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    June 24, 2015

    Organizational Culture Change

    As an Agile enthusiast, trainer and coach I’m pretty passionate about being Agile regardless of the specific framework being followed. In fact, my passion lies in the culture of being Agile, rather than a dogmatic adherence to a framework.

    Following a Framework

    A dogmatic approach to a framework may work well if you are a “.com”, start-up, or other application development shop. But, for those of us working with large corporations a dogmatic approach feels impossible. Here are a few of the reasons why:

    • Team members are not co-located
    • Teams are not developing software
    • Team members are not fungible
    • Teams cannot deliver anything fully functional at the end of a sprint (1 – 4 weeks)
    • Teams rely heavily on other teams to deliver components, and struggle with dependencies
    • Organizations have a legacy structure that doesn’t support being Agile
    • Organizations want the teams to be Agile, but they don’t want to change anything else

    I fully support adopting a framework, so don’t get me wrong. Organizations should try to adopt as much as possible of their chosen framework, and specifically note exceptions acknowledging deviations from a given framework. However, before the organization gets concerned about the framework they are trying to follow, I ask them to look at the Agile Manifesto and Twelve Principles. How much cultural change is the organization willing or able to accept in order to adopt a framework? As true agility requires both, a change to the new framework and a change in culture.

    Cultural Change
    When the “gurus” got together in Colorado, they not only defined the Scrum Framework, they created the Agile Manifesto, and Twelve Principles. These two items identify the Culture of Agile. To truly be Agile, organizations must work on the cultural change required regardless of the framework.

    From the Manifesto:
    Does your organization really put Individuals and Interactions over Processes and Tools?

    Carte blanche rules for processes and tools don’t always work for everyone within the organization. Some tailoring must be done to truly be effective. Marketing teams may not need to use the same story writing and management tools as Software Teams.

    Do they favor Working Software (Value Delivery) or Comprehensive Documentation?

    Note: For non-development teams, I prefer to consider what “value” the team is delivering as working software does not apply.

    This is not an excuse for skipping documentation all together.

    Does your environment allow for true Customer Collaboration over Contract Negotiation?

    Or do you have a hard time trying to figure out who is the recipient of the value you are delivering? A culture of “us versus them” may keep workers away from collaboration

    Does the organization Respond to Change over Following a Plan?

    Or are we all so worried about scope creep, we have a rigorous change policy? Or has the pendulum swung the other way, and you’re experiencing the “Chicken Little -sky is falling” scenario all the time?

    Acknowledging the Agile Manifesto and how an organization may adopt their culture to it, is one of the first steps to agility.

    Twelve Principles
    To be honest, I find the majority of teams I work with have no understanding of the 12 Principles of Agile. How can that be? Does leadership really believe a framework will work without other changes? Yes, it is hard. Yes, someone will always be unhappy. Welcome to the real world.  If you fail at adopting Agile, and you haven’t tried to change culturally, is it really Agile that doesn’t work? Are teams working to be Agile, while the rest or the organization continues with business as usual?

    Think of the simple scale from “Somewhat Agree to Somewhat Disagree”, and for each of the Principles score your organization.

    1. Our highest priority is to satisfy the customer through early and continuous delivery of valuable software. (or just value delivery)

    This allows our customers to see steady and ongoing progress towards are end goal.

    1. Welcome changing requirements, even late in development. Agile processes harness change for the customer’s competitive advantage.

    Changes of scope may have an impact, but we need to quit complaining about change.

    1. Deliver working software (value) frequently, from a couple of weeks to a couple of months, with a preference to the shorter timescale.

    Reduce risk, increase collaboration, break work down into small pieces, and get feedback after each delivery.

    1. Business people and developers must work together daily throughout the project.

    If the team doing the work has no access to the recipients of the value, are you playing the “telephone game” with requirements and feedback?

    1. Build projects around motivated individuals. Give them the environment and support they need, and trust them to get the job done.

    Agile teams are self-organizing, self-managed, and empowered to do what it takes to deliver quality value at regular intervals. If you’ve truly hired good people who want to do a good job, why micromanage them? Empower your folks, and see what happens. With any luck teams will learn to pick up the stick, and run with it.

    1. The most efficient and effective method of conveying information to and within a development team is face-to-face conversation.

    Skip multiple emails, and meet face-to-face even if it is over the internet!

    1. Working software (quality value) is the primary measure of progress.

    If you’re not creating software, deliver small pieces that act as building blocks towards completing your value delivery.

    1. Agile processes promote sustainable development. The sponsors, developers, and users should be able to maintain a constant pace indefinitely.

    A little extra time here and there is okay. However if working 50 – 60 hours is the norm, it’s hardly sustainable.

    1. Continuous attention to technical excellence and good design enhances agility.

    Going faster doesn’t cut it if quality drops. The focus should always be on delivering quality.

    1. Simplicity – the art of maximizing the amount of work not done – is essential.

    Do you remember the 80/20 rule? We have a phrase “no gold plating”, so focus on what really matters to the 80%.

    1. The best architectures, requirements, and designs emerge from self-organizing teams.

    Learning new practices, and engaging regularly to ensure the foundation is sound enables teams to take advantage of emerging technology and practices.

    1. At regular intervals, the team reflects on how to become more effective, then tunes and adjusts its behavior accordingly.

    Without continuous improvement, being Agile slips further and further away from reality.


    Cultural change is key within organizations in order to really support the Agile Manifesto and its Twelve Principles.  Where does your organizations culture fall when using the Manifesto’s scales, and the Twelve Principles? Work to move the pendulum a little at a time as needed. The origins of Agile lie not in black and white answers but in collaborating to do what is best in our drive to deliver value. Your customers will be happy, and you’ll retain employees and keep them and shareholders happy.

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