Think you are Agile? ….how do you know?

I was recently involved in an organization that wanted to transition their software development teams to Agile since 2 of the teams had been doing 2-week iterations for over 6 months.  The problem was, that despite the manager yelling that they “were already Agile”, they were not delivering valuable and potentially shippable increments frequently nor consistently (iteration after iteration), nor were they adapting to changing priorities and customer needs along the way.

The essence of Agile is not whether or not a team is doing TDD or pairing or automated regression testing, (although I strongly believe they are all good practices and I evangelize them to all my clients).  Being Agile means delivering business value frequently and consistently while adapting to changing business needs.  No matter what practices are being followed, if you are not doing this then your not Agile.  That’s where assesments come in…

Agile transformation usually begins with a pilot team.  However, it is very difficult to achieve transformation that improves the end-to-end delivery process that can continuously improve and is sustainable if the transformation begins only at the team level and doesn’t involve the rest of the organization.

Assessment Findings

Turns out this org actually met their release dates, but the releases were so…

bug ridden that they spent the next 2+ iterations fixing the critical bugs that were found within a few days of the release….making the next release date even harder to hit.  Other findings included:

  • Executives set release dates and picked features without team involvement and then held the team to meeting those constraints
  • Team members were very reluctant to share honest feedback with Management for fear of retribution which included termination
  • Requirements were written into Use Cases, but were so huge and written so long ago that even the Product Manager and Analysts couldn’t remember what was really needed by customer
  • …and the list went on and on…

Were they Agile?

They thought they were 90% or more Agile, but they were far from it after the quick assessment.  They were doing 2 week iterations that only included development, no testing, nor delivery of demonstrable working code for customer feedback – and daily stand-ups that were 60-90 minute status meetings with a crowd of 20 to 45 at times.

Why do Assessments ?

Assessments are very powerful.  They usually evaluate things like: team size, culture, requirement analysis, CMMI maturity, quality and skill of teams They evaluate Management, Development & QA.  They show you where an organization is ready or not for Agile.  Telling you where to start the transition, while also evaluating the current use of agile methods, its software engineering practices, and its project management skills and capabilities.

They take about 2-4 weeks, giving you an action plan that helps focus efforts where you are ready for Agile and identify the areas that need work to become Agile.  It makes Agile transitioning happen much more quickly.  This is why executive buy-in is critical – management will play a key role in becoming Agile.

Is all hope lost for organizations that reveal low Agility readiness?

Hope is never lost.  Any organization can become Agile, but it requires lots of change to happen.  And for change to occur and not kill them, they must mature as an organization to allow Agile methods and practices to flourish.

An assessment will allow any company to see what it will take to become Agile and where to start.   But I must also say that if management is not willing to trust or listen to the assessment – and they do what every they want instead and call it Agile – then success is most likely impossible or at best a very long long and painful journey for them.

Agile Assessment Tools to consider

(1) Back of a Napkin Assessment

You can keep it super simple and ask you organization the following ten questions:

1. The team knows, for sure, that at any given time they are working on deliverables that have the greatest value for the business.
2. When the implementation team claims to be Done with something, the business stakeholder usually agrees that it is, in fact, done and Accepts it.
3. When something is Accepted, it is sufficiently well-built and well-tested that it would be safe to deploy or ship it immediately.
4. The team delivers Accepted product increments at least monthly.
5. When the product increments are shipped or deployed, the users and customers are generally satisfied.
6. If the business stakeholder changes the priorities or the requirements, the implementation team can adapt easily, switching gears to deliver according to the updated business needs within the next iteration.
7. The business stakeholders express confidence that they will get the capabilities they need in a timely manner.
8. The business can recognize real value from the deliverables: each product increment ultimately has a positive impact on the bottom line.
9. The team has been working at the same pace, delivering roughly the same amount every iteration, for a while.
10. The people on the implementation team agree that they could keep working at the current pace indefinitely.

Ask:  How Agile is your team?   How many of the statements above would you say characterize your team?

(2)  Self-Assessment Tests

There are lots of these out on the web – most are FREE.  One of my favorites is found on Thoughworks that looks at both Management and Development practices in a company.  Try it out here.

(3) Doctor Agile   (

I like this tool because it comes from a positive point of view – identifying where you are ready to go Agile and how to begin your transition.  They also reveal areas you are not quite ready for Agile.

…just google “agile assessment” and you will find lots of choices.  The point is, find out where you are at now, then you can plan how to become Agile intelligently !

So what happened to the org ?

Let’s just say that they have a very long long long long and painful road ahead of them.

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