Friday, January 25, 2013

Baby steps to BIG CHANGE

Transitioning to agile practices can be extremely difficult for an organization. It’s a BIG CHANGE.

I’ve spent many hours contemplating how to split the BIG CHANGE into smaller pieces of change, very much like the process of reducing epics into manageable user stories, and then into tasks. For example, how do you take baby steps from (original state) to (desired state)? How do you move from an environment of testers and developers who only communicate via email and bug tracking system, to a team who converse multiple times a day about what they’re working on, when it may be finished, and what’s in the way?

There have to be some small steps that can be taken from the original state to the desired state, right? What baby steps get you to the state you want? LifeHack recently posted a blog on baby steps - what baby steps work for agile transformation?

When I was first learning about agile, the IT department I was a part of was in this exact state. We rarely talked to each other. Our new manager (a change agent and expert scrum master) decided to get us started on the road to CHANGE with a small change. “Tomorrow, we’re going to try something called stand-ups. We’ll meet in my office for five minutes. Everyone will say what they worked on yesterday, what they’re going to do today, and what (if anything) is in the way. We’ll try this every day for a couple weeks, and then see how it’s going.” Hmm. Five minutes a day didn’t seem too daunting. We really didn’t talk much those first two weeks, but we started to understand the value of verbally expressing what we were working on. After the first two weeks our manager’s office got transformed into our scrum room, with our story board on one wall (the manager sat in the cube-farm with us). Our manager was quick to identify follow-up meetings (“Susan, can you and Amy work that situation out after the stand-up?” “Troy, help Clayton with the automation script.”), so we never went past 10 minutes (with a team of 6 people). This was our initiation into agile. Many people didn’t even realize it, until we had additional training a month or so later. Then the light bulbs went on. After two months, if we weren’t able to have our stand-up, many of us felt “off” the entire day.

A colleague described another example of the agile journey at a previous employer.  After being waterfall for many years, the team began its agile journey by having a dedicated “project room” where the team would do their daily stand-up, occasionally “huddle” to resolve questions and issue. After a few months, that project room became an open space work area for the team, where developers and testers regularly interacted but still had independent work areas. That environment/culture then started to include paired development (developer pairing with another developer, or developer & tester). From there the Product owners and Subject Matter Experts (SMEs) began to embed with the developer and testers; forming a team that was constantly interacting, inspecting and adapting. This journey did not happen overnight, or in a matter of months; it covered about 2 years, and matured and adapted further for years afterward.

What other small changes have you experienced that helped you – or your team – dip your toes into a BIG CHANGE? If you'd like to share, please comment, or tweet your thoughts with the tag #AgileBabySteps.

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