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InfoQ Homepage News Agile 2016: The Executives Step-By-Step Guide to Leading Large-Scale Agile Transformation

Agile 2016: The Executives Step-By-Step Guide to Leading Large-Scale Agile Transformation

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During his presentation at the Agile2016 conference, Mike Cottmeyer focused on leading large-scale agile transformations. He specifically discussed how to talk to executives about this transformation and ensure that the transformation is measured and set up in the mindset in which executives will respond.

Cottmeyer discussed his vision of the current executive mindset. He suggested that five years ago, agile transformations aimed to get executives interested. Now the goal has shifted— to wanting to know how to tie the transformation, its activities and metrics to real business outcomes.

Cottmeyer framed up three common approaches to start a transformation:

  • The System: Change the architecture of the work and value stream of organizations. Form cross-functional teams focused on value and flow first, then the practices and culture will follow.
  • The Culture: Change hearts and minds, and the system and practice will follow.
  • The Practice: Change methodology, tool set, or framework and the system and culture will follow.

He noted that all three are important, but advocated for leading with The System.

A great system, according to Cottmeyer, is first a well-articulated backlog focused on value. He suggested that most failure modes relate back to poorly managed backlogs. The second part of the system includes formed teams aligned to deliver value rather than components or phases of value. The third part of the system focuses on working software delivered with zero to minimum defects and technical debt. 

At scale, transformation is about leading with how teams are formed, minimizing the dependencies and creating more demonstrated value back to the business leaders.

Cottmeyer described the many things that get in the way: matrixed teams, limited access to subject matter experts, shared requirements between teams, too much work in process, and technical debt.

Leading with The Culture he explains is about changing hearts and minds and the system will follow, its possible, but a very difficult change management path.

Leading with The Practice he explained that it entails a methodology, tool set, or framework will not help change the systems nor the culture and typically just does not yield results.

He laid out 10 steps to lead large-scale agile transformation:

  1. Build a coalition, and an executive transformation team
  2. Define an end state vision
  3. Build a transformation road map with business outcomes (this part of the organization will build this outcome in this time)
  4. Maintain a rolling 90-day plan
  5. Conduct 30-day checkpoints; to evaluate the 90-day plan, update often
  6. Connect activity to outcome, how are we moving the needle all the time (end goal is that these x teams are doing xyz and seeing cycle time reduce by x amount, getting features to market faster.)
  7. Connect outcomes to business objectives, economic drivers
  8. Incorporate feedback
  9. Manage communication
  10. Create safety for everyone involved – WIIFM (What’s In It For Me?), ensuring it is safe for team members to grow, make mistakes, and be vulnerable

In conclusion, Cottmeyer summarized that adopting agile is a systems problem, especially at scale. The system governs how teams are formed and how work gets done—the value is the performing teams and creating software. Also, change can be planned, measured and controlled, but we should measure based on what matters to the business leaders.


Guest editor Angela Wick is an Agile Coach and Trainer, she is the Founder & CEO of BA-Squared, LLC a training and consulting company that helps organizations modernize requirements practices. She helps traditional, agile, and hybrid teams develop the skills they need to build the right solutions that deliver the intended value to the organization.

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