Thoughts on Agile Transformations

In a recent post at InfoQ, Mike Bria reports on two recent articles by Johanna Rothman which discuss best practices for agile implementation. The right way to go about an agile transformation is a controversial subject, in which some agile practitioners advocate an “all-in” approach to adoption and other recommend a “toe-dipping” strategy. According to Rothman, both approaches are valid, but what matters is the context in which these approaches are applied. Rothman recommends that an “all-in” approach is appropriate, but only at the project level. Similarly, she believes that “toe-dipping” is also a good idea, but, again, only at the organizational level.

This is consistent with other literature IÂ’ve read on the subject. And, at least for those who know agile and Scrum well, an understandable piece of advice. After all, by beginning an agile transformation with a by-the-book implementation at the project level, the organization can expand its installation in an incremental and iterative fashion. (Sound familiar?) That is, this method actually harnesses agileÂ’s most important principles to provide a framework for expanding it throughout an organization. For example, just as agile does not require development teams to identify all requirements of a project at the outset, an isolated deployment of agile functions like a pilot, allowing the team to observe impediments and collect requirements (and best practices) as the team makes its way through its initial sprints. Once this pilot team feels it has a strong understanding of project management with agile and has amassed some best practices, itÂ’s time for the organization to take the next step in an incremental rollout and create a second agile project team.

Because agile represents such a significant shift in both how work is done and how teams conceive of work, implementing agile at the entire organization from the outset would likely result in disaster. Considering that the single biggest impediment to successful Scrum adoptions is cultural, beginning with a pilot team allows a supportive buzz to build throughout the organization that will lessen resistance when other teams are asked to adopt agile methods.