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Get Decked - Supporting Agile Transformation in Your Definition of Success

Are you pursuing agile adoption or transformation in your organization? Many companies ask how they can avoid common roadblocks to a smooth transformation. While agile is more about continuous improvement than smooth integration, successful agile transformations have a few things in common. One trend is a clear presentation of agile success measures in company reporting. Quarterly review, annual budget review, annual business strategy, all of these reflect on the measures of company success and use them to determine how the company handles money, resources, and vision.  If you are pursuing agile adoption or transformation in your organization, it’s worth the time to think about your definition of success and how agile it is.  Here’s a practical example of a hypothetical functional manager with an upcoming strategic review.

Judy I. Queue, Director of Software Quality and Compliance
Judy spends Monday afternoon compiling her team’s results for inclusion in the quarterly strategic review. It is her first slide deck since the new agile transformation movement and she hesitates when reconciling the quality and defect data from the agile teams with the same historic bar charts showing defects trends by release.

While the overall data on defects is clear, the previous bar charts don’t allow her to incorporate what she believes is the true value of the recent Agile practices, namely, that while defects increased in the short term, customer complaints about lack of features and browser compatibility have gone down.  Software is launching less perfect but more quickly, resolving deeper customer needs and preventing page abandonment.  The team is encouraged and motivated by the reduction in customer complaints, and even a few compliments.  It’s become quite a race to acquire positive customer feedback on long desired features and functionality and their determination is clear.

In addition, she is seeing a downward trend to defects produced in the agile development cycle. According to her reports, the testers and quality engineers are beginning to match pace with the developers while they are still developing. While it started uncomfortably for everyone, the teams seem to enjoy having a quality partner to ask the right questions when the ‘how’ of development is decided.  She suspects that when they move into continuous integration and get more training on quality automation, those numbers will drop even further. Speed to delivery is a valuable indicator of success to her team.

Judy believes that her version of the strategic slide deck will have a deep impact on agile transformation in the company, and that the value of the current agile implementations is real.  She takes the question to her Agile Coach, Mason, who offers to walk through the Agile Manifesto with the goal of framing true success. They decide together that there is value in evolving what she reports each quarter but that historical data has value to the organization as well.  They agree that she will show the critical historical metrics in summary and then focus the majority of her time on proposing one new strategic goal, speed of delivery, and showing how the historical data stacks against it.

She and Mason walk through the Manifesto and Judy decides that speed of delivery and feature relevance are part of her definition of software quality.  She creates a visual radiator for Speed of Delivery vs Defects and prepares several backup slides that clearly state the value in case she needs them for discussion. She also does some homework with the product marketing team and team product owner to understand how they set feature priorities in the first place to be sure her metrics provide value to them as well.

Judy’s final slide deck causes a few waves as it circulates through the other directors for review before the quarterly strategic review. She and Mason remark that choosing one new metric, well researched and proven to give value, was a wise ice breaker. While not every stakeholder embraces her metric of speed of delivery as an indicator of success, the conversations it generates are new and vital to her colleagues.  The topic of weighting delivery speed over defect counts is the most controversial.  The conversation brings out the importance of product relevance to the company’s bottom line.  A compromise is reached among her colleagues and the appropriate shifts in the defect versus delivery standards are updated in the quarterly strategic review slide deck.  At the quarterly meeting Judy is pleased to see that a few other colleagues have taken her cue and proposed one or two additional metrics of success for their teams as well.

Manifest Success
The Agile Manifesto is a flexible tool.  In this case it was valuable to Judy as a way to determine what delivering value meant for her team in an agile framework. Here are a few questions Judy and Mason, her agile coach, asked while considering her Strategic deck.

  • Individuals and Interactions – over processes and tools 
    • How do you represent your customer’s challenges and needs?
    • Can you prove that your customer can successfully interact with your products?
    • How much of your deck is about internal efficiency vs customer momentum?
    • Do you visit key customer cases? The user story behind the objective?

  • Working software over comprehensive documentation 
    • Are your audits and their results focused on evaluating whether it works?
    • Do you have metrics around documentation? Can you trace that value for the company?

  • Customer collaboration over contract negotiation 
    • Are you measuring what your customers think of your products and services?
    • Do you have certain products or services that profit more from deepening customer engagement?

  • Responding to change over following a plan 
    • Are you measuring how deeply your customers have adopted your products?
    • How does product relevance drive top line financials for my company?

Respond to Change
If your organization is in the midst of, or considering an agile transformation, be ready to respond to change in all parts of the organization. If the thought of introducing agile aligned success metrics into your Strategic deck causes hesitation instead of excitement, it is an excellent opportunity for conversation with your agile coach and colleagues on how strategic goals and reporting can support an agile transformation.


About The Author

Project Services Consultant

Summer is an active member of the Agile Advisory Services group at Cardinal Solutions in Columbus, a trainer, LeSS CP, SAFe SPC4 and agile practitioner of more than 10 years.