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Agile success is up to a single Executive.

Over many years I have come across numerous examples of both successful and unsuccessful project management implementations.

Whether it was based on a PMBoK, APM or PRINCE2 method made no difference, they quietly thrived or noisily failed. The answer for a higher implementation success rate seems to elude many, in spite of all the conferences attended.

Along comes Agile with all its flavours, into the mainstream of change management for IT as well as many other project genres.

Agile-success-is-up-to-a-single-Executive

So will we do a better job of implementing agile ways of working, and actually get our strategic and operational changes implemented effectively?

Well so far it appears that the answer is no, with some exceptions. A wave of Agile implementations is taking place across all types of companies, started with enthusiasm, only to end up in a thrashing muddle of disjointed techniques, confusing terminology, blurred roles and baffled customers and stakeholders.

To me the primary, single problem from which all other failure points derive, is a lack of a single senior manager stepping up and taking ownership of his or her company’s Agile implementation.

Without this leadership the root causes of Agile implementation failure kick in, and I’ve explained a few of these below. Before I get to them, let me share an acid test you can use to assess if your Agile implementation is going be a winner, It’s one question; Are you implementing your Agile way of working using a Waterfall or an Agile approach?

Ok, so you’ve just stopped your Agile transformation project and need to see a few root causes of implementation. Let’s start with some Principles from DSDM’s™* Agile Programme Management.

*DSDM™ DSDM is a leading Agile approach, looked after by the Dynamic Systems Development Method.

Principle – Agile programmes are iterative

Agile promotes iterative and incremental development for a number of reasons, one of which is because the detail of the final result is not known, often due to a lack of understanding of the journey and how we will be able to apply the new technology or approach, in this case, how will Agile work for us, given that we have never applied it before? So surely implement this complex organisational change in small testable increments, learning, adjusting and improving as you go. This will reduce the risk of applying a completely new way of working. So no waterfall, select the right Agile approach to start with, and led by a senior management champion to get everyone thinking without invoking their cognitive bias’s**.

**Cognitive bias:  a pattern of deviation from rationality in judgment, whereby inferences about other people and situations may be drawn in an illogical fashion. Individuals create their own “subjective social reality” from their perception of the input.

Principle – Benefits are realised incrementally and as early as possible. (Or “starting with the end in mind”, if I take a note from Steve Jenner’s Benefits Management approach).

A large company, one of many, has just “finished” an organisation wide implementation of Agile, using up vast amounts employee production time and funding, only to find, after a far too long waterfall cycle that the Agile way of working is not functional or practical. In fact, they started with the wrong Agile model to begin with.

So imagine if an executive had insisted that before millions were spent, some real benefits needed to be proved early in the initiative. This executive would also ask that the ultimate vision of the Agile implementation would be describable and coherent, clear in what the measurable benefits would be and could be realistically achieved. Yes, whilst you do not do much detailed planning in Agile, you must have an excellent thoughtfully crafted vison to set direction to all stakeholders that leads to real benefits to ensure ongoing commitment.

So much for ignoring some key principles, let’s look at just one key driver from the Agile Alliances’ Manifesto. It’s called “Customer Collaboration”.

It’s mandatory for Agile to work closely with the customer. But on the whole left out because it’s so difficult, and culturally different to the common current silo’ed way of working from behind PC screens. But only your customer can tell you what they want, and just like you, they probably won’t get it right the first time and they’ll change their minds. It’s hard at first, but with some new skills (like workshop facilitation) it makes team work fulfilling and ultimately far more successful.

Now, you’re the Agile implementation executive, think who are your customers that you have to work so closely with to get Agile thinking in place across the organization? That many hey!

That’s it for now, my tip of the moment is to attend my 2 day Agile Programme Management event to get the big picture before crashing into the detail. And look out for my next article: What’s blocking your Organisation from Agile thinking?

About the Author

Guy Eastoe is a thought leader and an APMG accredited consultant specialising in portfolio, programme, change and benefits management. He has been consulting and training in this space forever.

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