Moving Your Organization Forward with Agile Adoption

Aeritae Solutions Consultant, Joe Schmitt brings 20 years of experience delivering IT solutions to organizations of all sizes, specializing in helping companies create common, repeatable, service-based processes on digital platforms, such as ServiceNow.

Below Joe shares his perspective on the common fear of being “behind” on the Agile journey and some actionable tips to help move you forward.

It’s Not Just You

I get to work with a dozen or so organizations over the course of a year. One of the things I hear often is that organizations fear that they are making very slow progress with Agile. There is a sense that other development shops are far ahead of them, while they are left standing in the dust.

In reality, nobody feels like they are doing it really well. Agile is on everyone’s list of things to improve (if we can ever find the time to get to it). Much like social media FOMO, “agile-envy” is much ado about nothing.

As we envy our friends’ Facebook vacation photos when compared to our own lives full of dirty dishes, unwashed laundry, and bickering kids, what we often forget is that other people are doing the same thing while looking at our vacation pictures. Similarly, everyone is struggling with Agile, regardless of what it may look like from the outside.

Find the Right Teams

Not every team is suited for Agile. Gartner promotes the concept of a “Bimodal IT,” where some parts of the IT organization focus on stability and structure, while other parts of IT operate with greater speed and agility. This concept has been very controversial, and it is something of an oversimplification, but the truth is that some parts of your organization will find it easier to adapt Agile practices than others.

Hammering in a monolithic Agile program across the organization can be counterproductive. Change management 101 is involving people in the change. Find your early adopters and use them to refine what Agile could look like in your organization. Get some quick wins that you can highlight and let them be your evangelists.

Experiment With Tools

By its nature, Agile is a visual method of planning and executing. However, the flip charts and whiteboards of Agile yesterday simply don’t work in today’s virtual and geographically diverse workplace. Traditional project management tools like MS Project, Gantt charts, or even Excel, won’t make your effort successful.

At Aeritae, we use ServiceNow’s Visual Task Boards and Agile Boards to plan sprints. They work well and can even roll the planning and reporting up to the portfolio level. VTBs are a great way to start getting used to an Agile method called Kanban.

ServiceNow’s Agile Development module is built around the Scrum Alliance framework. The module helps you stand up the full process and lifecycle structure to start doing things in the right way, but also provides configuration options that will allow you to make it work for your business.

As a Gold Partner, we obviously see tremendous value in the use of ServiceNow for Agile, however, there are certainly other free or low-cost tools that can help organize Agile work. Some Googling on Scrum or Kanban tools will yield many results. Try a few different tools to find the one with the features that work best for your organization. Make sure that whatever tool you use, it’s flexible enough to let you define your own lanes and sprint methodologies, because they are likely to change over time.

Learn by Doing

At one point in my college teaching career, I decided to abolish PowerPoints and lectures from my teaching methods. I shifted the focus of my classroom time and my lessons to make learning relevant and practical. I gave my students case studies and the opportunity to work on presentations and papers in class. This shift let them build their skills through trial and error, and it allowed them to get immediate feedback from peers and from me.

Since Agile is an action-oriented method, it makes sense to jump in and start learning what works as you go. Yes, provide some training. Yes, talk about how you want to structure things. Yes, it will be messy. But by embracing the agile “Fail Fast” mantra, your flywheel starts turning, and you learn as you go. Use the learnings from your sprint retrospectives to keep making small changes in your Agile methods as you move forward.

Leverage Coaching

From recreational sports to the pros, teams enlist coaches to coordinate and improve the performance of their athletes. In a world where pro teams seem to have a revolving door for coaches, the overall impact that an individual coach can have on a team’s performance is up for debate.

What is (in my mind) undebatable, is the value of coaching itself. NFL teams who choked in the playoffs aren’t eliminating their coaching positions, saying, “We tried coaching, and it doesn’t work, so we are just leaving it up to the players.” Behind every top team or individual competitor, there is inevitably a coach providing the guidance and encouragement necessary to reach that elite level. This is true in golf, swimming, running, chess, and even careers. Find the success, and you will find a coach, often standing just outside of the limelight.

Coaching isn’t just for top performers; it’s incredibly necessary for beginners and intermediates. How many budding young athletes could have hit that first ball or scored that first goal without a coach’s guidance on the fundamentals of the game? Your Agile teams need practice and objective feedback when they start playing this new game. It can’t be the manager, the scrum master, the product owner, or the team member who does it. They are too involved in the work to see the forest for the trees.

Whether you internally train coaches, hire them from another organization, or use consultants to fill your needs, nothing helps with Agile adoption like the perspective of an outsider. The coach’s job is to provide guidance to teams as they work through challenges, help them set goals, and help them unlearn old habits.

Change is never a straight line. Like most things, the magic is in making the commitment to improve, and then taking action. Start small with the right group of people and a tool that works for you. Coaching and training will accelerate your growth. Keep making incremental improvements and begin rolling them out as you gain momentum.

If you would like help with your Agile adoption, reach out to us. We would love to help!


Aeritae Consulting