Saturday, June 25, 2011

Agile adoption is not just about sprints and user stories.

I've been involved in several agile implementations where the company's management have failed to see the widespread implications of an agile adoption. Agile isn't just about the development process, it's a value system, a way of thinking, and as such it affects many areas of the company. Management should support and promote these changes but unfortunately are all too commonly not even aware that this will happen. Today I'd like to focus briefly on three of these areas: project management, rewards, and talent management.

One really obvious area is project management and "resource allocation". By the way, I hate the term "resource allocation" as it's people we are talking about. The attitude of thinking about developers in the same way as $$ signs is why many companies are so unproductive. If an agile adoption is to succeed and mature then all the management tools must also be agile ones. It's no good trying to follow up an agile project with old projects management tools. Key indicators, milestones, etc. all have to be in an agile form. And be aware - you change what you measure! That is to say the behavior of your teams will change depending upon the measurements and key indicators you use so try to keep these to a minimum and select the things you think need improvement.

Rewards are another area that is heavily impacted by an agile adoption but which all too many companies forget. We seek now to reward new types of behavior. Previously the employees that followed the agreed process and were reliable were rewarded. However, now it should be the employees that think critically and creatively. That aren't satisfied with the status quo and who always seek to improve the tools and methods used. We should also seek to change our methods of rewards, expected if-then rewards do not function as expected and should be replaced by direct and peer related rewards. Allowing the employees to distribute rewards has two effects: it increases the amount of positive feedback in the organization which will improve moral and productivity enormously, and it makes sure that the right employees and behaviors are rewarded.

Talent management is also something that a company adopting agile should be thinking about. Talent should be cultivated and invested in and this requires processes and training. All too often companies employ talented individuals only to then leave them sitting in their teams with no kind of talent management or cultivation. After several years of neglect these individuals will either have lost all of their talent or left the company!

Agile adoption is an adoption of values and thought patterns and therefore will spread and affect many areas of the company. If the management do not sufficiently understand the value systems behind agile, or simply do not promote these sufficiently then they run the risk of damaging their agile implementation.

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