While at AgileIndy 2015 today, I had the opportunity to hear someone who I respect immensely, Mike Cottmeyer of Leading Agile, speak about his thoughts on Agile Transformation. Mike really gets it, and expresses his thoughts on the matter eloquently and with such impact. 

While listening to him speak, I remembered this piece I wrote back in December 2014, and wanted to share it. It's not directly related to his talk, but there are some parallels and shared opinions.  

I play a lot in the space of Lean Startup, but I also come from an Agile/ agility background. When asked to write a piece for an e-book a few months ago, I thought - why don't I combine my backgrounds in these two things and talk about how to adopt agile using a lean startup approach? 

So I did. 

And here's what I wrote. I'd love your thoughts and feedback. Mike, thanks for inspiring me to post this!

What Can Lean Startup Teach Us About Agile Adoption?

It's no secret that a transition to Agile (agile, agility, agile methods, take your pick) requires strong senior executive support to be successful.

But how do you get there? How do you, as someone who is in charge of this kind of a transition, help create the culture and environment required for a successful adoption of agile? 

Culture Doesn't Change Overnight

Let's be real: cultural change doesn't happen overnight. In reality, it can take months, or even years to take hold, especially in larger organization.

In the absence of having a quick-fix to the cultural challenges that make an agile transition challenging, I propose a strategy that borrows from a framework we've all heard of. 

Lean Startup FOR AGILE ADOPTIONS

Anyone who hasn't been living under a rock for the past decade has at least heard of Lean Startup, a business and product development method proposed by Eric Ries.

One of my hobbies is experimenting with applying Lean Startup principles to other areas of my life.

When it comes to agile adoptions or agile transitions, I started to wonder:

  • What if we applied Lean Startup methods to agile transitions?
  • What if we could figure out a way to define the minimum implementation of agile within an organization that would:
    • show real value to stakeholders, but that also
    • meets those stakeholders at their level of willingness and preparedness to change? 
  • How could we run a small but impactful implementation of agile with a team, measure the areas of success and failure, and then figure out how to improve such that we are more successful the next time around?

I believe that we can approach agile adoptions or transitions using concepts borrowed from the Lean Startup in order to make us more successful, as follows:

Minimum Viable Product: 

In this case, the product is the project or initiative which you choose to do a proof-of-concept with for your agile implementation. In this context, the concept of minimum viable should guide you to select a project that is only large enough to show success. 

Tips for making your agile MVP concept work include: 

  1. Be careful not to choose a project that is so small that no real value can be demonstrated. 
    WHY?
    You want your customer (i.e. senior-level executives) to care about the success of your project and to pay attention to your results. 
     
  2. Be careful not to choose a project that is mission-critical, is mired in a lot of organizational politics, or has too many interdepartmental or inter-team dependencies.
    WHY?
    I believe this part is pretty self-explanatory. Politics, dependencies, and highly-sensitive projects can all highjack your success in ways that may do more damage than simply a failed agile implementation. 

Build-Measure-Learn:

The concept of build-measure-learn is the Lean Startup's counterpart to Agile's inspect-and-adapt. Agile frameworks encourage (and actually build in) a continuous inspect and adapt mindset, and this comes in the form of continuous feedback cycles, retrospectives, and continuous collaboration. 

The Lean Startups' build-measure-learn cycle provides a structure for measuring an agile adoption's success. In addition to using tools such as continuous feedback and retrospectives, you can measure metrics that can be used to show the success of this new method.

Tips for implementing a build-measure-learn cycle to an agile adoption include: 

  1. Track metrics that not only demonstrate success, but that also highlight areas of improvement.

    By tracking and analyzing these metrics, you're more likely to follow through with implementing improvements needed to make the next iteration of your agile adoption more successful. 
     
  2. Ask your customers (senior-level execs) what their "success criteria" are for your agile adoption pilot (MVP), and translate those into metrics. 

    By being aware of and tracking the metrics around what defines success for your customers, you set yourself up for success, by knowing what to focus on. 
     

Remember, culture doesn't change overnight.

I agree wholeheartedly with Mike, who stated that especially in large organizations that have an established culture, you need to start with solidifying the structures and processes that allow people to be agile before changing their mind (culture) about it. 

Iterative and incremental, people. Iterative and incremental.

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