Role Models Lead the Transition to Agile Software Development

When rolling out an enterprise agile approach like Scrum, Kanban or XP, you’ll be tempted to treat all development teams the same and to synchronize them at the same competency level. That won’t work.

There are many factors that impact a team’s ability to transition to agile software development. Consider these:

  • Some people will be reluctant to change. When the reluctant ones are senior members of a team, they are in a position to hold back the entire team effort.
  • The opposite is also a problem. Some people will be too eager to change. They will dive in, cut corners, over-simplify, and generally mess up the process.
  • A development team may be in the middle of a project schedule. It may be best for them to complete the entire project using the current approach before considering anything agile.
  • Some business areas may be difficult to convert to agile development. Consider highly-regulated industries, some government agencies, and any target customer that is slow-moving and overly deliberate. (Note: these are difficult but not impossible.)

For these reasons (and surely others), software development teams will transition to agile at different rates and perform at different levels. Some will excel, others will get by, and a few will struggle. You’ll never achieve uniformity. People are diverse and so are teams. Embrace it.

A few good teams will make the difference.

It helps to have a few individuals and a few teams who are agile development experts or role models. Focus on them. Help them achieve high-levels of excellence in advance of the rest of the company. Turn them into evangelists.

It’s a simple variation of the principle of leading by example. Get a few teams out ahead of everyone else. Help them be successful. Leverage their expertise and success. Once these teams build momentum, others will want to follow.

There’s no magic formula for selecting individual or team evangelists. Those selected need to be committed to making agile development successful and they have to be ready to change — continually. It also helps if they are outgoing and helpful by nature.

Resist the urge to get everyone lined up and moving on the same direction, especially at the outset. Once a few teams get started with agile development and demonstrate success, the others will naturally want to catch up. Before long, the slow start will turn into a stampede — and that’s a good problem to have.

Updated: February 16, 2012 — 10:10 pm

1 Comment

  1. Excellent write up. Role models are key to driving greater adoption. The recent ‘10% tipping point for ideas’ research reaffirms the idea that when the right people lead with the right ideas, the majority quickly follow. Allowing an agile community to grow and develop will take careful managing, but the results of a successful implementation can turn a business around.

    Luke Winter
    Community Manager

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