Implementing agile methodologies (Scrum, Kanban or any of their variations) is a challenge faced by all kinds of organizations, project offices and managers. The advantages to be gained from this type of method for a great number of projects are clear, but actually implementing them is no simple task. At many organizations their implementation is often met with fear, rejection and obstacles. Here are a few keys to successfully implementing a agile methodology.
1. Start with the Right Project
It is actually possible to apply the agile methodologies to almost any type of project but the successful implementation of these methods does indeed require selecting the right projects to begin with, so as to achieve the maximum benefit in the shortest time.
Trying to apply agile methodologies to clearly predictive or classic projects does not usually lead to good results, as there is a considerable sense of losing control, with teams (and management) tending to revert to methods they already know. In contrast, experimental projects: presenting a lesser defined or highly changeable scope with multidisciplinary teams and needing swift results: provide an excellent opportunity for applying agile methodologies.
2. Clearly define the Team's Role
The role played by a team in classic or predictive projects is significantly different to their role in agile projects. The Project Manager plays a leading role in the former, with control over all aspects of the project, whereas the team has a much more relevant role in the latter and the Project Manager becomes a facilitator of the methodology. It is important to clearly define the team’s role in order to implement the method correctly.
An agile project requires a multidisciplinary, self-organized and self-managed team, which is a confidence challenge for many organizations that tend to apply managed and controlled methods. Understanding and building this type of team is very important. If you can build a team that consists of relationships between equals and a shared goal, a large portion of your future success will be guaranteed.
3. Estimation of Effort is still Key
One of the most common problems when implementing agile methodologies is believing that estimates no longer need to be made. Even though it is no longer necessary to make an estimate of the whole project and we can focus on the tasks for the next sprint or those with a higher priority in the product backlog, it is important to realistically estimate the efforts required for the tasks and ensure they are reasonably equal or that the size difference between them is clear.
If a task has not been completed at the end of a sprint or a task is constantly shown as “ongoing” in a Kanban project, it is very likely that we have made a mistake in our estimation that should be corrected, the task should be broken down into more manageable parts and our commitments should often be revised. Flexible management will ensure that the estimate focuses on the tasks providing the highest value or that we need to tackle most quickly. However, the estimation itself is still important.
4. Know and control Limitations
Agile methodologies have limitations and they must be taken into consideration. There are scope, deadline, cost and quality factors that need to be met. It is true that priorities might be inverted or the scope might be more negotiable, but the limitations on deadline, cost and quality remain and must be managed.
These methods state that tasks should not exceed a certain effort, define a maximum Work in Progress (WIP) we can manage or establish a time-box by using sprints. Limitations must be strictly maintained and not changed lightly, as they are a very important part of their model. If we make changes or adjustments and accept all types of changes, we are losing control.
5. Manage tension
Although it might seem contradictory, agile methodologies are more like a long-distance race than a sprint. Some organizations approach these methods as a way of moving more quickly - getting more done in less time – taking advantage of the fact that teams are more deeply involved. This is true, but if we want the implementation of these methods to last, we must manage team tension.
Having a motivated, results-focused, self-managed and efficient team is possible with agile methodology. In order for these characteristics to last over time, we need to ensure that the team also perceives an improvement to productivity and not only a constant increase in effort and workload.
6. Metrics: “power without control is useless”
These methods are extremely powerful. They are capable of producing motivated teams that obtain impressive results in genuinely short spaces of time. Nonetheless, all this power does not come at odds with control. Agile methodologies encourage us to measure, analyze and constantly improve.
Metrics are the way to explicit project management based on real data rather than intuition, opinions or occasional emergencies. Speed, flow and commitment compliance are all key metrics that we should gather and analyze in order to streamline our processes and improve our teams.
7. Quality, Quality and… Quality
Quality means repeat business. Increasing delivery speeds, managing estimates incrementally or having a self-managed team do not mean setting quality aside. It is very important to deliver products quickly in agile methodologies but those products should also work; they need to do what is required of them efficiently.
That is why it’s important not to leave quality until the end and incorporate aspects of quality validation, revision and measurement of all the items, deliverables and products we generate during the project from the outset.
8. Remain to the methodology rigorously
Agile methodologies have few rules, standards or products. It is important to follow the method precisely, especially at the start. It is better to change nothing (or almost nothing) before gaining experience. If something seems strange, have a little patience and give it a chance.
Scrum methods establish a series of roles, meetings and stages that should be preserved, experienced and maintained in order for these methods to truly work as we expect. It is possible to go from less to more in these methods, but follow their instructions precisely until you are comfortable with their use.
9. Revise and adjust the method
As soon as we have advanced significantly in the use of agile methodologies, we can consider making adjustments to them. It is important to conduct reviews or retrospective exercises that allow you to see what does and doesn’t work within your organization and make the necessary changes to adapt the method to your culture, style and requirements. However, this should always be done after having tried the standard models.
Agile methodologies are indeed flexible, very flexible, and that is why they can be adapted to almost any type of project, organization or team. With a little experience, possible imbalances can be identified and changes, adaptations or additions can be made to these methods so as to ensure they perfectly suit our needs and circumstances.
10. Maximize visibility
One of the most important keys to the success of agile methodologies is visibility. Implementing these methods is done “behind the scenes” at some organizations, almost invisibly or as if applying this type of tool were embarrassing in some way. It is important for this type of implementation to be made visible, open and public so that the entire organization can see what is being done, how it is being done and what has been achieved by doing it.
Avoid using private "Kanban" methods or hiding them when the project client or sponsor appears. Be brave and show, explain and harness the most visible advantages. There is no better ally than a project client or sponsor that is involved in management, added to which agile methodologies enable maximum visibility and maximum participation from all stakeholders. An agile methodology is not an exception or an extravagance from an isolated team but something that can be applied throughout the organization.
11. Manage expectations
Many teams and organizations that embark down this path believe that all their problems will be solved as if by magic; that the client will never change their mind, that products will no longer have defects or that nothing “unpleasant” will ever happen during the project again. Agile methodologies adapt very well to changing and stressful environments but they are not the solution to every problem. Managing expectations from teams, clients and management is important to successful implementation.
The method may well not be perfect the first time around, that teams will feel uncomfortable with certain aspects of the method or that the project will encounter certain problems. This is completely normal. You will quickly see that progress is being achieved, that progress is significant and that the results are very positive.
12. Select the right tools
Using a support tool when applying agile methodologies facilitates their implementation at organizations. Having centralized support for sharing information, measuring progress and maintaining project control is highly important. With the right tool, teams will be able to work independently while the organization can maintain control over project progress, costs and revenue, efforts, etc.
Do not be fooled by tools that are free but completely disconnected from the rest of your organization. Agile methodologies are not an anecdotal or exceptional process implemented by teams with highly unprofessional tools; it is an important decision by the organization to adapt and improve. We are facing a project management revolution that is allowing us - with the right tools - to improve our performance, deliver high-value products very quickly and achieve great success.