Monday, June 11, 2012

Value and Culture over practices and processes

On Day 1 of Agile Australia,  Sandra Dalli  and Sarah McAllister of Bank West shared their experiences adopting Agile at  BankWest.  BankWest is into the beginning of their 3rd year of its Agile adoption and bringing Agile into the organisation has involved so much more than delivering Agile projects.

During this session, the speakers shared not only their success but their failures during the journey of Agile adoption.  One needs to appreciate the fact that, they didn’t paint a rosy picture saying their journey was easy.  One of the triggers for the bank to adopt Agile was the massive failure on a water fall project. The team on the waterfall project spent several months writing requirement specifications and design documents burning the project budget, and at the end realizing there is no money to build the software.

Before sharing their journey, let me share my experiences of Agile adoption in large organizations.

Based on my past experience, an organization goes through the following phases during Agile adoption. As shown in the picture below, there are 3 key phases. 

1. Learning and Experimentation
2. Initiation
3. Matured 

The details of these phases are explained below mapping BankWest experience.

1. During Learning and Experimentation phase, the enterprise typically takes following actions to initiate the Agile adoption:

             a. Identifying a point of contact to run the Agile show
             b. Form a team or group to drive Agile related activities
             c. Hire or get Agile coaches on contract
             d. Create training programs and start enrolling employees into this
             e. Start one or more pilot projects and experiment applying Agile methods

BankWest went through steps similar to one mentioned above ending this phase successfully. Another key reason for their success so far is the support from the top management. I could clearly see that they had applied Top-Down Agile adoption  strategy.

When the speakers were given the baton to start Agile adoption 3 years ago, they spent nearly three months going through various websites, and documents researching everything about Agile. They also wrote a lengthy manual for everyone to read, which they made fun of as they realized later that this is not the right way. 

Regarding Agile coaching, I think they took help from Lonely Planet.

2. The initiation phase is all about embracing Agile as much as possible.  The BankWest speakers shared the way they brought testers and developers collocated as part of their journey. They were serious in bringing Agility to their company, and they followed every recommendation given in Agile books and ones shared by Agile coaches.  

As we know, implementing a new practice or skill across organization takes anywhere between few months to years. It is always recommended that new practices should be encouraged to be adopted incrementally than in a big bang way.  

Incremental learning
BankWest took 5 practices(Daily stand up, retrospective, showcases, etc)  as priority and encouraged all teams to practice only one at a time for a month, before moving onto the next one. At the end of 5 months, they saw most of the projects well versed with some of them.  The entire organization was amazed to see this transformation happening in front of their eyes.  

Read more about Agile adoption phases and the J-Curve effect here

Currently BankWest seems to be at the end of this phase.

3. Matured Phase: During this phase, pretty much all the infrastructure needed to do Agile projects should be available handy.  Matured Enterprises start looking at Agile adoption beyond software delivery, and starts including HR, Finances, etc.  Some of these activities could be started during the second phase itself depending on the size and maturity of the organization.

During the conference, I listened the journey of BankWest, NAB and other companies. My own experience of Agile transformation in past companies combined with this clearly shows that, there is no secret recipe to succeed in the journey of Agile adoption. Every company has it’s own culture and DNA. Don’t try to copy set of practices of another company with the hope that you would succeed. 

Every organization has to invent and carve a path for themselves. Teams will fail many a times. However, as long as they are learning from their mistakes, they should be encouraged and supported in their journey.   One thing is clear, identifying the right group of people to steer the journey, and hiring good Agile coaches during the beginning makes a lot of difference. 

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