The Changing Face of Agile

A major shift is happening in the organizations that are moving to an Agile way of doing business.  Not a shift in the Agile principles themselves, which have remained essentially unchanged since their conception.  Rather, at CollabNet, we are seeing a fundamental change in the way organizations approach an Agile transformation.  Gone are the days when Agile frameworks like Scrum are considered a “fringe” approach.  Agile has reached the mainstream and, with this change, the goals and objectives of the individuals driving this change have also shifted.

The Self-Described Rebel

Agile Transformation QuoteJust a few short years ago, the typical attendee at a Certified ScrumMaster (CSM) course was a self-described rebel.  Usually a software developer, these individuals had grown weary of unrealistic schedules and the compromises in quality that teams have had to make. They were frustrated with getting conflicting priorities from various stakeholder groups.  Mostly, they were tired of using the same ineffective approaches to software development, repeatedly, despite overwhelming and consistent evidence that these approaches did not work.

These people were primed to be open to a new approach, and Agile offered that.  Extreme Programming gave them ways to build quality into the software development process itself.  Scrum provided a project management framework that clarified roles and improved customer relationships.  But the real challenge lay in helping their organizations understand the value of these new approaches and, hardest of all, allaying the fears and concerns about the “Agile fad”.

The Agile Fad has Faded

No one thinks Agile is a fad anymore.  Nowadays, there are still plenty of software developers in our CSM courses but they are accompanied by quality assurance teams, managers, consultants and even directors and CIOs.  Whole training curriculums (the Certified Scrum Product Owner program) targeting stakeholder involvement have been developed.  Today, a transition to Agile principles is as likely to be driven by upper management and even the product organization as it is the development organization.

Why the change?  A couple of reasons.  First and quite simply, Agile practices produce results.  An Agile approach instills a level of discipline and accountability into an organization that was often missing before.  Enterprises forego rigid, long-term plans that reduce their ability to respond to market changes in favor of an approach that allows them to take advantage of new information and opportunities as they are known.

From Reactive to Proactive

Interestingly, Agile practices also make an organization less reactive.  At first, this may seem like a contradiction.  After all, doesn’t “being Agile” mean reacting to every issue that crops up?  In fact, it does not.  Reactive enterprises are not Agile – they are like people drowning, looking for anything to cling to that might help them temporarily.  It is impossible to drive an organization at a strategic level long-term using a reactive approach.  Rather, Agile frameworks like Scrum allow an organization to make the best decisions possible with all the information known at the given time.  With its frequent inspect-and-adapt points, designed to fold in new data as it becomes available, Agile organizations avoid being trapped by long-range plans that have outlived their usefulness.

Agile for Enterprise

Additionally, Agile has been proven to work in a variety of industries and with many different kinds of work.  Enterprises in the semiconductor, finance, media, retail and government are just a few of the sectors that have enjoyed huge success with Scrum and other Agile approaches.  With Scrum, in particular, we are seeing a push to use the practices outside the realm of software development and even outside technology projects in general.   Scrum is a project management framework for managing complex work.  Its use was never and has never been limited to software.  Savvy companies are realizing they can use Scrum to help them better managing their entire enterprise, not just their technology projects.

Finally, the rapid expansion of Agile into more traditional, conservative businesses comes on the heels of the financial crisis of 2008.  Most of the world is still reeling from the events of that year and economies on a global scale are still hesitantly making their way towards recovery.  What this means at an operational level is that managers are being asked to do more with less and to produce better results, despite limited resources and increased competition.  It is no surprise that, before the financial crisis, teams were coming to our CSM courses saying “Help me convince my management to do Scrum so we can make our working lives better.”  Now we are likely to hear a manager in that same course saying “Help me convince our teams to do Scrum so we can survive and continue to grow as a business.”

The Agile Coach

Regardless of why an organization moves to Agile, the key to success is having the right information at the right time.  While it is possible to learn the basics of Agile principles reading books and literature, learning from the “school of hard knocks” is an unnecessarily painful way to go about it.  This is where an Agile coach can give an organization a true advantage.  Building a long-term relationship with an Agile coach means having someone who can guide an organization, step by step, through the transformation process. An experienced coach has worked with individuals from hundreds of organizations.  They have seen patterns of Agile adoption that work and ones that don’t .  A good coach is a key asset in being able to quickly take advantage of the benefits Agile can yield.  And in today’s competitive marketplace, such assets are vital in remaining a strong and viable enterprise.

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Angela Druckman

Angela Druckman is an agile coach and Certified Scrum Trainer. She specializes in Agile Transformation, helping teams and organizations all over the world improve their competitive position and effectiveness through agility. Whether working with tiny start-ups or Fortune 100 companies, Angela’s experience and guidance have helped her clients achieve extraordinary and measurable success with their agile practices. Angela is the author of 30 Days to Better Agile.

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