Agile transformation, its unanticipated impact on management and how to understand it

Many organisations are still developing software using lists of requirements with teams working in silos, and only producing occasional releases. However there is a better way simply called ‘Agile’, this is not a prescriptive approach and is certainly not just for developers.

Agile can significantly improve delivery of business value however it’s defined in your situation. And Agile is certainly a prerequisite of any digital transformation.

Adoption of Agile is now mainstream superseding traditional methods, however poor implementations of Agile due to a lack of understanding are very common. One particular aspect that is often misunderstood is the impact that Agile has on the organisation as a whole. Unfortunately Agile is often viewed as just another development method, however the transformation only really succeeds if management is transformed too: ‘Agile management’. Indeed this may be where the greatest value is added.

  • Higher management is aware that it needs to be Agile in order to be more responsive to customers and other stakeholders. They also want improved productivity and reliability
  • Developers understand that it’s more effective to develop quality software than spend time maintaining that resulting from poor quality. And working together rather than waiting for hand-overs from colleagues in other silos

It’s those in the middle who are responsible for managing development who need to be engaged. Not merely with Powerpoint presentations, and possibly Agile games, to explain how the developers will be working in future, but as a valuable part of the transformation otherwise the major benefits of the Agile transformation will be lost. They need to work differently in order to move from the ‘Iron triangle’ of cost, time & scope and upfront long term planning and budgeting to smaller batches, variable scope and frequent re-planning. Agile Portfolio management can add significant value to the business by becoming far more dynamic.

A new way of thinking is required that is appropriate to the complex world of software rather than the (merely) complicated world of construction and manufacturing. Unfortunately it has taken many years for this understanding to be accepted in the IT world. The traditional controls may seem obvious however in a complex situation they can often have the opposite effect to that intended. This  transformation may well entail roles being changed to match the future needs, not just for the development team but management too.

The introduction of Agile puts a floodlight on current practices revealing concerns that would otherwise only manifest themselves much later and at much greater cost. This will prove to be frustrating but these concerns plus the opportunities and the discontinuities between traditional management and newly Agile developers need to be accepted and dealt with as early as possible in order to reduce risks and unnecessary expenditure.

Therefore a culture change is required with teams looking at options to find the best ways forward. And, as each organisation is unique, metrics specific to the organisation are required. This will enable progress to be measured and the way forward to be validated regularly.

To summarise Agile is the most appropriate way to handle most software situations, culture change needs to be a significant part of the Agile transformation and it requires a methodical but flexible customised approach. The change to Agile is not a one-off change but a journey to where the customer will be.

Were you aware of the impact that an Agile transformation has on management? Leave a reply below, or contact me by email.