At this year’s RallyON15, the conference for Rally software users, there was a common theme in many of the sessions I attended and the conversations I witnessed and participated in: Everyone wants to be Agile–meaning they want their teams to move fast and lean, releasing a steady stream of innovation–but only in a way that’s compatible with the business’s need to forecast, plan, and built a thoughtful long-term strategy.
So as many individual teams adopt Agile practices across the enterprise, over time a tension develops between the priorities of the business and individual development teams. Several sessions addressed this issue, saying that teams are motivated by autonomy and wish to evolve their agile practices independently–based on what’s good for the problem they’re working on–while the business wants consistency and a common language to communicate change and fuel decisions across teams. The business wants standards and predictability to fuel a sound strategy, and the development teams want the flexibility to learn and build the best product possible.
As I watched the conversation play out at the conference I captured these arguments:
Autonomy’s benefit is individual motivation and ownership of the work. However, if left unbalanced, autonomy can lead to a disconnect between development teams, and between development and the business, resulting in silos and degradation of Agile’s goal to improve communication.
Consistency’s benefit is communicating across teams and the organization efficiently, but it can lead to over-focusing on ridged performance metrics rather than communicating the “why” of the thing you’re building (e.g. working toward a perfect burndown rather than building the right product).
What’s a thriving, scaling organization to do? Part of the solution is not swing too far one way or the other. The right balance of constraints and freedom is what enables great individual contributions, so it makes sense that the same is true at scale.
Many of the speakers pointed to the signs that an organization is out of balance:
Some practitioners observed problems due to a complete disconnect between developer terminology and the rest of the organization. In some organizations they rolled out Agile at the team level, to multiple teams, but didn’t create a system to roll up and report the cumulative work of these teams. They might have been Agile, but they lacked the timely insights to make decisions due to this lack of standardization.
In one presentation, Naresh Jain and Ashish Parkhi told the story of a development team that actually built a dashboard attempting to enforce good team-level agile behaviors. It looked great! In doing so, however, they created a lot of conflict. Development team members were tempted to game the system to adhere to the metrics-enforced constraints instead of working on the most important problems. (Here’s a link to the same talk, this one recorded, this one recorded at Agile India 2015.)
In Dan Pink’s keynote entitled “Agility Through Autonomy, Mastery, and Purpose” he pointed to strong research suggesting that incentives like money only work to enforce simple behavior. If performance is low, and you’re always looking to add new incentives something, it’s not going to work! Instead, individual autonomy to learn and grow lead to better problem solving.
A fortuitous outcome of the increasingly popular trend of scaling Agile is that a huge variety of product delivery roles have joined the conversation. We’re no longer hearing just the flexibility part of the argument for how we should work, and everyone is benefiting from a healthy tension (and hopefully balance!). Having so many different job titles represented at RallyOn lead to some great debates with a valuable variety of perspectives. We all left with a deeper understanding of how Agile can not only help individuals and small teams work better, but also how scaling Agile facilitates conversations that help an entire organization learn and grow.
Want to know more about scaling Agile practices? These are a few of our most recently recorded webinars on the subject.
By embracing mature agile practices across product, project and development teams, your organization can scale Agile across the enterprise to deliver better products to market faster. Jama Software and Guest Presenter Diego Lo Giudice, VP and Principal Analyst for Forrester Research, discuss actionable recommendations for successfully scaling Agile adoption across the enterprise. Watch this webinar.
At the core of Agile methodology is developing a shared understanding and commitment to what you’re going to build, and then capturing feedback early and often to refine your plan. Even if all of your team members are universally aligned at the beginning of the product development cycle, keeping them in sync and managing change requires a parallel integration among the tools and data systems across the organization. Watch this webinar.