How to start your own agile transformation in a large enterprise

In my last blog, I talked about the emphasis of large enterprise world toward lean agile software development methodologies. In addition, people are favouring “owning” their agile transformation rather than relying on external consultants to hand them one!

What does that mean to all those people out there still looking for help and answers on their quest for agile transformation, lost in the vast sea of enterprise IT? First and foremost, define your needs/challenges. What is the problem we try to solve? Defining the right problem has several advantages, one of which is easier to get management buy-in. Then get enough management support! This is another one of these crucial success factors. While it is possible in small organization for grass root agile movement to take hold, it is almost impossible to do so without management buy-in within a mid-large organization. You don’t necessarily to ask for “Agile” transformation, but ask for a chance to explore possible solutions to your needs/challenges in the first step. The next step is to find that guiding light. As with many other things, Google can be your friend or foe. You may decide to do the research yourself and start the transformation from the things you learned. Internet is full of resources on this, but information overload and misleading opinions also makes it very dangerous to place your bet on any literature you read online. As a sports enthusiast, I can assure you that the difference between learning any sport with or without coach is night and day. The top problem is that it is hard to unlearn bad habits. The time and money wasted on learning and then unlearn the bad habits is way more costly than paying for a good coach even before considering the damage done by the bad habits. So, getting someone to help you start the groundwork getting everything moving is the next critical step. Now, be aware of anyone or organization that promised the silver bullet solution. That doesn’t exist. Just like there is no magic herb that can treat all diseases, there is no one agile methodology or technique that can fit your organization right out of the box. If you have bought any COTS solution that supposed to work “out of box” for enterprise, they never do. Instead, look for someone with deep knowledge, patience, listening skills that can ask the right questions! As Peter Druker, father of management consulting, had proven time and time again, you hold the key to the true answer, consultants are just the torch to help you find the right door to open.

Hopefully, once the right help is found, you would have a great trip down the agile lane. But what happens when the Coach leaves, as they suppose to? I will follow up with my next blog.

Enterprise Agility – How far would you go?

One of the sessions in the Agile Coach Camp Canada 2014, in open space format, was on Scaled Agile Framework (SAFe). The session attracted many participants who works in large enterprises. The interesting thing is that rather than talking about the specific implementation and experiences people had with SAFe, the discussion went directly to whether SAFe is agile enough to be called an agile framework. The specific arguments are outside the scope of this blog. The main argument (my interpretation) against it though is that SAFe seems to put an iterative, but somewhat sequential and hierarchical structure around accepted agile methodologies like Scrum and Kanban. The main proponent (my interpretation again) for this framework feels that the current corporate structure and external environmental factors like regulation is a real hard constraint just like any other technical constraint that agilists have to work with. SAFe is a very attractive way of building enterprise agility with what we have. This is very interesting to me as I am currently consulting for a big bank in Canada. Does this provide a structured way to finally bring large enterprises across the chasm over to mainstream agile community?

Incidentally, I got involved in a passionate online debate on LinkedIn group Lean and Agile Software Development – “QA organization with agile teams”. The discussion started with a question on whether you need a QA Director role in an agile software development organization of decent size. The replies converged nicely into a qualified “no”. While the managerial oversight is an overkill, the need of a voice in support of quality and quality practices is there. The need to nurture and care for QA professionals in the team also exists. Whether these responsibilities become job of one or more and whether they have a title of Director are implementation details. However, the discussion spiraled into whether a flat network system is better than hierarchical structure. While no one favours a deep hierarchy, people with senior management responsibilities, myself included, think there is a scalability issue with network systems within enterprises or public companies.   Sooner or later, hierarchy will emerge to manage external interaction and inter-dependencies between networks.

This brings me back to the original discussion on SAFe. If the premise of flat network systems can become a reality than SAFe may not be the most agile framework that can be applied. However, is it possible for an enterprise to undergo such a drastic transformation even if you have years or decades? How far would you go to move your or your large enterprise client’s organization towards that direction?