Agile Expert Q&A - Scaling Agile: Skills and Best Practices

April 1, 2020 Eric Robertson

I recently had the pleasure of hosting an Agile Q&A webinar with Danny Presten, Chief Methodologist at CollabNet VersionOne. During the webinar, I was able to act as the moderator and field questions from attendees about Agile transformations, Scrum, scalability, leadership responsibilities and more. Danny provided amazing insight into attendees’ most burning questions.

As I revisit the discussion, I found Danny’s response to questions about scaling agile and the skills needed to become an Agile organization especially valuable and interesting. Read on to learn more.

What is the most important step in initiating scaled agile?

I think the most important step in initiating change, scaling agile or not, is having a clear sense of the “Why.” Ask yourself, “What problems within our organization are we trying to address?” Once you have a clear sense of your problems, you’ll be able to map those problems over to solutions. Scaling agile isn't the solution itself; it’s something that’s going to address the problems you have. If you don't have a clear sense of the problems you face, you'll never get the momentum you need to make changes.

The second most important step in scaling agile is having leadership support. According to the 13th State of Agile Report, organization cultural issues are leading impediments to adopting and scaling agile. Leaders can mitigate these cultural issues by establishing a clear vision, adopting an agile mindset, and investing in employee training to create a culture of continuous improvement and experimentation.  As an organization, everyone needs to have a clear understanding of the direction you’re moving in and why. From there, as long as you're solving problems, you’ll get closer and closer to the ideal way to run your business.

As a follow-up question, what are some of the most important skills needed to be an effective Agile corporation?

This really ties into the role of an Agile coach and what skills they’re going to bring to an organization. As an Agile coach, they will be the ones influencing change and teaching the skills necessary for a successful Agile transformation. According to the aforementioned State of Agile report, internal Agile coaches were cited as one of the most valuable investments in helping to scale agile practices.

With that in mind, there are a lot of people calling themselves an Agile coach who are not qualified. If you're interviewing someone for the role of an Agile coach, it’s important to know what to look for. This person needs to have the ability to influence where they don’t have formal authority. Oftentimes an Agile coach may not have a huge team of people reporting to them, but they’re trying to bring positive changes to the entire organization. Therefore, they have to be able to influence everyone and teach them how to map problems to solutions.

Another important skill for an Agile coach is the ability to sympathize with people. I think they have to care about each employee and understand where everyone is at in the transformation process. They also play an active part in clarifying roles within teams and helping employees fill gaps in their skill set so they are equipped to handle changing responsibilities effectively, as the organization undergoes an Agile transformation.

This webinar provided insight into the many issues that organizations face while implementing agile practices. You can listen to the full Q&A here.

If you have found your own ways to implement agile practices effectively in your organization, we’d love to hear from you! The more we all know, the better we can be!

About the Author

Eric Robertson

Eric Robertson is responsible for product management and marketing at CollabNet VersionOne. Prior to CollabNet, Eric served as Director of services and portfolio management for enterprise solutions at Unisys. Eric joined Cisco through a company acquisition, where he led product management for Cisco's cloud automation and SAP ALM extension offerings. Eric has successfully held product development, services and management roles with enterprises and start-ups and has provided consulting services to Fortune 500 companies. Eric holds a patent in the area of virtualization and a Master's Degree in Electrical and Software Engineering from University of Texas in Austin and continues to further his research in domain- specific languages, and intelligent automation.

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