3 practical tips for agile transformation

Try these tips to help your team make the agile transformation.
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Agile transformation happens at three levels: team agile, product agile, and organization agile. Helping your team convert to agile is the first and fundamental step in agile transformation, and with good reason. Until you get your people on board with agile, the product of all their hard work can't be agile.

Getting to team agile can be difficult, however. Teams new to agile cite these two factors as common obstacles:

  • The team shows strong resistance.
  • The team performs when the scrum master is involved, but as soon as the scrum master leaves, the team is thrown into confusion and falls back into old habits.

Overcoming that resistance and sustaining agile workflows takes thoughtful, inclusive leadership. This article will show you how.

Your teams are made of people

Too often, a scrum master expects a team to respond to instructions like robots. If you step away from the standup for a moment and look at how you're presenting agile to your team, you might find some areas for improvement. Are you dictating to your colleagues how meetings must be? Are you following a script or a recipe to achieve what you've been told agile is? Or are you working with the individuals on the team to determine how to work together to change the way things get done?

3 tips for achieving team agile

Here are three tips for those crucial first steps toward team agile.

1. Workshop it

There's nothing wrong with excellent agile practices. The key is in how you get team members to adopt them.

Organize a workshop to discuss current issues with the team. The scrum master is responsible for leading the workshop and providing a structured framework for discussion that encourages team members to put forward ideas and allows members on all sides of a debate to draw their own conclusions. If the team encounters a bottleneck or needs additional information, then the scrum master can provide help and explanation. Always keep in mind, however, that the scrum master's opinion is for reference only and shouldn't be forced on the group. An action plan made this way is co-created by everyone. The whole team is invested in it, which leads to the best possible outcome.

2. Make it incremental

Tell every team member that no matter what conclusions are drawn, the action plan is just an attempt. Schedule regular reviews, collect everyone's feedback, and only continue as long as it's proving effective. When something's not working, make adjustments as needed. Doing this creates a constructive feedback loop that allows team members to be heard and doesn't ask them to commit to wholesale change all at once.

Change can be incremental and iterative. It's still change, and with regular check-ins, it's bound to be change for the better.

[ Read also: Agile transformation: 5 ways to measure progress ]

3. Address benefit redistribution

Folks don't like to admit it, but sometimes in an organization there are individuals or departments threatened by agile's transparency. People sometimes take advantage of information asymmetry to occupy important positions and to ensure job security. When faced with agile methodologies, they may feel that they're about to be decentralized, devalued, and weakened. They aren't likely to express this sentiment directly, of course. Instead, they may resist, obstruct, or challenge the new agile methodology, both overtly and covertly.

A scrum master needs to help these individuals see the benefit of agile and recognize that a redistribution of benefits is harmful to no one and better for everyone. Make no mistake: This process is full of challenges, and it can bring up many emotional reactions. Change is often hard, and giving up control of something, even if it means less work, can be stressful. Addressing it directly, and with sensitivity, is vital.

Team agile is called team agile for a reason. It's about a team of people, not individuals hoarding domain control.

Implementation is just the beginning

Agile transformation is complex, and most companies have varying degrees of historical baggage to work through. The agile methodology can solve some problems immediately, but at first its primary function is often to expose problems.

You must analyze the issues that agile exposes to find hidden systemic flaws, and you must escalate the issues to promote real problem solving. As with the rest of the process, change is incremental, and it doesn't happen overnight. As long as you're willing to put in the work, however, you can lead your teams to a stronger, more agile state.

This article is adapted from the ZenTao blog and is republished with permission.

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Kelsea Zhang is one of the members of ZenTao team. ZenTao is a project management tool that covers the entire software development lifecycle, which has won first place in the "Most Used Test Management Tools" for seven years in a row.

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