Companies Agility: A report by Scrum Alliance

A couple of days ago, the Scrum Alliance published a report called “The Elusive Agile Enterprise: How the Right Leadership Mindset, Workforce and Culture Can Transform Your Organization”.

In this report, Scrum Alliance and Forbes surveyed more than 1,000 executives to determine how important is the agility in an organization, its degree of success in transformation efforts and how much progress the companies have implementing this type of frameworks. Among all the respondents, there were 10% that are from Latin America (I’m from Costa Rica), so, I would have liked to read the results from this area, but the overall results are equally interesting. Also, those executives weren’t only from a technology oriented company, but also from other areas, however, I would like to comment on some aspects of the report from an IT perspective.

Geography distribution

Personal creation based on report data

One key thing to notice is that they want to measure the agility of a company, not the agile framework they are using (still, there is a 77% of these companies that leverage Scrum as their main framework). But, what is agility and what is being agile? agility is the property of an organization to respond to market changes and still deliver value to the customers, whereas agile is an organizational approach and mindset defined by the values and principles detailed in the Agile Manifesto.

Based on this premise, the report defines several benefits that are obtained after achieving a high level of agility within the company, such as:

  1. Faster time to market:

  2. Faster innovation

  3. Improved financial results

  4. Improved employee morale

Organizational changes

To achieve the mentioned benefits, the respondents affirmed that there were several changes that needed to be applied in order to redefine the company’s processes and reflect the agile mindset. In the report, Scrum Alliance mentioned the top 7 changes, but in order to not spoil the article, I would like to comment some of them with experiences that I’ve seen first-hand to be applied, and succeed.

  • Introduce an agile mindset

Being agile is not only about using Scrum (or any other flavor), perform some of the ceremonies or events that are required, and deliver software. The processes definitely are important, but the people are equally, or more important.

Having an upper management that believes in agile methodologies and promote them, facilitates the transition heavily. Implementing a change from the bottom-up, is nearly impossible, but when it comes from the higher grounds, it’s a quick, fluid and flexible process.

I worked for one organization that had Scrum implemented partially, but not the agile mindset. They performed some of the ceremonies when possible, defined their sprints to have incremental products, but in the other hand, had a requirements process that resembled a lot to the waterfall scheme and the releases were done until the end of the development. The development process was really flexible, and we were able to adapt to some changes, but still there were some gears that didn’t feel right.

The main problem was that the customers weren’t involved with the development process at all, and they were expecting that we exceeded their expectations. This wasn’t going to work, and in fact, it didn’t!

To remediate this, we tried to create backlogs that allowed customers to give their inputs and define what needed to be done. It worked in some things, but still there wasn’t much involvement from the customers, even though that we invited them. At this point, there wasn’t a single point of authority, someone that could work as the Product Owner (something fundamental), so we had to facilitate its creation.

To do this, we talked with the managers of each area that were part of the application and explained them what changes were needed and the possible benefits. They trusted us, and a new group was formed that worked as the Product Owner; this group consisted on a representative of each area, and even though this is not the regular Scrum process, it worked much better and we got much more feedback than before.

The agile mindset was introduced, little by little, to obtain success.

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  • Create incentives that promote agility

In another organization, the agile mindset was much better. Some processes were already defined there, customers agreed with the methodology and got involved in it, the ceremonies were executed and the benefits were visible. Even so, this organization needed some optimization because the processes weren’t applied uniformly across all development teams.

To solve this, a group of people from the organization decided to create a group to lead all the Agile efforts, and the first big task was to standardize the process across every team. Among many options, the one who won was to create a contest, but not a simple one.

The contest consisted in having all teams follow the process of the organization and the Scrum best practices. There were 4 phases and for every phase, a common goal. Each team earned points depending on how good the practices and the process were followed. For example: for the first phase the DSUs were the main goal, and a team earned one point for every DSU done in less than 10 minutes, using the parking lot technique granted extra points. For the second phase, backlog grooming, sprint planning and sprint retrospective events were evaluated. The next phases evaluated customer involvement and product deliveries.

At the end of the contest, a winner was selected from all teams and some prizes were given, but the real outcome was that all the teams managed to follow the same process and practices.

  • Train workforce

As I mentioned before, people are the most important factor when there are changes in any organization. People will determine how quick the change is applied, but there will always be blockers that are needed to be managed, for example: resistance to change, lack of communication, ignorance.

In my opinion, training people to work with Scrum is mandatory, and there are really clever activities that embodies the agile mindset, demonstrates how Scrum is supposed to work and make people enjoy the time spent learning about it. For example, I’ve been in trainings that uses Lego to create a city, building a tower with marshmallows and spaghetti, but the most recent training that I had was using stacks of cards to simulate a development process.

Key Findings in Report

In the report, there are some key findings after all the survey was executed and analyzed, all of them are interesting, and similar to the organizational changes, I’ll comment in just a few.

  • “Many organizations are adopting an ad-hoc approach to agile: 21% of respondents use Agile when/where needed, and 23% use it within specific functions. However, adoption needs to be enterprise-wide (and consistent) to realize real results.”

I agree that the adoption must be enterprise-wide, and I want to believe it, however the reality is not that. As the same survey expose, the number of companies that have adopted agile in every area of the company is less than 10%, and that’s because it’s not a simple process. Implementing an ad-hoc approach is a middle ground solution, that will reduce costs and obtain benefits.

Agile Adoption

Personal creation based on report data
  • “Not everyone eagerly embraces agility: Longtime employees (29%) are the biggest detractors of organizational agility and may stand in the way of widespread adoption. This is a prime opportunity for senior-level executives to address employee concerns and shift mindset.”

It’s true that longtime employees are one the of the biggest detractors, but that’s because the resistance to change is stronger in them (Star Wars jokes aside :). However, I wouldn’t limit this to just a group of people. There was one time that I had someone assigned that didn’t believed in Scrum, and it was due to a bad experience before where the execution was done incorrect; for example Sprint Plannings of 3 hours, DSUs of more than 30 minutes and other bad practices.

  • Many organizations eliminate hierarchy in the hopes of increasing agility: 44% of survey respondents have introduced a flatter structure to become more Agile. But that may be premature; Agile is about creating the right dynamics for teams to iterate quickly, not simply moving boxes around on organizational charts.

For this one, I believe that changing the structure is good, simplifying it and making it more easy to work with. However, I don’t believe that you need to flat every structure. There are frameworks like LeSS (Large Scale Scrum) that help making organizations more lean and scale scrum across all of it.

Summary

Moving to an agile process is not easy, evidenced by this survey. There will always be changes required, trainings needed and a really good management. If you are interested, read the whole report from the Scrum Alliance, there are really good insights to incorporate to your own company.

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