I was recently asked how successful can organizations be in transitioning to agile on their own. My immediate response was to evoke the response from a team of panelist. When asked what is the most important thing they did to be successful in their transition, four panelists from across industries and organizational sizes all said essentially, “Getting some good help.”
I’ve been pondering this question for the last couple days. I’m sure it is possible to self-transition, but I’ve never seen it done. I’ve seen new teams start out promoting agile, but in practice employ cowboy coding. I’ve seen teams implement agile tools and use them only to track the completeness of feature requests. I’ve seen teams take over agile practices from a third party and start out using agile well, but drift away from it as they short circuited fundamental principles that were not well engrained or fully understood. I’ve heard tech leads discuss how they tried using agile after some research and found it did not work well in their organization. I know I did it wrong before getting training and having more than a few learning cycles under my belt.
I tried searching Google and a number of blogs last evening to see if I could find any references to no-help, self-done, successful agile transitions. I couldn’t find any. Now, you say “sure, the pundits are in the business of helping others.” But I expected to find at least a few contrairian posts. Nope. Either I’m not searching well, or it is indeed rare.
The best result from this quest was a quote from a presentation by Clarke Ching at Scottland IS that listed this as a reason for agile failing: “Trying to transition to agile without help OR outsourcing the transition entirely to ‘experts’.”
The second part, I agree with. You cannot be successful by hiring someone to make you agile. It takes action on the part of the those that will execute the new process. It needs to be practiced. It needs to be refined through retrospection. And, perhaps the best reason why outside help is so common, is that it needs to be internalized – not just by a champion, but by everyone that will be using it. Building that kind of organizational wisdom in short order (before the initiative fails) is perhaps near impossible.
I’d love to hear examples of where it’s been done without outside education, guidance or coaching. Please leave a comment if your organization has been successful, you know someone, or know someone who knows someone that’s done it on their own. I know at least the first team did it without help. Let’s find others.