Your browser does not support JavaScript!

by McCaul Baggett | April 24, 2020 | Blog

6 Things To Do To Kick-Off Your Agile Transformation

Agile transformations are complicated. Success has huge benefits, but success is not guaranteed. Boosts in productivity, innovation, and higher quality products or services your customers will love can make the challenge of transforming an organization well worth the effort.

As with any undertaking, making the right preparations before you begin will dramatically improve the outcome. 

As a Scrum coach and trainer, I have worked with a variety of clients over the years from finance to farming, from media to manufacturing, and have found consistently that 6 key elements can get your transformation started on the right path. 


1 - Build the Right Teams

An Agile transformation may be organizational, but it’s built on the foundation of strong Scrum Teams which is why you need to have the “right teams” in place, but in the current remote world, hiring is more difficult than ever before. Having your teams involved in the hiring process is essential. Culture fit is every bit as important to building strong teams as is a skillset. Video chat is a key interview tool in a virtual world. This gives teams the chance to meet the candidates and for the candidates to see the team interacting. 

Each team should have all the skills necessary to take their work from inception to delivery, but the team should also be small enough to ensure easy collaboration (Scrum Inc. and the Scrum Guide itself suggests three to nine people). This eliminates cross-team or cross-department dependencies. The biggest waste of time is waiting for an “approval” or “answer” from some other team or manager. These delays start to add-up leaving teams without enough time to reach their goals, which is deflating! 

The team needs a clear purpose and direction for the product they will work on. That sense of shared vision helps a team feel relevant and connected to the wider enterprise. Once they have that clear direction, the team must then own the “how.” They must be empowered to organize themselves to produce high-quality work as they see fit. 

Leadership will hold the team accountable for delivering this work on time and on budget, and will also seek to empower them to act without the need for constant check-ins and approvals. Striking this balance is critical. And, it will help shape the culture of the organization moving into and beyond the transformation.


2 - Have Good Metrics From Day One

How will you know if your transformation is working or not? This is an important question that is often overlooked until an Agile transformation is already underway. 

By setting these early you can inspect and adapt from day one and greatly increase the chance of success. 

The teams need to know what success will look like before starting down the road on their new adventure. Both management and the team need to agree on what we will measure to confirm that our new way of working is actually working. The expectations need to be crystal clear to both the team and managers. 

happy team on projectExpectations must be transparent to everyone working with the team. “Why did you begin this journey of transformation?” The answer to that question is what defines the goals for the transformation and ultimately defines the success of the effort. A clear vision provides purpose. Purpose is a key motivator for teams (Dan Pink, Drive, 2011, Riverhead books) and ensures everyone from Leaders to Product Owners to Team Members are working together towards that all-important shared vision.

One particularly important metric for all businesses, especially as we are shifting into a remote working world, is team happiness. We have to keep a close eye on happiness as socializing options have become far more limited. Happiness is a leading indicator; when team happiness takes a sudden drop, quality and speed often follow. 


3 - Focus on Products Not Projects

Organizations often focus on their “next big project,” but, if you step-back you can see the potential flaws with this thinking. A project is a short-lived endeavor and prioritizes the “urgent” over the important. However, great teams are actually long-lived. 

A project may represent something wholly new. Or it can just be a new piece of something which already exists. But a product is a consistently delivered service or feature central to the company’s mission

Knowing the difference between these two is key. Agile organizations know specifically what their products are and where their projects fit into the bigger picture of the enterprise. They have a clear understanding of their value streams and can therefore, begin to structure their transformation around delivering value and growing those streams.  

Stable teams are more successful and this is built on teams working together and learning how to work together. It happens over time.


4 - Choose the right Product Owners 

Product Owner (PO) is the make or break role for the team and critical to your transformation. Product Owners should inspire their teams. When looking for a good PO, look for the person who, even if remote, can make the team feel excited about what they’ve done and what their product could be. The Product Owner also must have strong trust in the team that they can and will figure out how to deliver what the PO asks for on their own. Above all, when looking for a PO for your teams, find someone who listens. Listening is at the heart of strong leadership.

A dedicated PO is an inspiring leader. He or she holds the vision for the team’s purpose; what the teams need to do and why they need to do it. 

They must have deep insight and awareness of their marketplace and the current trends therein. In order to achieve this, he or she must dedicate significant time to get critical feedback from both customers and stakeholders, and then use that insight to shape the vision that is shared with the team. Articulating the vision gives team members that sense of purpose and connection to the goals and mission of the enterprise. This is why we say the PO owns the “what”.

Finally, this is a full-time job. 

A Product Owner can’t be partially dedicated to the role. They can not have another “day job.”  A PO that already has another job does a disservice to both and reduces the value to the enterprise overall. Many organizations stumble with this step. When you begin your transformation, don’t make this mistake. One PO per team isn’t the recipe for success, but one PO on multiple teams, is certainly a recipe for disaster.


5 - Choose the Right Scrum Masters

A Scrum Master must be a servant leader. 

So what exactly does that even mean?

 The Scrum Master facilitates the Scrum Events but is also a trusted team member who works to support and “serve” the team. This includes coaching the team and Product Owner on Scrum and removing any obstacles or issues that might slow the team down. 

The Scrum Master role requires a high level of emotional intelligence to understand the team’s dynamic and keep it on track. A Scrum Master is ready and willing to have those “uncomfortable” conversations to help the team work through the challenges that naturally arise in learning to act as a team. Get uncomfortable together to be comfortable together.

The Scrum Master needs to gauge if their team is happy. Studies clearly show that happy teams perform better, faster, and produce higher quality work. In the 2012 January-February issue of the Harvard Business Review, they focused the whole magazine on happiness. What they discovered was:

“…we've found that the only route to employee happiness that also benefits shareholders is through a sense of fulfillment resulting from an important job done well. We should aspire not just to make employees "happy," but to do so by helping them achieve great things. In short, we should earn our employees' passionate advocacy for the company's mission and success by helping them earn the passionate advocacy of customers.” (Rob Markey, HBR Blog, 1/27/12

Scrum Mastery is very dear to my heart. In a world of remote work, the job of a Scrum Master is a lot harder. On a team working remotely, your Scrum Master will be the one who helps guide the team on how they work together and stay aligned. She’ll do this by setting team working agreements and then holding the team accountable for meeting the agreements they make. In a world where how we work together is still unknown, setting up, enforcing, and re-evaluating that agreement is vital to creating a strong team dynamic.

Scrum Masters also help the team stay focused on work-life balance. As we all have begun to realize, that’s FAR more difficult now than it was when we worked in an office. It requires someone to keep everyone honest about what they’re really feeling and sometimes, taking that hard look at how we’re actually doing is something we don’t even do for ourselves. Scrum Masters have to be the guide to remind us how we should take care of ourselves in this uncertain working environment.


6 - Mentorship vs. Management

Before you even launch the first team for your agile or digital transformation, you need support and buy-in from leadership. Most importantly, managers need to become mentors. 

Any successful transformation involves a significant shift in mindset. Without this shift, your organization is in danger of being “Agile in name only” using Scrum terms but not actually changing how you work.

In a transformed organization, Leadership’s purpose is to define and share the organizational vision, remove the things slowing teams down, and move to mentoring and empowering others. 

Manage work; lead people. As the world has become more disconnected, that has become even more true. The fact is, many people like to feel a sense of autonomy and empowerment in their lives. Often, traditional “people management” can feel constricting especially for people like me who immediately resist being told what to do by nature. Leadership is about empowering people, providing psychological safety, and servant leadership, but it’s also about holding people accountable for the results of their empowered choices. We must be able to trust that our teams don’t need constant monitoring; that they genuinely care about producing exceptional results.

A transformation will remove organizational layers.

Some middle managers will be moved into team roles (PO, SM, Team Member) where they can bring their expertise to bear directly on the work. In those roles they will help skill-up others, guide high-level decisions on the team, and mentor their fellow team members. Some management layers might move into the role of stakeholders. They are in touch with the higher levels of the organization and will work with the PO’s to clarify the teams’ connections to the enterprise’s overall strategy.

Final thoughts: 

An Agile or digital transformation is a process, not an end state. It’s about creating a new work culture that continuously adapts and responds as markets change and evolve. No matter how much the world changes, no matter how quickly we must evolve, transformation is about staying focused on building healthy teams that do Scrum well and have an Agile mindset. You build a transformation starting with good teams and rely on them to tell you what structure they need. They will be your guide, trust them.

Learn Scrum Remotely From Those Who Helped Create It.

Our online courses are live, highly interactive and taught by leading experts. Earn an industry-recognized credential while positioning yourself, your team and your organization to succeed in today’s complex business climate.

join the scrum inc newsletter

Stay Connected

The market changes fast. Here’s how to stay ahead…

Join a community of over 40K+ subscribers who receive the latest in Scrum industry news, emerging thoughts and community updates from the Scrum Inc. Team.

You have Successfully Subscribed!