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Agile Development Creates Collaborative Culture

Janeen Blanton and Sujey Edward | March 31, 2015

Your initial investment into applying agile processes has revealed amazing results: collaboration between stakeholders; a more highly engaged technical staff; and most importantly, increased customer satisfaction that positively influences the bottom line.

Agile adoption has been such a favorable experience for everyone that the plan is now to roll it out across the entire organization. So how does one roll out an enterprise process that at its core speaks about small, self-organizing, co-located teams?

Some of the most prevalent methods for scaling agile are scrum of scrums, disciplined agile delivery, and scaled agile framework. All of these methods have strong virtues, and we typically incorporate best practices from each of them into our approach. But having participated in many scaling implementations, our agile coaches have found that out-of-the-box solutions are rarely a perfect fit.

In the words of Bruce Lee, “Adapt what is useful, reject what is useless, and add what is specifically your own.” Standard methodologies can provide guiding principles, tools and techniques. However, enterprise level agile adoption requires a roadmap that is specific to a company’s corporate culture, its degree of organizational maturity, and the distance between the current and desired levels of agile practice.

With that being said, there is one universal principle that is critical to ensure success—creating a collaborative organization. Collaboration is one of the foundational values of agile. It inspires innovation, improves quality, and increases engagement. This is easy to understand at a team level. But what does a collaborative organization look like?

A collaborative organization removes the barriers between business units and IT, as well as management and staff, so that everyone understands and embraces the vision of an organizational investment and the business value it will ultimately create. It gets everyone on the same page so that they are moving together toward a common goal. Some mechanisms that can aid in creating this kind of collaboration are release planning meetings, synchronized sprints, and a more positive attitude toward failures.

Release planning meetings are a major enterprise level event. The team for a major project includes more than the individual scrum teams. It also includes executive sponsors, business unit management, infrastructure support, IT delivery and operations, marketing, and anyone else that is part of developing and deploying the solution.

During this one to two-day meeting, the executive sponsor explains why this investment is being made and what its business value is. This is a powerful message.  It not only exposes the team to the corporate vision, but lets them hear it directly from the visionary. 

Next, the enterprise architect presents the architectural vision and common framework. This ensures that the solutions developed are more easily maintained and are in line with organizational constraints such as target architecture, security, and regulatory concerns.

The remainder of the meeting is spent breaking down the project and organizing the program and team level backlogs. Risks, issues, and dependencies can be immediately brought to the attention of other team members and resolved. 

Now that everyone has a shared vision and game plan, the next hurdle is to make sure everyone keeps moving together toward the end goal. We use synchronized sprints to help keep teams aligned. Developing and delivering on the same schedule helps to reduce wait time and delays, but more importantly it allows for continuous integration of team deliveries into the whole.

The ability to provide frequent integrated system demonstrations gives business sponsors an opportunity to accept, adapt, or eliminate functionality as it is created.  This also allows sponsors to potentially ship products sooner if value has been created for the end user. On one of our recent projects, the executive sponsor realized at an integrated system demo that the functionality needed in the marketplace was already achieved saving his company thousands and allowing his product to be the first to market.

As you embrace your newfound collaborative organization, you will need to embrace failure. Collaboration inherently leads to creativity and innovation. While this often creates increased value and quality, not every new idea will work. However, stifling that creativity can rob your organization of many rewards and damage team morale.

For that reason we use retrospectives to talk as a team about what didn’t work, why it didn’t work, and how we can do it better. Failures also allow us to “pivot,” which is a change in strategy without a change in vision.  By embracing failure, we can create a culture of transparency and continuous improvement which will ultimately benefit both our processes and products.

Adopting agile at the enterprise level will not be a one-size-fits-all, out-of-the-box approach.  It will be an evolutionary process that is unique to your organization and its goals. Standard methodologies can provide you with some great tools and techniques.  However, the foundational principle of creating a collaborative organization should be your first step on the path to success.

Sujey Edward, is vice president of Salient‘s Agile Center of Excellence. Janeen Blanton is a vice president with Salient Commercial Solutions.

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