deliver. Success in promoting agile in your organization is about relationships and communication.

6 Agile Implementation Challenges to Overcome

  1. Misinformation. There are a lot of misconceptions about Agile. Getting everyone on the same page about what Agile really is, and what it means for your organization is key.
  2. History. “We tried it and it didn’t work.” A failed Agile adoption can leave a bad taste. Have a plan for addressing this. What will you be doing differently?
  3. Change is hard. Agile changes things from a project with a start, middle, and end to a product management mentality. This is a big shift and it can be hard to make. That said, change is inevitable and embracing it is a core principle of agile.
  4. Management style mismatch. At a certain point, middle managers may assert a “command and control which can mess up agile processes. If command and control is your organization’s preferred management style, agile adoption could be tricky. As stated above, communication and bringing managers and stakeholders to your side over time is crucial.
  5. There is a time commitment. You are asking the business stakeholder to set aside time and to change their tools and their daily work patterns. Helping them see the value (deliver a quick win!) can make the initial effort worth it.
  6. Managing expectations. The expectation from the business side is to want X result and expect IT to “go make it happen and let me know when its done.” You may need to outline how the agile process differs.

Recommended Resources

If you are a PMO leader and would like to be involved in future roundtable discussions like the one above, please send an email to [email protected] with a request to be invited to upcoming Leaders Lunches.

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