Bottom-Up Implementation and Top-Down Intent in Agile Transformations

WRITTEN BY Andrew Fuqua

When dealing with complex agile transformations in large enterprises, use bottom-up implementation and top-down intent. Mike introduced this “bottom-up implementation and top-down intent” concept in a prior post. As Mike puts it, this is “where leadership sets the direction and establishes constraints, but with teams that are empowered to operate within those constraints.”

Bottom-up implementation

Bottom-up implementation means helping teams be as successful as they can within their constraints. Get teams mature enough to report out significant performance information. I’m suggesting information like velocity, story ratios, resource shortages, quality and blocking issues on a reliable cadence. Help the org gain transparency about the challenges in an actionable way. Due to extreme constraints in many organizations, this isn’t easy. What’s constraining agile in your organization?

Bottom up means helping the teams factually communicate the impact of obstacles on team performance. Therefore, I use assessments to identify and communicate the “non-agile” behaviors and practices that are reducing the potential performance of the teams. We know that Agile/Lean practices work. Hence we know that the teams that assess higher will perform better against their business drivers and performance metrics. Have you identified the obstacles in your company?

This approach of team and organizational assessments and improvement road-mapping tied to team metrics is a very mature way to help sustain the changes. This approach highlights where my clients aren’t getting the success they want. All this information from the ground credibly expresses the impacts of the organizational and management obstacles that arise from management decisions. In many organizations, you can’t simply create change in the larger environment to make the team stuff easy without first producing the information needed to justify change to management. This brings us to…

Top-down intent

Top-down intent requires helping management understand how they can be successful with Agile teams. They often are not in a good position to be successful with agile. They are under tremendous duress and they need to work through a ton of challenges. Sound familiar? But we can still make progress. First, explain at the upper management levels and in other parts of the organization why they need stable teams. Provide data to demonstrate the impact of the organizational design in order to support moving toward the recommended org design. Then understand the system, how it creates value, and its constraints. Finally, build Scrum teams around the constraints.

As part of top down intent, maintain the changes after the external agile coaches leave. This is important. Therefore, build awareness of the capabilities required in the program office that will be necessary once the coaches are gone. Hire people to sustain momentum with internal training and coaching. Do this early on so these new people can get up to speed, spending time with the external coaches.

So there you have it: one way of approaching complex agile transformations in the enterprise. Consider both bottom-up implementation and top-down intent. There is more, so stay tuned.

* Thanks to Doug Brophy for his help with this post. Thanks to Dennis Stevens for providing the fodder.

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3 comments on “Bottom-Up Implementation and Top-Down Intent in Agile Transformations”

  1. Amol

    Thanks for the good read.
    Is it a good idea to adopt any scaled framework like SAFe just to make implementation that much more easier for large organization?

    Reply
    • Andrew Fuqua

      Sure, but that’s a very small part of what I’m talking about here. Some other blog posts here paint some of the picture, but we have more to write as well.

      Reply