HOW AGILE ARE YOU? IT REALLY DOES MATTER.

How agile are you? It really does matter.

In 2010, Esther Derby wrote, “How agile you are doesn’t matter. Whether you are 50 per cent agile, 90 per cent agile or agile through and through (what ever that means), doesn’t matter. What does matter is that your company is satisfying its customers, stakeholders, and employees.”

While it’s critical to satisfy those groups in order to keep the lights on, you can’t reach the next level of performance in your business by simply remaining afloat. How do we plot a course to peak levels of performance? How will we know when we’ve achieved it? First we must know where we are before we know where we’re headed.

Since the 1980s, we have used tools such as the Capability Maturity Model (CMM) to formally measure and optimize business processes. As Agile development became more mainstream, the industry has sought to adopt a similar approach to measuring “agility.” Allow me to propose my own take on this approach.

With Scrum as the most widely adopted Agile approach, we can look at not only its adoption rate across organizations, but also within a single organization. In addition to Scrum, we can observe other agile practices as well, such as test-driven development (TDD), continuous integration, etc. Within a single organization, I have identified six levels at which we can observe and measure Agile Maturity.

Level 0 – Individual Agile Maturity

This level is effectively an individual treading water to survive within chaos. There may be effective functional management, but it is often a command-and-control dictatorship. We often see little or no alignment between business units. We may also see extremes in process controls; either no controls at all (a free-for-all), or a draconian level of process which grinds productivity to a virtual halt. Individual and team morale is low.

The agile individual survives by trying to create order, leveraging tools and techniques he can control with relative autonomy. For example, he utilizes test-driven development (TDD) to maximize the quality of his individual work.

Level 1 – Team Agile Maturity

At this level, we see adoption of agile techniques, such as Scrum. While the team may not be completely fluent in the nuances of agile development, we see them working with some degree of autonomy. From a business perspective, there is no change from Level 0, as other teams are either unaware of the agile approach used by one another, or have yet to integrate with each other.

The agile team is marginally more productive, due to the presence of a Scrum Master and Product Owner, who act as buffers, keeping developers focused, productive, and of higher morale.

Level 2 – Cross-Team Agile Maturity

Here we see agile practices, such as Scrum, Kanban, eXtreme Programming (XP), TDD and others used consistently within teams. We also see agile practices utilized across teams, such as a Scrum-of-Scrums, often with the assistance of an external agile coach.

Productivity is measurably improved, but we may also see evidence of “storming” as some teams revert back to non-agile approaches. This often occurs when business owners and formal project management conflict with the adaptive nature of agile techniques. I call this the “failsafe vs. safefail phenomenon.”

Level 3 – Business Unit Agile Maturity

Business owners are now starting to integrate into the emerging cross-team agile culture. As the agile development teams begin to deliver more value, the business owners become more engaged and begin to evangelize the approach to their peers. We see agile teams moving from “storming” to “norming” as they are enjoying the benefits of agile, such as maximized productivity and morale.

Level 4 – Project Management Agile Maturity

We often see Project Managers, along with functional managers, as the first roles which are threatened by the emergence of Agile within an organization. As the distinction between project manager and Scrum master becomes clearer, the interference with the development teams’ activities is minimized. The teams now enjoy nearly full autonomy. Larger and more ambitious projects are now trusted to be run with an Agile approach. The benefits of Agile are spreading outside of IT and the PMO.

Level 5 – Enterprise Agile Maturity

With level five performance, we see a fully aligned and autonomous set of teams and departments. Executives begin to avoid micromanaging teams and focus on strategic goals instead of tactics. We also see the emergence of Agile practices leveraged in non-IT projects.

Conclusion

While maximizing value for customers, stakeholders, and employees is critical to business success, it’s just one spoke on a larger wheel. Let this article be your guide in helping you to answer this question for yourself: How agile are you? It really does matter.


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