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Creating The Culture For An Agile Environment

by Mike Bria on Apr 14, 2008 |
In an article based on content from his upcoming book Becoming Agile, Greg Smith offers an in-depth practical perspective on making your agile transition just as much about culture change as it is about process change

As is clearly stated in much of the best literature about different agile methodologies, particularly XP and Scrum, real agility comes from a team's ability to align on the right values, principles, attitudes, and behaviors.  What might not be so clearly emphacized is what that translates to in terms of the entire organization.  As Smith puts it, what will this mean in terms of your company's culture:

Migrating to Agile is more than changing your process. It also requires a change in culture. For most companies changing culture is the most difficult part. I believe this is true for several reasons. Here are a few:

  • Whether successful or not, companies get comfortable with their processes.
  • Many people still believe requirements change because they are poorly managed. They cannot comprehend a process that embraces change.
  • Most managers have been trained to control events. Empowering the development team to deliver and own the project is not intuitive or logical.
  • Job protection. In larger companies whole groups are dedicated to regulating and overseeing projects. An Agile team has less need for these services.
The article then goes on to give practical advice on what positive change looks like in each of what he considers to be the 3 major groups in a company's agile culture:  supportive managers, team knowledge, and executive support.

Smith discusses the need for agile managers to do "more shepherding and less directing".  He gives many examples of necessary soft skills that will help to do so and also presents guidance on how to best lead by example.

He advises to reward agile teams for demonstrating agile values such as collaboration, honesty, and transparency.  Further, be sure to give team members the opportunity to participate in the migration in ways that align best with their skills, preferences, and aspirations.

As for the third group, executive support, the article strongly suggests to kick start your migration by establishing support at the most senior levels of the company, and gives advice on how to successfully do so.

Smith also discusses an approach for driving the organizational change through a "core team" of diverse employees who have a good grasp on and appreciation for the fundamental values of agile.  He highlights the need for this team to be agile in and of itself, leading the migration through an iterative process that exemplifies the "continuous, feedback-driven improvements" motto at the heart of agile.

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