Taking a pragmatic approach to the constraints that exist in today’s large organisations, yet still realising the benefits from Agile.
What is the first thing that comes to mind when you hear ‘Hybrid Agile’? I asked this question to a group of 40 active Agile practitioners at the LAST conference in Melbourne a few weeks ago and the response I received was varied.
A recent report published by Forrester has concluded that ‘Water-Agile-fall’, synonymous to Hybrid Agile, is a practical and necessary reality for large organisations. After surveying 215 software professionals and collecting data about the adoption rates of Agile and its success, the report’s findings were:
In this post, I would like to explore the idea that it is OK for Hybrid Agile to be the definition of ‘done’ in the context of a large organisation’s Agile journey. In some (if not most) large organisations, there are certain constraints that will impose restrictions on achieving full Agile glory. Unless or until these constraints are resolved, a capital ‘A’ Agile end state cannot be achieved. A ‘tug-of-war’ tension is created between the desire to achieve full Agile greatness and the constraints that are holding it back.
Start-ups and new organisations like Spotify are Agile success stories as they have been able to create an Agile culture and mindset from the onset.
When you think of Spotify, the words green fields, start-up, community, and digital disruptor come to mind. Spotify has engendered a strong culture centred on talented and motivated people who are trusted to succeed and fail. One of their mottos is “Agile-at-scale within the organisation requires trust-at-scale”. The beauty of Spotify is that it was able to create an Agile mindset, plug-and-play technology landscape, and lean governance from the onset.
In contrast, today’s large organisations are well established and can have a long history. They have complex architectures, command-and-control style leadership practises, are process heavy, and are being digitally disrupted rather than being the disruptor.
5 common constraints in large organisations that create a ‘tug-of-war’ tension and hold it back from achieving ‘full Agile glory’
For traditional, well established and large organisations, ‘tug-of-war’ tensions come from 5 common constraints that I’ve seen working with these organisations:
2. Straight up change resistance
5 factors to determine where your organisation fits on the spectrum of agility, for a fit-for-purpose definition of ‘Agile done’
Based on my experience, a pragmatic approach needs to be taken and one that considers these constraints. It is unrealistic to expect an organisation to go from a traditional, waterfall way-of-working to Agile overnight. It may also be unrealistic to expect that an organisation will ever achieve full Agile glory as there may be certain regulatory constraints like APRA for banking, or life-or-death safety measures like in mining that need to be considered.
To assist in determining how Agile you go along the spectrum, 5 factors should be considered:
A balanced approach and an answer in-between Waterfall and Agile is Hybrid Agile. Hybrid Agile is the application of adaptive, Agile concepts and techniques in traditional, predictive projects.
The Hybrid Agile approach involves:
- Plan: Developing a high-level plan upfront for the project. This helps to mitigate a fear of failure culture by providing a degree of comfort and confidence to stakeholders.
- Analyse: Prioritising the business requirements and developing the high-level design of the solution. This ensures an overall understanding of the problem and approach to focus on prioritising business value.
- Core design, build and test: Executing through sprints with Scrum ceremonies during design, build, unit testing and initial integration testing. If an E2E feature cannot be completed in a two-week time box, a sequential approach can be taken. For example, the goal of sprint 1 is to design, build and unit test the feature and the following sprint 2 goal is to execute the initial integration test.
- Final testing and deployment: Conducting a final round of integration, performance and regression testing before the code is packaged up to be released to production. This is a final hardening phase of all required features to launch a minimal viable product.
Core Agile benefits can be realised with a Hybrid approach
Even with a Hybrid Agile approach, the core benefits that are typically associated with Agile projects can still be realized. These benefits are:
Identifying issues early: Consistent reviews at the end of each sprint meaning any issues will surface early and can be addressed immediately, as well as through blockers raised in the build and test sprints during daily stand-ups.
Ability to accelerate high priority features: Overall project is executed on a priority basis with an ongoing prioritization of business requirements that takes into account constraints and dependencies.
Increased transparency and feedback: Stakeholders will be involved in every sprint and tangible progress will be reviewed regularly, supporting continuous feedback between development and the business.
Minimise the tug of war – align along the spectrum to determine the degree of Agile for you
In summary, in order to select the ‘fit-for-purpose’ point along the spectrum of agility that will best suit your organisation, it is imperative to be honest about the key constraints for Agile within your organisation. For large organisations, it is OK for a Hybrid Agile approach to be the Agile end state. This will minimise the tug of war between the desire to achieve full Agile glory and the constraints that exist. If an organisation stops at a Hybrid Agile approach along the spectrum, at least the way-of-working has been improved and the mentioned benefits realised.
A practical technique that can be used to progress towards Agile whilst navigating the organisational constraints is a ‘Design Slicing’ approach that identifies high value, small and incremental ‘slices’ to be regularly delivered, as outlined by Chris Webb and Tahlia Oliver. However, when and if the broader organisational constraints have been removed, it is prudent to reassess and redefine the definition of ‘Agile done’ so as to continue to move to the right on the spectrum. The key success criteria of an Agile organisation is creating the right environment and culture as described by Renee Cuzens. It is important to remember to take an Agile approach to going Agile as small and incremental steps are the key to a successful change journey.