How to start the transition to Agile within your organization: “Baby Steps” or “Big Bang”?

 

Why do you want to become Agile? What are the goals you want to achieve with that? Think about it. And then – think again.

In another post, I addressed some commonly used antipatterns, when one wants to get Agile just because it is cool, because everyone else already went Agile, or similar.

Here are two very different models that can be used to describe the transition to Agile from one perspective (Small versus Big). Which one is the most appropriate for your organization depends on many factors.

Please observe: in both cases we have to deal with the unknown of Change! Surprisingly enough, many people are not that fond of changes. Any change brings stress and opens many, many questions.

Also, not everything is black and white, there are many shades of grey in between and other dimensions to consider. The best way is the one that works optimally for you.

The most important is that you should not expect to figure it all out from the very start.

1. “Baby Steps” model

PROS:

  • less initial investment
  • less risky
  • freedom of choices when putting together your team, order of adoption of practices etc

CONS:

  • slower
  • uncertainty how the micro achieved conclusions and lessons learned can scale/be applied to the whole organization
  • the dynamics of resistance towards the transition to Agile within the organization is hard to predict
  • hard to maintain the pace – one can just fold back to the previous state of non-Agile existence
  • if the pilot project depends on the rest of non-Agile organization, some bottlenecks may occur.

Steps:

  1. start with a pilot project
  2. learn from it
  3. spread Agile within the organization

Think about:

  • How fast should the transition be? (Let “the others” catch up soon; do not let the pilot project run for too long before you decide if you will go for the whole organization transition or not.)
  • How many people and from which parts of the organization wish the transition to Agile?
  • Should you announce to the whole organization that the “Agile experiment” is going on or keep it secret for a while? (If something goes wrong in the first iteration, inspect and adapt your practices until you are satisfied with the results – that minimizes the time and arguments for building up the resistance.)
  • How to compose your team for the pilot project? (Be careful: do not create “elite” teams.) 

2. “Big Bang” model

PROS:

  • fast
  • must come officially from committed management (to not have to convert the management while struggling with going Agile at the same time is a big plus.)
  • not much time left to “The Dark Side” to build up a strong resistance

CONS:

  • can cause an “organization nervous break down”
  • higher cost at risk
  • requires some serious reorganizing and possible “messing up” of established internal relations
  • a danger of forming of Cargo cults – imitation of “Agile behaviours” without the real Agile values being adopted.

Steps:

1. Do it The “Starsky and Hutch” Way: “Do it! Do it!” Everyone, just – do it.

(BTW, if you want to perform the transition of the whole organization fast, you may need to hire some external coaches on Agile, if you do not already have enough of experts internally. And no, I do not think that Starsky and Hutch are the kind of experts you are after.)

Think about:

  • How big is your organization? (The bigger it is, the harder the transition may get.)
  • How “stressed” is your organization? (This approach is not recommended for already “stressed” organizations; unpredictability of consequences, people may leave, etc.)
  • How hierarchical is your organization? (Strongly established hierarchy is less preferable than relatively flat organization with roles overlapping.)
  • How much money are you willing to invest initially and when do you expect to break even? (For example: external coaches are usually very enthusiastic and good, but do not come cheaply; still, the investment may pay off well.)

Related to the subject this post is addressing, but specifically within XP (Extreme Programming), Kent Beck and Cynthia Andres wrote an e-booklet Getting Started with XP: Toe Dipping, Racing Dives, and Cannonballs” that can be found here.

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One Response to How to start the transition to Agile within your organization: “Baby Steps” or “Big Bang”?

  1. Sue Massey says:

    Thanks for posting the article, was certainly a great read!

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