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The Six-Step Journey to Agile Transformation

Agile transformation changes the way organizations work and behave and thus help contribute towards sustainability and growth. This transformation aims at replacing traditional operation models with a new approach that makes organizations responsive to change. Now that the COVID-19 demands agility to continue operations, the agile transformation has become even more urgent.

Leading an organization-wide Agile transformation is not easy if you have been comfortable with traditional methodologies for long. It will mean change in running processes, people’s mindset, technology, and the organizational structure. These changes might be painstaking but will bring long term benefits for your organization.

Here’s everything you need to understand about Agile Transformation and how to drive your organization towards this much-needed change.

What is Agile Transformation?

Agile transformation is embracing change in the organization’s structure by applying the agile principles and the agile values that, in turn, introduce flexibility, speed, collaboration, communication, and cross-functional setups.

We can say that Agile transformation is achieved when individual team members naturally and consciously follow the values, principles, and Agile practices to complete the task at hand rather than being forced or told to follow a path.

It is a holistic-level transformation that changes your approach towards developing and delivering projects. It is mainly centered around achieving business agility.

It is both about doing Agile and being agile on a full swing.

Agile Adoption vs Agile Transformation

Organizations often confuse Agile adoption with Agile Transformation. Though they sound similar, they are entirely different from each other.

Adopting Agile implies adopting an Agile framework such as the agile-scrum and following the underlying process towards accomplishing the goal. It is more about embracing different Agile practices to enable process change and improvement.

Facts about Agile Adoption:

  • It does not take much time to implement, probably a week or less
  • The organization structure stays the same
  • Change in approach is limited to teams

Agile transformation, on the other hand, focuses on holistic change, i.e., embracing the Agile mindset and the processes followed to accomplish a task at hand. Agile transformation benefits originate both from doing Agile and being agile.

Facts about Agile transformation:

  • Can take years to accomplish
  • The organizational structure is rewired
  • Change in approach at the organizational level

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Agile Transformation vs Digital Transformation

An agile transformation strategy aims to enable and execute delivery functions across the entire organization—both business and IT—to adopt an ideal blend of lean principles and practices, thereby fostering engagement and collaboration.

One of the vital components of the Agile Development methodology is scrum. Scrum is a robust and structured framework for continuous delivery, primarily focused on a team-based agile transformation approach to deliver value.

Here’s the workflow of scrum:

Understanding the scrum workflow

Digital Transformation, on the other hand, aims at embracing emerging technologies to gain a competitive advantage. It demands a thorough understanding of modern customers’ needs to rethink the entire business model with a strategic digital mindset.

The emerging technologies that will define digital transformation initiatives now and in the future include:

Digital transformation trends for 2020 and beyond

50.7% of leaders expect to accelerate their technology spending to invest in digital transformation initiatives.Digital Transformation Report 2020, Net Solutions

Where digital transformation revolves around embracing emerging technologies, Agile transformation introduces the improved process to implement the technology. Both Agile transformation and digital transformation are equally essential to drive your organization towards growth.

What are the Major Agile Transformation Benefits?

When on the road to agile transformation and beyond, you’ll start to witness the smaller positive changes in the final outcomes. Here are some of the agile transformation benefits that you can count on:

  • Faster time to market, thus more flexibility in product delivery
  • Preventing project-running errors because of efficient collaboration between development and testing
  • Healthy organizational culture with much more independent and self-organizing employees
  • Ability to incorporate changes without disrupting the entire product development cycle
  • Synchronization and harmony among the product owner, the scrum master, and the development team

The Vital Stages of Agile Transformation

So, how do you start with the agile transformation? Here are some aspects of agile journey that you need to be aware of:

1. Embracing Agile Mindset and Understanding Roles and Responsibilities

For a full-swing Agile transformation, the first step should be addressing the organization’s existing siloed structures. Collaboration and communication are the pillars of Agile that should be given precedence to start with.

A leadership team should be appointed that carries the responsibility to coach their respective teams and influence them towards embracing change. It is all about embracing the agile mindset, i.e., self-organizing themselves to communicate and collaborate towards accomplishing a common goal.

51% of senior executives mention ‘Leadership Mandate’ as the reason which led to an increase in their organization’s level of agility over the past five years.

A significant part of Agile transformation also includes assigning roles and responsibilities to change the teams’ perspective. Here are some add-on tips to ensure a push towards the agile mindset is being made:

  • Running frequent meetings in the form of — standups, retrospectives, backlog refinements, etc.
  • Strong leadership should be in place to ensure that the new path is being followed, and no one sticks to the older ways of doing it. The leader needs to take on multiple roles and act as an enabler, a coach, a guide, and a catalyst
  • Set small, accomplishable goals and see closely how each of the team members performs. This can help in understanding the loopholes and creating strategies to fix them

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2. Agile Coaching

The second agile transformation step should be to appoint agile coaches to help spread awareness around the different agile frameworks and agile practices. Agile frameworks include — scrum, kanban, feature-driven development, crystal, etc.

On the other hand, having an understanding of standard Agile practices is equally important. Some of which include:

  • Retrospectives: Analyzing past projects to infer lessons learned during the course of product development
  • Sprints: Time-boxed period within which the development teams need to meet the pre-decided segments of the larger goal
  • User Stories and Epics: User stories in Agile imply the features covered in the product, and if the feature is large, i.e., a large user story, it is called epic.
  • Lead Time: The time spent between a requirement being raised and its fulfillment
  • Minimum Viable Product (MVP): This is the basic version of the product that is launched in the market. The MVP supports all the essential features that define the product or set it apart from the competition
  • Scrum Artifacts: The three scrum artifacts include — sprint backlog (list of tasks to be completed in a sprint), product backlog (new features or bug fixtures that need to be prioritized for following sprints), and burndown charts (work remaining in backlog)

In all, an agile coach will ensure that everyone learns the ropes of Agile Development and implements the underlying practices at a holistic level. The coaches are also responsible for introducing the DevOps culture that binds closely with Agile. The cultural shift brings automation to the forefront to break the silos between development and operations.

3. Introduce Agile Tooling Stack

As remote work setups are framing the new normal, the need to embrace Agile transformation has grown manifold. However, to enable constant communication and collaboration among distributed teams, digital transformation is equally essential.

Here are some examples of remote stack products that can help thrive when on the road to Agile transformation:

Remote Stack Products for Supporting Agile Transformation
Purpose
Tools

Short-term Communication

Slack, Microsoft Teams, Skype

Video Communication

Zoom, Google Meet, Loom

Large-File Sharing

Google Drive, Dropbox

Developer Tools

Jira, GitHub, Tuple

Designer Collaboration Tools

InVision, Figma, Marvel

Work Management Tools

ClickUp, Trello

Data Management Tools

Airtable, Notion

Virtual Collaboration

Freehand by InVision, Miro and Mural, Basecamp

4. Building an Agile Transformation Roadmap

For a successful transformation, knowing how to build an agile transformation roadmap is imperative. A roadmap will help you set up goals and objectives and corresponding milestones that lie on the way.
The elements of the Agile transformation roadmap will include:

Agile transformation roadmap

a. Establishing the End-Goal, i.e., the Vision

It is a good practice to know where your organization stands right now (technologically and culturally) and where you see yourself in the coming times.

This will help you set a vision and goals for the respective Agile transformation management. Here, your leadership skills come into play as you drive the teams safely towards transformation. Your vision will help guide the teams and have an understanding of the final achievable.

b. Timelines that lay down milestones and transformation achievable dates

Executives often ask, how long does an agile transformation take? Here’s an answer — the true transformation can take years to implement as it takes time to change how people think, perceive, and act. The ideal Agile transformation timeline should fall within 12-24 months.

You start by making the smaller changes in the organization’s culture and software development practices and slowly and gradually move towards the bigger goals.

The right way to accomplish this goal is to break larger goals into smaller achievable fragments so that they can be implemented in a shorter time frame.

c. Setting up the Cross-Functional Setup — Who Will Do What

This step of the roadmap aims to address functional silos and incorporate cross-functional setups where everyone is working collaboratively towards a common goal.

This is the biggest Agile transformation challenge as resistance to change to how teams have been working for years is evident.

However, assigning roles and setting up a cross-functional setup is the starting point towards the change. In this rewired setup, the designers, the architects, the developers, and the testers will work in tandem towards completing the task at hand.

Here’s how the cross-functional structure will look like compared to a siloed structure.

Siloed structure vs cross-functional setup in your organization

d. Define Objectives and Key Results (OKRs)

Laying down metrics for Agile transformation success should hold precedence as it helps track progress and rewire and reorganize approach if the expectations are not being met.

OKRs play a significant role here when moving on the road to Agile Transformation. It helps build a result-focused culture as it helps lay down objectives and the corresponding metrics that measure success (based on objectives). That is, getting clear of your end goal and measuring your progress on the way to ensure you do not go off track.

OKRs have helped lead us to 10x growth, many times over. — Larry Page, Google Co-Founder

There are two elements to OKRs, i.e.,

  • What do we want to do, i.e., the objectives (mostly qualitative)
  • The metrics that help track progress towards realizing the objectives (mostly quantitative)

Example of OKRs:

  • Objective: Ensure faster time to market
  • Key Results: Develop four user stories in a monthly sprint cycle, launch MVP in 90 days, WIP (Work in process) limit should be 6 (ideally — number of people in the team + 1)

High-level planning for incorporating Agile Coaching and consulting practices include:

  • Who will do what — assigning the Agile roles
  • Communication plan — for notifying all the teams about the progress status

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4. Embracing the Product Mindset over the Project Mindset

Preferring product mindset over project mindset is another essential part of embracing Agile transformation thoroughly. Traditionally, organizations work on the project mindset where they move on with the next project and forget it once they deliver the working software to the client.

This is not a value that Agile promotes and how project management should be like. Instead, to be tagged as an agile organization, embracing the product mindset should be considered — where continuous integration and continuous delivery are given precedence. Having a product mindset means that the Agile team continues to maintain and deliver value throughout the software’s lifetime.

Organizations are continuously moving towards the product-centric model, according to Gartner’s study.

5. Test and Learn

You have a cross-functional team where everyone knows who does what, they have a fair understanding of Agile ways, Agile tools are in place, and a roadmap is being followed and tracked. What next?
It is time to run some test sprints to ensure that everything works out well, identify the impediments, if any, and fix them. Here’s all that the testing phase should focus on:

Best Agile Practices
Parameter
Inference

Test Sprints

Running time-boxed sprint cycles that are characterized by a requirement that needs to be fulfilled

Daily Standups

Daily meetings for the Agile Development team where they discuss:

What they did yesterday

What are they planning to do today

Any roadblocks that they discovered

Retrospectives

Running meetings where the team revisits old projects to identify their mistakes and learn from them

Prioritizing Product Backlog

To put forward new feature requirements and changes to delivered feature and prioritize them accordingly

Setting WIP Limits

Restricting the number of items that can exist in a sprint

On completion of the sprint cycle, see how the entire process turns out to be. Identify impediments and any other shortcomings and rework your agile transformation strategy for improvement. Being truly Agile is not the goal here; instead, the focus is on practicing and learning.

6. Validating your Agile Status

While many organizations claim to have transformed entirely, many are still “Agile in Name Only.”

More than 90% of senior executives give high priority to becoming Agile, while less than 10% see their firm as currently highly Agile. — A survey by McKinsey & Deloitte

While you are on your road to Agile Transformation, do contemplate — are you moving in the right direction?

Here’s what a stalled agile transformation journey looks like:

You can identify Agile In Name Only (AINO) from real Agile by looking at these factors:

  • There is no ongoing communication with the end-users while transiting through the process of creating a product
  • The organization has no feedback and shipping cadence loops
  • Requirements are not precise at any phase of the Agile Software development process
  • The traditional development approach is still prevalent at some stage

If that is the case, rewire your Agile transformation strategy. Start with early-stage Agile, i.e., take baby steps towards the agile transformation approach. See how the small changes turn out and then slowly proceed towards making for the whole transformation.

Another way to manage the crisis is to seek agile transformation consulting to make meaningful and practical organization-wide changes.

Metrics for Measuring Agile Transformation Success

To have a genuinely accurate ROI, measure the benefits of agile using the following metrics at the start, mid-point, and end of the transformation.

  • Cycle Time: This is the time taken to turn a request or requirement into delivered business value (production)
  • Development Cycles: You can measure this by the time it takes from idea to solution and by how much the lead time has been shortened since the transition to Agile
  • Agile Maturity: It is the number of sprints consumed to deliver working and tested software products
  • Business Value: This metric showcases the number of user stories that the teams deliver over sprint cycles
  • Customer Satisfaction Rate: The agile maturity will lead to a positive impact on the customer with increased speed to market (reduced cycle time) and value delivery (early and continuous delivery of prioritized feature set)

Conclusion

Every organization should be ready to accept and implement change to survive the tough market competition. Agile transformation seems to be the appropriate first step that enables one to change their mindset and practices to accomplish their goals.

The focus should be on digital transformation and agile transformation— the two practices that will ensure a safe position for you in the market.

Start by embracing the agile mindset, consider Agile coaching, deploy Agile centric tools, build an Agile transformation roadmap, test and learn, and finally see how real are your transformation efforts. These six agile transformation stages will lead you one step closer to your goal.

Consistency is the key here. Worry less about the time it takes for the transformation.

Contact Net Solutions for creating product that will be a success

Arshpreet Kaur

About the Author

Arshpreet is a Lead Business Analyst at Net Solutions. She plays an indispensable role in providing top-notch analytical and resource management advice to businesses. Her well-rounded knowledge in engineering concepts and a certification as a Scrum Product Owner helps her handle multiple projects effectively while defining the product vision and delivering value to customers.

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