When companies approach us about ‘going agile’ they often what to know what needs to be in place before they start. Most often companies believe they need to start with a new project. Our approach is usually to start where ever the team is currently. If you wait for the perfect time you might never get started.

We don’t have a readiness assessment checklist that some people expect. We do however have 3 criteria we look for. In our experience these are necessary for our 6 week starter program (called a Kick Start) to be successful. If these aren’t in place we recommend delaying until they are. Our experience tells us that not having these things usually results in a failed adoption.

Our criteria:

  • No hard deadline in the next 3 to 6 months.
  • Full time team members
  • Team are keen to try agile

No hard deadline in the next 3 to 6 months

Our findings over and over again with coaching teams, is that the more spectacularly teams fail in their first few sprints, the better. When they fail to deliver something, they realise they need to change the way they work, and they do. However teams under deadline pressure are not allowed to fail. These teams don’t change the way the work, and don’t really adopt an agile approach. Usually they do this by continuing to work in silos and working overtime. 

So what can you do if you have a deadline coming up? Either negotiate the deadline away (if you are likely to miss the deadline with your current approach anyway), or wait until the deadline is done before starting something like Scrum.

Full time team members

Agile is about teams. Teams learn together, fail together and grow together. It’s very hard to create a team culture if people are only allocated a percentage of their time. People from a traditional project management approach think this is a big ask, but actually it’s not that difficult. The compromise we make is that if someone has to do a particular task, then that task gets assigned to the team, rather than a team member being assigned to some work outside the team. This is a fundamental mind shift for some people, but in our experience key to the success of agile.

Team are keen to try agile

I have in the past forced people to adopt Scrum. It was a disaster! Any agile coach will tell you how important volunteering and opting-in is to an agile culture. We want teams to be willing to give it a try. We are fine with skeptics on a team. In fact, they add a dose of healthy realism to team discussions. But if teams don’t want to try, or don’t believe agile is possible for some reason, then we respect that. If one or two people on a team don’t want to give it a go, we are happy to find a way for them to add value and contribute outside of the team. The best thing you can do if you are thinking about agile is to ask your colleagues what they would like to try. Once people opt in they are much more committed to success.

These are our top criteria. There are other things that come into play. Like ensure the managers involved with the team also attend training and many others.

What are the big things that you look for as an agile coach?

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