Using Agile To Scale Agile – Part 5

In this post, Part 5 of Using Agile to Scale Agile, we’ll discuss agile assessment, education and coaching for our pilot project pilot team and the wider organization as part of our overall agile adoption efforts.

Before addressing the stories in your backlog that have to do with training and coaching, it is important to assess where your organization is with respect to agility.  Think of this as a refinement to the current state / future state analysis we did earlier in our process to derive the initial Agile Transformation Backlog.  Our interest here is to focus on training and coaching needs.

VersionOne has an Agility Calculator that is lightweight yet effective, and it is a good example of how you can put together a simple assessment tool for your organization to determine training and coaching requirements.
Before going further with our discussion about training and coaching, it is important to have a understanding of the basic learning model: We read, listen and study written and video material; from this we develop knowledge, then we then apply this knowledge in a specific context and develop skill.  It is as we take our knowledge and skills and apply them to different contexts that we develop experience.  Experience is what a good coach brings to the table. (For more on this subject, see my blog post: Coaching Is Key To Winning The Race.)

The initial training that our organization will focus on is agile values, principles and practices. This training should target a wide functional band of the organization, including senior management, middle management, and team leads as well as software dev, QA, Business Analysts, Project Managers, Program Managers, Product Managers, HR, and Production Ops. Training the different parts and functions of the organization is essential for all involved to understand their roles and responsibilities in the new agile project management approach. There will undoubtedly be fear of change and cynicism, but without training and the opportunity to hear and address fears during the assessment, this fear can become insurmountable. It is also essential to allocate adequate time and funds to execute the training in a quality manner.

Following the education of the organization on agile values, principles and practices, we’ll need to assess the impacts that successfully adopting them will have on the organization.  It is only after folks are exposed to what agile is all about that it can sink in and allow them to better assess their attitudes towards the transformation to agile.  Can you see the mini-Deming Cycle going on here? :-)

This is an excellent time to engage an external agile coach to help facilitate discussions around fears and misunderstandings, and provide real-world examples of how others have faced the same challenges and succeeded.  The agile coach can work with each of the functional groups, at each level, to determine their concerns and explore possible solutions.  An agile coach can also help ensure that each functional group is prepared for the coming pilot projects – I suggest preparing a readiness checklist. Begin to plan for quick, simple, first-cut solutions to a wide range of concerns.  And once again, avoid big up-front planning, don’t go too deep yet.

In my opinion, building a group of internal agile coaches should be in the agile adoption plan of any reasonably large organization.  This allows the organization to develop its own ‘agile mythology’ that is passed down by word of mouth, not unlike tribal lore in more primitive cultures.  It embodies the organization’s own unique context.

Having the assistance of external agile coaches during the planning and execution of the agile organization releases is essential. As the organization matures through their releases, the need for external agile coaching should diminish to the point of just having check-ins with the organization’s own internally grown agile coaches.

Once the core roles in agile development (Product Owner, Agile Project Manager / Scrum Master, and The Cross-Functional Team) within our organization have been trained on agile values, principles and practices, it will be time to provide more specialized training for the demands of each of the roles.

Keep in mind that we should be using the concept of Plan / Do / Check / Act (PDCA) through out our agile transformation so that as we complete small iterations of transformation, we may evaluate our plans based on better knowledge and improve them as we go… this is at the heart of being agile.

In my next post in this series on Using Agile to Scale Agile, Part 6, I will explore the formation of the “Two Accountable Teams” that guide the agile transformation.

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