Agile Development: Building an Agile Culture

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Over the last few months I have described various components of Agile development. This time around I want to talk about building an Agile culture. Agile is more than just a codified process; it is a development approach, a philosophy, one that stresses flexibility and communication. In order for a development team to successfully implement Agile the organization must embrace and practice the appropriate culture. In this post will to briefly discuss several tips that will help develop Agile development.

The Right People

It all starts here: as with pretty much any undertaking, you need the right people in place, which is not necessarily the same as saying the best people. Agile development necessitates a specific set of skills that are not intrinsically related to coding mastery: flexibility, teamwork, and ability to take responsibility for a project’s ultimate success are all extremely important. Once the team is formed, management should work to bring team members closer together and create the right environment for information sharing and investment.

Encourage Open Communication

Because of Agile’s quick pace and flexibility, and the lack of overarching structures and processes, open communication is crucial. A team must develop communication pathways and support structures so that all team members are aware of where the project stands at any one moment (the daily scrum is a great example of this). More important, however, is to convince the team to open up and conscientiously share progress individual progress, key roadblocks, and concerns about the path of development. Likewise, management must be proactive about sharing project goals and business objectives with the team. An Agile team is always looking for the most efficient way to deliver results, and the more information they receive about the motivation and goals that lie behind a project the better. Agile managers must actively encourage a culture that says “we’re all in this together, and together we will find the solution to the problem.” Silos are Agile’s kryptonite.

Empower the Team

Agile only works when everyone on the team feels responsible for the success of the project, and management must do its part by encouraging team members to take ownership of the results of their work, and trusting them to do so. Make sure everyone on the team understands the ultimate organizational need, assign specific roles to each team member, and then allow team members to find their own ways to meet the stated goals. Too often in development there is a basic disconnect between the people who understand the business needs and those who have the technical know-how to make them happen. Everyone on the team needs to understand what makes for a successful project, so that wasted effort is minimized.

Reward the Right Behaviors

Too often in development organizations, management metrics are out of alignment with process goals. Hours worked are a popular metric teams use to evaluate members, although often proxies like hours spent at the office, or time spent logged into the system, are used. With Agile, the focus should be on results. As long as a team meets the stated goals of a project, the less time spent working on the solution, the better. Remember, the key is efficiency, and developing software that solves the problem at hand with as few bells and whistles as possible. If a team is consistently beating it’s time estimates by a significant margin, it can recalibrate their estimation procedures. Spending all night at the office working on a piece of code is not a badge of honor, but a failure of the planning process.

Be Patient

Full adoption of Agile takes time. You cannot expect a team to change it’s fundamental philosophy overnight. The key is to keep working at it, taking small steps towards the right environment and rewarding progress. Above all, management needs to be transparent about why it considers this change important. A full transition can take years of incremental improvement. Above all, be conscious that the steady state for your team will likely not look exactly like the theoretical ideal. Agile is adaptable and each organization should create the process that works best for its own needs.

If you want to learn more about building an Agile culture, check out the following resources:

In your experience, how long does it take for a team to fully convert to the Agile way? What is the biggest roadblock to adoption? How is the process initiated and who monitors and controls progress?

“Scrum process” image By Lakeworks (Own work) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC BY-SA 4.0-3.0-2.5-2.0-1.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0-3.0-2.5-2.0-1.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

2 thoughts on “Agile Development: Building an Agile Culture

  1. Very cool — personally, I like to consider myself to have an “Agile mindset”, but being a one-person shop, sometimes it’s difficult to put some of the more concrete elements of Agile development into practice.

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