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Steps You Can Take [Today] to Succeed in Agile Delivery

Organizations in the 21st century face great opportunities and threats presented by fast paced technological advances. According to Forbes Magazine, the most defining traits of a successful 21st century organization are relentless innovation - requires a new mindset that liberates everyone in the organization to innovate regardless of position or function, and breakthrough performance environments that are flexible enough to support rapid movement, speedy decision-making and process alignment to regularly achieve extraordinary outcomes. When long rooted processes start to fail and the need for such lean delivery becomes more evident, change becomes a question of when, and how it can be implemented to realize the desired results with just the right amount of disruption.

In federal environment, where there are multiple customers being served and where the room for error is minimal - it is imperative to define and communicate the drive behind the change and the direction for a new approach before the organization can embark upon the journey of uprooting and transforming embedded delivery processes. Further, it is vital to find a starting point where the initial activities are not overwhelming for those who are championing the change.

If you are part of a change initiative and looking to develop your own approach for giving structure to starting such a difficult process of organizational change, below are some of the most effective approaches to get started.

Step 1. Demand a Vision for Your Team

All change leaders and contributors need a relevant purpose for why they should commit the time and effort to make significant changes in the way they work. This vision provides a clear picture for individual contributors to visualize the opportunities created after the change and how their efforts now, will pay-off in the long run. On the contrary, the lack of such purpose, adversely affects the motivation for individual contributors, thus resulting in a high likelihood of abandonment during the transition. To this end, investing in time and resources to define and communicate the vision and strategy behind a change initiative is the most essential factor to secure buy-in and commitment to kick-off and support the initiative to success.

Checklist for Developing an Effective Vision Statement
A change vision differs from overall organizational vision, it provides a clear picture of what the future will look like after the change and contains the following attributes:
  • It’s written in simple language and easy to understand
  • Uses pertinent facts to produce an appealing change vision
  • Creates a sense of urgency
  • Has a shared purpose - contributors understand how they will be able to take advantage of the opportunities that are created by the change

Step 2. Start Small

Experience shows that integrating Agile principles and practices into complex workflow takes time and several iterations. Additionally, if such practices are mandated from the top without being supported by an overarching vision and strategy, individual contributors will have localized perspectives on the best route to reach the goal, resulting in uncoordinated, overlapping initiatives that increase the risk of waste and failure too early in the process.

The best way to reduce such risk is to “think scale,” while starting small with lean, pilot Agile teams and development approaches that tailor and break down bigger transformation initiatives into smaller team activities and iteratively build towards a more comprehensive, final process. Starting small creates a safe space for teams to experiment in small batches, inspect and adopt quickly while reflecting on their process decisions to improve. Further, experimenting with smaller Agile teams facilitates organizational learning for scaling by allowing new teams to course correct based on lessons learned from the earlier pilot teams.

Agile Teams - Quick Starter Kit
Lightweight practices to start introducing Agile approaches to your teams:
  • Redefine [traditional roles](https://tech.gsa.gov/guides/Traditional-Management-Skills-and-Functions-in-an-Agile-Organization) to enable your team skills thrive in Agile approaches (e.g. Program Managers use their leadership skills to drive high-level strategies, remove roadblocks, manage stakeholders, etc.)
  • Hold 10-15 mins check-ins, daily if possible or 3-2 times a week with your development teams. This is known as the Daily Stand-up or the Daily Scrum
  • Plan your work in short iterations, 2-3 weeks in length with specific outcomes in mind. Also known as Sprints
  • Meet with your team to review the *outcomes* at the end of each iteration to acquire feedback and build your queue for the next iteration (Sprint Review/demo)
  • Meet with your team to review how this *process* is working and how to improve it at the end of each iteration (Sprint retrospective)
  • Implement action items and keep repeating this process
  • Read [Agile Meetings and Benefits](https://tech.gsa.gov/guides/Agile_Meetings_Goals_and_Benefits) on who should attend this activities, the purpose, agenda, benefits and tips to run them effectively.

Step 3. Learn, Improve and Repeat

Reiterating and applying the Agile principles, specifically setting up intervals to reflect on process, adjust, adopt and improve behavior accordingly, is the key to continuous improvement (or Kaizen). Additionally, regularly revisiting the Agile values and principles with your team, can shed new light in how each aspect of your new process and interactions are giving priority to your new values and how you can continue improving the way you work. Retrospective activities try to address three main questions / points through discussion: <li>What went well during the sprint cycle?</li> <li>What went wrong during the sprint cycle?</li> <li>What could we do differently to improve?</li>

Example topics include examining milestones, dependencies, motivations, misunderstandings, etc. around the team’s processes and looking ahead to mitigate possible risks or concerns. This improvement process also facilitates trust and collaboration across and between business and development teams.

Another way to achieve continuous improvement is to facilitate a learning organization through training and team / personal development. Although becoming Agile cannot be trained nor mandated, individual contributors can enable a supporting environment by evolving their behaviors and practices to support cultural change and the way the organization operates.

Most effective Ways to Achieve Continuous Improvement:
Retrospect:
  • Gather information/data based on facts
  • Generate relevant insights - conversations over accusations
  • Facilitate open, honest and constructive communication
  • Prioritize and decide on actionable commitments, assigned to a team member with a timeline
  • Revisit issues and check-in on status in the future
  • Personal/Team Development: browse these [Agile resource and guides](https://tech.gsa.gov/guides), inquire about [Agile coaching and training](https://tech.gsa.gov/work-with-us) on technical Agile practices and approaches