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A clarifying thought on agile adoption patterns…

Mike Cottmeyer Chief Executive Officer
Reading: A clarifying thought on agile adoption patterns…

When it comes to agile adoption, I have been thinking about this as a binary equation. Do you start with agile project structure or agile culture. I tend to be in the camp of people that think putting in agile structure can help foster agile thinking and behaviors.

My main point has always been that you create an environment where teams are delivering software on short cycles, throw in some good leadership and a solid vision for the future, and the agile behaviors will follow. My problem, is that as a project manager, I tend to think about things at the project level.

The past few weeks I have been out talking with a bunch of traditional project managers who are working in organizations trying to make the switch to agile. After spending time with these folks, I have had a clarifying thought (not a new thought) because on many levels I have understood this the entire time.

It is not so much project structure that is important, it is organizational alignment that really matters.

There are simple things at play like silos of functional teams, too much specialization, and matrixing people across several projects. We are also dealing with HR policy, career paths, and how we incent and reward our employees. When we say that agile cannot survive without executive level sponsorship… we are not asking for permission and a pep rally, we are asking them to lead change.

We need our executives to drive the hard change that will actually align our business with our software development and project management processes. Our leaders need to remove the organizational impediments that cause agile adoption to fail. Unless we are willing to make those kinds of changes, what can we really expect our project teams to do?

So… I still fall into the structure before culture camp. We just need to think about agile structure at a much higher level, a level where we have the ability to effect significant organizational change.

Next Heading to Orlando for Agile Development Practices

Comments (6)

  1. Martin Olesen

    Hi Mike,

    Great post… I have tried to drive agile adoption in environments where senior managers really support it and where they don´t. The later I can´t recommend. At best you will have some success on the individual teams, but that is highly dependent on how good the team lead is at shielding the team.

    I think that senior managers need to be to the rest of the organization (the teams) what team leaders are to the team. They should foster open communication, remove impediments etc. and they should definitely practice what they preach.

  2. joapen


    there is still a lot of ‘making aware’ work to do.

    No chance!

  3. Kevin E. Schlabach

    Some companies already have an agile culture, many don’t. I don’t think you can create it out of thin air. If you are lucky to already have it, then jump into agile with both feet. Otherwise…

    I like to use retrospectives first to build trust. Build trust by having the team raise issues and showing that the leaders will solve them. Then I like to apply stand-ups… show peer accountability and allow people to admit mistakes. These two things will catch the attention of upper management with happier, more productive teams.

    This is the point where I jump to the agile process and structure. Sell your concepts, get buy-in, and start solving problems from the top down. Apply patterns to issues and gain credibility. People will start taking on this agile culture as they see it working.

  4. Rick

    Deep thoughts, Mike. There is a certain elegance to executive fiat. It doesn’t capture the hearts of the people, though. You can get malicious compliance. Then, when that executive is no longer in power, people will return to the old ways.

  5. Mike Cottmeyer

    Kevin, thanks for the reply. I think it boils down to this… you have to have culture, structure, and the necessary support from leadership to align business processes (HR, accounting, contract management, etc.) with development.

    Any one of these missing? You have a greater liklihood of failure.

  6. Mike Cottmeyer

    Thanks for the post Rick. See my response to Kevin; I think you need the three legs of the stool for a successful agile transformation. Executive support (or fiat) is doomed to fail without structure and culture (implicit in this is the buy in of the organization).


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