Adaptable culture, not adaptable hair...

Adaptable culture, not adaptable hair…

So far we have discussed three of the top factors for successful Agile implementations:

  1. Senior Management
  2. (Tied) Engagement and Early Feedback

Tied for fourth place in the list of success factors are trust, adaptable culture and coaching.

Trust was one of surprises on the list. Trust, in this situation, means that all of the players needed to deliver value, including the team, stakeholders and management, should exhibit predictable behavior. From the team’s perspective there needs to be trust that they won’t be held to other process standards to judge how they deliver if they adopt Agile processes. From a stakeholder and management perspective there needs to be trust that a team will live up to the commitments they make.

An adaptable culture reflects an organization’s ability to make and accept change.  I had expected this to be higher on the list.  Implementing Agile generally requires that an organization makes a substantial change to how people are managed and how work is delivered.  Those changes typically impact not only the project team, but also the business departments served by the project. Organizations that do not adopt to change well rarely make a jump into Agile painlessly. Organizations that have problems adapting will need to spend significantly more effort on organizational change management.

Coaches help teams, stakeholders and other leaders within an organization learn how to be Agile. Being Agile requires some combination of knowing specific techniques and embracing a set of organizational principles. Even in more mature Agile organizations, coaches bring new ideas to the table, different perspectives and a shot of energy. That shot of energy is important to implementing Agile and then for holding on to those new behaviors until they become muscle memory.

Change in organizations is rarely easy. Those being asked to change very rarely perceive change being for the better, which makes trust very difficult. Adopting Agile requires building trust between teams, the business and IT management and vice versa. Coaching is a powerful tool to help even adaptable organizations build trust and embrace Agile as a mechanism to deliver value and as a set of principles for managing work.

Engagement and feedback are interrelated like the bricks in the aqueduct.

Engagement and feedback are interrelated like the bricks in the aqueduct.

In Senior Management and the Success of Agile Implementation, I described the results of a survey of experienced process improvement personnel, testers or developers felt contribute to a successful Agile implementation. Tied for second place in the survey were team engagement and generating early feedback. These two concepts are curiously inter-related.

Team engagement is a reflection of motivated and capable individuals working together.  Agile provides teams with the tools to instill unity of purpose. Working with the business on a continuous basis provides the team a clear understanding of the project’s purpose. Short iterations provide the team with a sense of progress. Self-management and retrospectives provide teams with a degree of control over how they tackle impediments.  Finally, the end-of-sprint demonstrations provide early feedback. Feedback helps reinforce the team’s sense of purpose, which reinforces motivation.

Early feedback was noted in the survey as often as team engagement. In classic software development projects, the project would progress from requirements through analysis, design, coding and testing before customers would see functional code.  Progress in these methods is conveyed through process documents (e.g. requirements documents) and status reports. On the other hand, one of the most important principles of Agile states:

Deliver working software frequently, from a couple of weeks to a couple of months, with a preference to the shorter timescale.

Delivering functional software provides all of the project’s stakeholders with explicit proof of progress, and provides stakeholders with a chance to provide feedback based on code they can execute. Early feedback increases stakeholder engagement and satisfaction, which also helps to motivate the team. As importantly, since stakeholders see incremental progress, any required course corrections are also incremental.  Incremental course corrections help to ensure that when the project is complete that most value possible has been delivered.

Team engagement and early feedback are both important to successful Agile implementations. Interestingly, both concepts are inter-twined. Feedback helps to generate engagement and motivation. As one of the respondents to the survey stated, “Agile succeeds when it instills ‘unity of purpose’ and builds a ‘community of trust’ within an organization.” Team engagement and early feedback provides a platform for Agile success.

Everybody likes a game!

Everybody likes a game!

Gamification is a technique that leverages a player’s innate competitive attributes to channel their behavior using game mechanics. The goal is to have individuals, teams, and organizations adopt process changes, then process improvement. Game mechanisms include badges, competitive challenges, levels, players and leader boards used in an integrated process to guide the players towards an overall goal. These concepts might sound foreign to you, but if you have ever participated in Boy Scouts, Girl Guides, Foursquare, TripAdvisor, World of Warcraft or even the venerable Dungeons and Dragons, you have participated in the use of game mechanics. Whether an app or a game, all of these examples deliver challenges to participants and then provide feedback to generate competition. Gamification motivates players to engage and adopt process changes using that competition. However, the addition of gaming mechanics to the development community can also improve collaboration if used appropriately.

Game mechanisms, such as challenges, badges and leader boards, use healthy competition and performance feedback.  For example, an organization I worked with identified set of challenge goals for a new set of development processes.  Two of the goals set for developers were that they 1) led at least 20 peer reviews as lead peer reviewers, and 2) that the first two developers that completed 50 and took a facilitation class could be designated master peer reviewers. The process improvement group posted a leader board on their SharePoint so that everyone could keep track as team members progressed against the challenges. The challenges and the feedback generated from the leaderboard created an atmosphere of collegial competition that generated engagement. The same organization holds an annual technical conference.  Attendance at the conference is by invite only (however the entire organization’s IT group could attend virtually).  As an incentive, the members of IT that had achieved the top goals in each category a month before the conference were guaranteed an invitation and a spot on a discussion panel on IT processes at the conference.

Using public leader boards can help your group identify leaders in the process knowledge community. Employees can be rewarded for participation and or their contributions to the organization’s process knowledge base. Gamificaiton not only increases process adoption rates by increasing engagement, it also helps to generate community. In the example above, one of the more interesting side effects was that loose teams formed to push members to the top of the list. A second side effect was that members of the overall development community were motivated to adopt the new processes early so that they would not be disadvantaged in the competition (if you start too late you will never be able to catch up). The bottom-line goal of gamification is to influence the organization to adopt desired behaviors.

Daily Process Thoughts on Gamification

The What and Why of Gamification

How Can We Implement Gamification?

Gamification: Game Mechanics

What Does Gamification Look Like?

Gamification and the Bartle Test

Lots and lots of onions!

Lots and lots of onions!

Motivational Sunday!

Process improvement programs require the organization to engage and individual change-agents.  Engagement is an important factor for getting a process improvement program off the ground and then sustaining it. Generating engagement is not easy. Many of the Software Process and Measurement blog readers will have heard the adage that individuals (and ogres) are like an onion.  Like an onion, individuals have many layers of complexity. You get closer to the core the more you peel away.  Fundamentally, our core beliefs are inherent to workplace engagement. The organization then comprised of boxes and boxes of onions, as the organization reflects many individuals who are all complex in different ways.  Complexity makes it difficult to find a single mechanism to ensure engagement in the workplace.

It would be easy to say that working to create engagement is just too hard.  The complexity of the workplace, and even our individual complexity, should not be used as an excuse. We each bear a significant responsibility for being emotionally engaged.  In an interview for the Software Process and Measurement Cast, Kevin Kruse, New York Times bestselling author of Employee Engagement for Everyone: 4 Keys to Happiness and Fulfillment at Work stated that his research indicated that 43% of engagement was intrinsic. Said differently, nearly half of our own workplace engagement rests squarely on our own shoulders.  Whether the ratio is 40-60, 60-40 or 50-50 is less material than the realization that we can’t let complexity cause us to avoid engagement.

A simple definition of workplace engagement is involvement, commitment and interest in what you do.  If we can accept the complexity around us, then our part of engagement is easier.  The easier we make it to be engaged the easier it will be for others to engage with us. Being engaged will make it easier for others to follow as you mold and shape the organization around you!