Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Adopting Agile Practices: Its going to be hard!

Right now I'm coaching some teams with projects in flight. To do this I generally start by showing them one or two agile practices. After getting buy-in we use the practices for an iteration - retrospect and refine. This approach minimizes change and risk to the project, but has a drawback. A gradual approach lends to some quick successes early on that give a false impression that adopting agile practices is going to be easy. As more complicated practices are incrementally adopted a tipping point is reach upon which the team has a cathartic moment. They discover that:
  1. The practices they are learning are actually a means to an end. Once they master a practice they are embarking on a journey rather than achieved a tick mark for a resume or PMO process requirement.
  2. What got them through the last few iterations isn't working on the current iteration.
  3. Any impediments to project success quickly bubble to the top and wildly boil over. These can be external issues or a team member. (I often remind teams of a term I learned from a colleague of mine: "nobody can hide on an Agile team.")
  4. Following agile practices requires more discipline than their old modes of working.
Upon realizing this, the team often finds a multitude of reasons why Agile won't work in their organization and slips backward. They find themselves in the classical "pit of despair" for an iteration before they are ready to use the agile practices again. Finally they are ready to get into high performance mode and things get better. From my experience and research, this pattern is the norm. I continue to look for an easier way to get past this transition period...