Lean and Agile that Works

Lean and Agile that Works

Does this sound familiar?

You have probably been to a presentation or a sales pitch where you have heard things like:

We bring Cloud based solutions into your development environment with an Agile methodology that ensures Lean delivery on-time and on-budget.

Next time you hear something like this, try asking if he or she can describe two parts of the Agile Manifesto? Chances are that he or she cannot.

Why is that so? The reason is that Agile and Lean is the new super hot buzz word, the silver bullet to solve everything, the war to end all wars. The problem is not that that most people do not do Agile properly but merely use it as a selling point. The problem is that very few managers can tell the difference. Can you?

It is actually quite simple

Agile is basically about communication, trust and accountability. Thats it!

When some ten years ago several of the best minds in software analysis and development came together to write the Agile manifesto, it was to remind us about what effective software development is all about. That we over the years, with the best of intentions, have applied too many layers of ceremony to help produce better software, quicker. The sad truth is that it has moved focus away from what we actually should be doing: Provide good quality software to help our business to be competitive.

In other words, Agile is not a new concept. It is actually helping us getting back to the basics. What the Agile Manifesto is trying to remind us is that we are in cooperation with the business, and that cooperation is what makes good software.

There is no such thing as an Agile Methodology, no Lean tools, using SCRUM will not automatically make you Agile. They are only tools to that can help you achieve your Lean and Agile goals. The rest is all about how you think and approach software development.

If you want to know more about the Agile Manifesto and how we interpret it, see our blog post The Agile Manifesto explained.

Lean and Agile that Works

It is not possible to give you a full recipe for Agile and Lean success in a few bullet-points. If we claimed it was possible, then we would be no better than the people we have warned you about earlier. What we can do, is give you a list of things you need to consider. Things that we know from experience is important if you want to get the most out of your Lean and Agile investments.

Accept that it requires a changes, also to management

Agile and Lean is not just limited to the IT department. It requires roles to be redefined and it will challenge traditional ways of doing management, beginning with project management, portfolio management and eventually strategic management. For Agile to work you must go far beyond the IT department. You need a stronger focus on the customer, the ability to react to change and collating valuable feedback to learn what are the “right things” to do.

Make it clear what you want to achieve, how and when

Agile is not a goal in itself. It is a tool to make you succeed with ….. Exactly! You need to define what you want to achieve by going Agile + Lean and will not suffice by defining a fluffy vision. The goal should be based on your business, your customers and the success factors for the company as a whole and not just for software development. To help make it measurable and operational, break the goals into Possible Success Factors that each are broken down into Necessary Conditions. A really effective and Agile way to make a strategy operational. More importantly: Make sure that your goals are realistic – both long- and short term.

Find out where you are now

By assessing your current situation you will learn in which areas you have to apply most effort and which areas that can wait. This will help you to better define your Necessary Conditions and also, help you involve people early on which will provide you with vital input and help de-mystifying what Agile and Lean is all about. By involving the people that will be affected by the identified changes you ensure the changes you implement actually make sense.

Communication and involvement

Listen, Learn and Adapt! Implementing Agile and Lean means handing over control to smaller self organizing teams so it is of vital importance that there is a common understanding of your goals and visions. It also means that you must have a functioning feedback loop where you listen and adapt to the feedback provided in order to continually improve the way you work.

Accept and embrace change, but avoid Chaos

“Only 10% of what you worry about will ever happen”. Change is good and should not be regarded as exceptions. An Agile and Lean approach accepts and embraces change as part of the process and these changes are not just limited to how we develop software, but to the company as a whole. Transitioning a company towards becoming an Agile company requires changing the DNA of the organization and it doesn’t end with the adoption of an Agile framework and the successful IT development change implementation.

Get help

Agile and Lean is a state of mind and cannot be bought in a box from vendor XYZ. Mastering Agile takes time, you need to unlearn a lot of thing things and you have to invest a lot of effort has to avoid returning to the old habits of the organization. External assistance will help you initiate the change and provide you with ongoing help when you and your organization is adapting the new ways of working.

Supercharged Lean and Agile

When implementing Lean and Agile, people usually talk about the soft values such as leading teams, managing iterations, burn-down charts and the like. Not much focus is put on the technical side.

In our experience the biggest factor in making Agile succeed is a strong technical foundation

You need a strong foundation that can handle short iteration cycles, short delivery times and being able to handle major changes to large amounts of code even late in the project. You need a holistic view that combines both the Agile mindset and a streamlined technical platform that will supercharge your Agile and Lean efforts. Having a super efficient technical platform is not bad even if you decide that lean is not for you.

Rather than focus on being Agile which may lead to being successful, focus on being successful, which may lead you to being Agile.

What can go wrong?

Agile and Lean are great tools when they are applied correctly, but it’s very easy to fail. Some of the most common mistakes organizations make are:

  • Not having a clear vision and goal for what you want to achieve with Agile and Lean as company
  • Lean and Agile involves the whole organization and not just the IT department. It is a cultural change for the whole organization
  • Trying to implement implement it as big-bang, not iteratively and iteratively apply the learnings from the previous iterations
  • Use traditional ways of follow-up and management processes. As a general rule, they will not fit anymore
  • Agile is not a tool and cannot be implemented by sending 10 developers on a 2 day SCRUM training. It’s a way of thinking and how you address problem solving
  • Working in short iterations exposes the rest of the organizations inability to deliver. Use that input to streamline the organization and not to have longer iterations
  • Agile is not about what documents to deliver when. If that is your focus you have lost already
  • Agile development requires a strong technical foundation. Refactoring is not as easy as the literature wants us to believe and takes longer and longer time to do as the project moves on

The list is unfortunately a lot longer than this. We have compiled a list of what can go wrong based on the projects we have helped optimizing their Agile and Lean investments.


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