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InfoQ Homepage News How GlobalLogic Used a Bottom-up Approach to Become More Agile

How GlobalLogic Used a Bottom-up Approach to Become More Agile

Yuriy Koziy, delivery manager at GlobalLogic, argued at the Agile Eastern Europe 2016 conference that organizational change should start at the team level rather than in senior management.

"I believe that real change should come from the lower level to the top," he said." If you focus on driving and inspiring people, sooner or later the company will change."

Koziy mentioned that in practice, a "top-down" managerial approach for implementing changes rarely affects the project teams. As teams build products and interact with clients everyday, it is at the team level that change should happen.

Koziy formed a group of like-minded engineering managers and agile coaches within GlobalLogic’s Kiev office into an initiative called Agile Geeks, which emphasizes pull rather than push tactics (when the changes are dictated top-down). They act as change agents, transforming the organization from the inside. Agile Geeks is a kind of startup inside GlobalLogic.

Before starting the bottom-up agile initiative, Koziy talked with the VP delivery of GlobalLogic. The VP said that becoming agile wasn’t something that was on his agenda and that he would like to be convinced how becoming agile can be done and which benefits it can bring.

When Koziy explained the aim of Agile Geeks, the VP asked what he needed to do this. Koziy said that he needed executive support as he planned to talk to middle managers.

When preparing for a meeting with managers, Koziy suggests thinking in advance about managers’ possible pain points. Examples are issues with teams’ satisfaction or in satisfying customer needs.

Talking about the pain points really helped Koziy convince the managers (this is why preparing is helpful) to adopt agile. The pain points that managers brought up were things like the quality of products, predictability, and time to market.

Koziy explained to the middle managers that he wanted to do things with the teams that would make their lives (of the middle managers) easier. Also, instead of pushing things on the managers, he used a pull strategy and offered them a choice of what to do. He talked with the managers about how things are being done and asked for space to try out things with their teams.

Koziy started the initiative by doing workshops that consisted of a one-hour icebreaker/team-building game and a two-hour retrospective. It turned out that the teams learned a lot; after the retrospective, they came out of the room eager to try out many actions.

Agile Geeks started six months ago as a spare-time initiative to infuse GlobalLogic with the agile philosophy by providing Scrum training to volunteer teams. Now there are eight people in the team. They have trained 16 teams, including teams that are not doing software development. One of the teams consists of HR specialists. This HR team has become an evangelist for Agile Geeks, by telling people how well agile works for them.

Next to giving workshops, Agile Geeks also consults project teams on agile processes and tools, facilitates meetings such as release retrospectives or product strategic sessions, and coaches managers and teams to help them to improve customer collaboration. Some GlobalLogic customers have asked Agile Geeks for in-house workshops.

Some of the results of the Agile Geeks initiative are:

  • The workshops and the internal agile coaching have created openness at GlobalLogic. Managers have become more willing to change.
  • The number of ScrumMasters is increasing. The company started involving ScrumMasters where it would previously use services of traditional managers.
  • Clients see the potential value of an agile coach; they request agile coaches to help their teams not only to run projects, but also to help them to improve product quality, time to market, and predictability of delivery.
  • Agile Geeks’ activities are expanding to other engineering centers of GlobalLogic, including newly acquired ones.

"If you think about long-term success, you have to start from the bottom," said Koziy. "But for an initiative like this, you have to have a green light in the organization and support from the managers." If a manager doubts his department should participate, Koziy would mention that her/his manager has approved it. "That often helped," said Koziy.

InfoQ asked Koziy after his talk about what makes Agile Geeks successful:

  • Support from top executives. No organizational transformation is possible if there’s no green light from the top. GlobalLogic Kiev’s top management willingly supports the team’s activities, as they realize how this impacts engineers’ engagement and, as a result, the quality of service and client satisfaction.
  • Use pull tactics for mid-level managers and their teams. Agile Geeks consultants approach mid-level managers via light talks over lunch, or occasional coaching sessions that might start on a coffee break and continue for up to an hour in a conference room. The consultants’ candid curiosity and smart questions lead to some interesting insights on the managers’ side and result in agile training for their teams.

One of the attendees of the talk asked Koziy how he sold the workshops with retrospectives to the teams and how it benefitted them. He answered that he didn’t do much selling — he normally invites the team and tells them that it would be fun to do. People don’t realize how much they can learn from doing thorough retrospectives until they do them, said Koziy. In retrospectives, you are uncovering the real problems. After the retrospective, when the teams had decided on the actions that they wanted to do, he talked with them about the value.

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