Last week I was wondering about what happened that suddenly the transformation to Agile at my customer was speeding up. Like someone was pushing it forward in the right direction. But if it was not me who was doing things significantly different, who or what was it? A good moment for reflection. What happened last months? What worked well?

The bottom-up approach;

As an Agile coach team we started the Agile transformation from bottom up by coaching the project teams in using Agile. We facilitated the stand-ups, planning and retrospective sessions, explained the Agile way of working, gave training to the teams and stimulate learning by doing. All with different results. Some teams adapted Agile all the way and became so mature that they don’t need coaching anymore. Other teams are still “storming” and do not really want to change their way of working. We invested in Agile behavior and mindset training and organized team sessions to improve team maturity, discussed Agile topics and explained specific concepts of Agile teamwork in more detail.

What worked well was to train one of the team members from each team to become a Scrum master. As an Agile coach we focused on coaching the scrum masters in facilitating the team. This helps the transformation, because it is one of the team members who explains the Agile way of working on a daily base and not an external coach.  By choosing people with good influence on the team, the acceptance of Agile in the team improved.

The top-down approach;

At the same time we started with a top down approach. During an offsite with the entire IT management team we discussed the way forward with Agile and the ambition level for the next year. Each IT department got Agile KPI’s based on, for example, the amount of people trained, certified Agile foundation, amount of projects using burn down charts, multi-disciplinair teams etc.

Each IT-department started up an Agile board in which the management team and Agile coach took part. The management team is responsible for the transition to Agile at their department, the Agile coach is supporting them. By making the team managers, they became aware that they have to change their mindset about Agile and really have to do something to achieve the objectives for coming year.

Combined approach;

Somewhere in time it all came together. It was not only the Agile coaches anymore who  spread the word, but also all management layers. What happened is that the Agile way of working was part of all staff meetings and 1-to-1 conversations. On every meeting the staff got the same message: AGILE!  Team members could first think: This is another method, just bent over and wait until the storm is over. Now it is clear that it is not just a storm, but that it is for real and stays much longer than they expected. The problem in the beginning was also the middle management layer. When team members came to their team managers with arguments why they don’t want to develop iteratively, the team managers had no good arguments to convince their staff because they were not convinced themselves, in spite of the Agile courses and certification they took. Now a day’s all team managers are trained and can explain what the benefits of Agile are to their team members and what the reasons are that they want to work in an Agile way. If needed they say that they have to work Agile, if they like it or not. This pressure is needed when it takes too long to change the way of working. Some team managers noticed that they need more in depth knowledge of Agile and followed also the Scrum Master training. This gave them the certainty and knowledge to explain things better to their teams.

Good practice;

If you start with a top-down approach it will not work because team members do it because their management says so and are not really motivated. They will turn back to their old habits as soon as the Agile coach leaves the building. It works best to start with a bottom-up and top-down approach at the same time, because then, the team members will understand the way of working  and at the same time feel the pressure from above to change their way of working.