Strategies for a Successful Agile Implementation

This article assumes that you have a basic understanding of Agile Principles. If you are unfamiliar with this concept, take a moment to review a brief summary on Agile here.

Introduction

Agile is a widely adopted framework that brings many benefits to improve your software delivery as a whole. The framework itself is relatively lightweight with common sense principles to follow, as opposed to rigid rules and documentation. This means that getting up and running with Agile is straightforward and you will see benefits quickly, which is great.

Each organization is different, however, and implementing a new software methodology is not without challenges. This article covers four common strategies you can use to make sure you are deploying your Agile framework properly and getting the most benefit possible.

Get buy-in from management

Agile has many benefits for software teams; one of its goals is to empower each team to self-organize, problem solve, and control their own destiny. This kind of cultural change can bring reservations and concerns from management, especially when a top-down approach is more familiar. It is important to get management's buy-in and guide them through the changes as they are implemented. Try using the following techniques to start getting management to see the benefits of Agile.

Be transparent. Agile methodology is geared towards sharing information and being honest. Being open and transparent regarding successes along with setbacks will go a long way towards building trust with the rest of the organization

One of the misconceptions about Agile is that there is a lack of long-term planning, since planning is not all done up front. Agile allows two main ways to keep planning accurate over time - calculating Sprint Velocity at the end of each sprint until you reach a consistent velocity over time, or using this velocity calculation along with regular backlog grooming to keep estimates up-to-date as scope is solidified. This approach gives you more accurate estimates than typical up-front planning. Sharing the results of these strategies with stakeholders can help to ease their concerns about Agile planning.

Deliver early and show results often - there is nothing more convincing than showing results. Pick a reasonably short sprint cycle, such as two weeks. At the end of each Sprint, schedule a demo and sprint review. Invite the appropriate management stakeholders to these meetings so they see the progress that is being made. Before you know it, they will see the product coming together before their eyes. They will also have the opportunity to see their feedback lead to changes, early in the product lifecycle.

Empower your Product Owner

Naturally, there is lots of discussion about the development team and Scrum Master when reviewing Agile methodologies. It's not always obvious that the Product Owner role is just as vital to delivering success on the project. If you don't have a product owner who is experienced with Agile, it can be challenging to get on the same page and make sure the product is being built correctly. Here are some techniques you can use to guide your Product Owner and make sure they are meeting the responsibilities of the role.

Demonstrate the importance of their role by allowing them to interact with business stakeholders and be a voice for the product and users. There are times when the product owner is merely prioritizing or turning others' ideas into clear requirements. Afford the Product Owner the opportunity to talk to the users that will be directly impacted by the product, so they can better understand the needs the product is aiming to fulfill.

Use a low touch tool for your user stories such as a simple Kanban board to start with. One of the four values of the Agile Manifesto states - "Individuals and Interactions Over Processes and Tools". If your Product Owner does not have a technical background, they man not be proficient with modern ticketing systems, with their many rules and statuses. It is important that the software does not get in the way of progress. Keep it simple in the beginning and advance to a more detailed solution when needed.

Allow the product owner to be able to steer the direction of the product. One of the key responsibilities of the Product Owner role is to form a vision for the product. It's important that the stakeholders and development team trust the Product Owner to guide the product along the right path.

Align QA Testing with Sprints

In traditional waterfall methods, QA testing starts at the end of a milestone when development is largely complete. Trying this testing approach with an Agile methodology using sprints will cause slow-downs and frustration. Here are some ways you can make sure your development and QA teams are in sync.

Involve the QA team as part of sprint planning and backlog refinement. It is crucial that QA is not treated as an external team or something that is a roadblock to the Sprint. The best way to do this is to treat QA as part of the development team, including them in all ceremonies and meetings from the beginning. Ideally, you want to have cross-functional team members who can perform QA and work on technical tasks, but this might not be the case and is something to work on long term.

This approach has the added benefit of providing another set of eyes, ensuring that the user stories have all required details. Allow QA team members to ask questions and help define your Definition of Done, which is key to what is tested. As the QA team becomes part of the development team, communication between the teams will become seamless. Developers will be build what the QA team expects, making testing quicker and code easier to deliver with higher quality.

Finally, a key item to make sure you are testing and delivering on time is testing QA items as early as possible. No need to wait until the end of the sprint or until features are fully polished to start handing things off to QA for testing. As soon as a User Story is complete, allow QA to start reviewing, testing, and providing feedback.

Summary

Adopting Agile methodology is proven to bring many benefits and is rewarding to teams. Each organization and department is different and will have their own challenges along the way. You can overcome these challenges by relying on transparency, communication, trust, and simplicity. Having a management team that is on-board, a strong Product Owner, and an effective QA team will go a long way to building a well-oiled process for the long run.

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