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Agile Transformation – Five Tips for Getting Team Members On Board

By Ron Montgomery (1072 words)
Posted in Project & Process Management on December 4, 2013

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The agile movement values collaboration among team members, self-organizing teams, and technical excellence. In theory, one would think that everyone would want to be part of an agile team. It just doesn’t work that way in practice and some team members will need additional support to become comfortable with this change. Following are five tips for getting team members on board with agile.


Tip #1 – Listen First


In the world of software development, most people have developed opinions about the agile movement. Unfortunately, those opinions may have been formed as a result of incomplete or inaccurate information. One person may have formed his opinion based on the experience of a friend who participated in a failed agile roll out. Another person may have formed an opinion based on self-serving publications that make agile out to be some sort of silver bullet that solves every existing problem with software development.  


You will need to address the misperceptions, but first you need to understand them. That means listening more than talking. Hold small group discussions and one-on-one meetings and hear and respond to the concerns.  


Tip #2 – Make Sure They Understand Why


As noted in the book by Jeff Hiatt, ADKAR: A model for change in business, government and our community (see Additional Resources below) the primary reason for the failure of change initiative is a lack of awareness of why the change is being made. As a leader, it is important that you ensure that all concerned understand why the organization is making the agile transformation. The reasons will vary, but typically include the ability to respond to change, improve the quality of software, or reduce risks.   


Beyond the importance to the organization, it is important that each individual understands the personal benefits of agility. Typically, these benefits will include the job satisfaction resultant from improved communications and teamwork, reduced administrative “busy work” and the pride in producing a higher quality work product.  


Tip #3 – Invest in Training and Coaching


People tend to fear what they don’t understand, so invest in some initial training. There are many classes available on general agile topics, as well as specific roles such as Scrum Master and Product Owner, so choose the right courses and get started.


While the training will help with understanding, it will not lead directly to proficiency. That will come from actual hands-on experience – ideally supplemented with the skills of a good agile coach. The job of the coach is to help the individual apply the principles to the work at hand, clarify roles, and help overcome the inevitable obstacles and challenges. Coaches can either be external consultants or internal team members who have made the agile transformation and possess the proper skills and aptitude to be an effective coach.


Tip #4 – Use the Power of the Team


The agile movement is based on successful teams, and some teams are more successful than others. Consider imbedding “newbies” on teams that are most proficient in agile practices so they can learn good habits and avoid being influenced by those who are struggling to make the transition. A good team can be quite effective in developing team members and helping them through some of the more common hurdles.


A word of caution is in order. Teams tend to develop their own personalities and idiosyncrasies, and sometimes that means that new team members are not readily accepted. The team may be impatient with people who “don’t get it” and who are not yet performing at the expected levels. So, be careful with the selection of the team and carefully monitor progress.


Tip #5 - Not Everyone Will be On Board


Not everyone will fit in on an agile team. Some people are uncomfortable with self-managed teams and prefer to be told what to do. Some developers do not like working with business people. Others find the team environment annoying or distracting and prefer to work alone.  As you transition to agile at an enterprise scale, you will find a significant group of people, perhaps 20-35%, do not make the transition. This should not be viewed as a failure on your part or on theirs.  Instead, you should consider it a success that your efforts have prevented a team member, and an entire team from being miserable.


Closing Thoughts 


Like any change initiative, an agile transformation will not be immediately embraced by everyone. In fact, only a small percentage will begin as proponents. The rest will either be lukewarm or opposed to the change. As an agile leader, your challenge will be to transform the lukewarm into proponents and help the opposition become either productive team members or grateful refugees.



Additional Resources:

The Agile Alliance – Events & Training






Agile Coaching




Written by Ron Montgomery, Management Consultant & Owner, OnPoint, LLC Ron is certified as a Project Management Professional, Agile Certified Practitioner and Certified ScrumMaster with over 35 years of hands-on experience in business planning, software development, process improvement & deployment of software solutions.  By partnering with clients to drive business value from technology projects, Ron assists clients with business planning, IT strategy, project and program management, vendor selection and team training/mentoring.


Do you have a management question for Ron? Please visit our Project Management Community and he will be happy to help: Ask an Expert


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