Recipe for Agile Sustainability - Don't Forget Process Irreversibility

Posted on 12/11/2008 by Rajeev Singh

So, you adopted Agile in the past. It was also a success by your yardstick. Sustaining Agile transformation, however, has proven out to be a challenge. There's also challenges with scalability.
It's not an unusual challenge. As with any change process, Agile transformation requires checks and balances with an eye on building process irreversibility. Only then would I consider an Agile transformation/adoption to be really successful.
Balanced Teams
Amongst the building blocks of Agility are Teams. An often overlooked component of teams are people and their inclinations. There's often members in Agile teams that are of traditionalist persuasion (some of my colleagues call them Skeptics, although I disagree with the term). They can't be convinced and changed despite overwhelming evidence (which distinguishes them from Skeptics); that's what makes them traditionalist in the first place. The idea is to balance the Agile teams out with Generative Thinkers - those who can model their business and processes with innovative practices.
Balancing teams out is the first step towards process irreversibility. Some other steps are:
  • Individual Retrospection: In one form or the other a question I often encounter is, "What'd you focus on in a team that is already Agile?" Individual Retrospection is always top on my list and is an offshoot of sustainable pace. It is not the same as team retrospectives. If a team has a sustainable pace, its members will have time think about what they are doing and how they can improve it. Individual retrospection is highly undervalued in the industry and often has a negative connotation. Traditionalists interpret it as underutilization of resources. It is considered elitist and a privilege of managers.
  • Meeting Facilitation Training: Sliding back into old ways of doing things is common. Teams often loose steam which results in bad behavior creeping back in. Meetings are the first to suffer. Lack of attendance, lack of focus, too many meetings, and a general confusion about the objectives of meetings are some of the first signs of old ways creeping back in. Team members trained in meeting facilitation skills and techniques prevent this backsliding.
  • Metrics and Reports: As in any change management system, there's got to be reason why Agile was considered. Those reasons should be tracked using some metrics by the management. Agile also recommends some metrics that should always be tracked, even if they were not on management's radar. Success of Agile adoption should be measured by these metrics and nothing more and these should form the Agile Dashboard by which business should be run.
  • Agile Evaluations: A good management practice associated with Agile rollouts is periodic Agile evaluations. The focus of the such an evaluation is on different aspects of Agility, e.g. Responsiveness, Simplicity, Configuration Management, and many more. .
  • From Flavor of the Month to Business As Usual: The more seasoned a team member is the more compelling it is for them to continue being who they are and to follow practices that have made them successful. There's quite a few other team members who want to be like these successful Einsteins. Emulating their stances is only natural for the less experienced. That's the DNA of a corporate culture. Convincing the Einsteins that Agile is not a flavor of the month but here to stay and soon to become a norm, is paramount. This message should be loud and clear.
Agile allows team members to participate and control their course. At the same time it requires discipline. There's no magic in Agile that makes it ceaseless, unless process irreversibility is intentionally designed for its adoption.

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