Agile is great, but how do you make an organization agile?
How do you quickly transition from traditional software delivery to Agile? How do you expose the issues in the system that prevents an organization from delivering software fast–what parts of the system don’t work well, where would tools help, what collaboration needs to be improved, what kind of training needs to be promoted, etc. And what if you find 100s of things that are wrong, how does your team focus on the issues that matter the most and not spin its wheels trying to fix them all?
This is where pushing a system to its extreme–and then a little more–may do the trick. The extreme goal approach is a bit like pulling the band-aid to expose all the wounds, but it also directs the team to the fixes that can provide the most dramatic results in the shortest period of time.
Recently, I got to hear about how one of our customers has perfected this practice in their organization.
The GM of the software team, upon taking on the software mantle realized that the development methodologies did not let the company deliver software fast enough to their customers. Everyone knew that Agile was the answer, but how do you get there and what goals do you set?
GM: "What is the fastest software delivery cycle that we can support today."
Dev team: "We do it every 6 months."
GM: "What if we go Agile?"
Dev team: "Well, we may be able to get it down to 2 months"
GM: "What about every 15 days"
Dev team: "Impossible, Everything would break"
"Well–isn’t that what we need to do fix our process?"
And that is exactly what happened at this organization. As the GM describes it– many things did break in 10-day cycle. The team quickly identified all the key bottlenecks–the build system, test systems, limited team collaboration, unoptimized infrastructure setup, etc. They then employed extreme goal orientation to enforce strict prioritization of effort. As the GM put it "Now, if you had a opportunity to automate task A that saved 10 minutes or accelerate task B that saved 2 hours–it was clear where the team put it efforts."
It was this extreme focus on the 15-day delivery goal that made this team go from waterfall to a fast Agile shop in less than 1 year. Not too shabby for a several hundred person team embarking on Agile!
There is a moral to this story. You can set incremental goals, make incremental changes and ultimately reach those goals–in due time. But if you want accelerated progress, here's another approach–set an impossible goal, get out of the way and let the smart people make it happen.
p.s.–JFK's Moonshot speech is a similar example of an extreme goal setting. For more context, watch this video http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ouRbkBAOGEw
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