Agile Adoption: Changing Behavior by Asking the Right Questions

George Dinwiddie is an independent software development coach who helps organizations, large and small, to increase the effectiveness of their software development efforts. He provides guidance over a broad range, at the organizational, process, team, interpersonal, and technical levels. He is currently crusading to break down the barriers that hinder effective collaboration between the business, the programmers, and the testers. George is a frequent speaker at Agile conferences. See his blog at http://blog.gdinwiddie.com.

I’ve coached a number of organizations through the initial stages of their transition to agile software development. In a certain cases, the organization is taking this step because one or more managers have read about the benefits that derive from working in an agile manner, and they want their development organization to attain those benefits. Sometimes the manager providing the impetus for a shift to agile has experienced the benefits elsewhere, and wants to bring that experience to a new organization.

The Conundrum
A management-led agile adoption leads to a common conundrum. While the agile-aware manager would like the development organization to behave in a more agile fashion, telling them how to work in an agile fashion often leads to less agility rather than more. Successful agile development requires that people collaborate in self-organizing their own work. Being told how to do that is counterproductive, yet waiting for them to discover agile practices that work can take a very long time, perhaps forever. What’s a manager to do?

What Doesn’t Work Well
Talking about agile and suggesting reading material will help raise awareness about the possibilities. It’s my experience, though, that this is a pretty weak influence in the context of having software development work to accomplish. Reading and discussing new ways of working seems …

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