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Facing agile resistance? Follow the Prime Directive

Kieran Cornwall Head of Testing, Infuse Consulting Limited
Moving to iterative agile practices is all the rage right now, but is your company up to the challenge? If the culture isn't ready for such a big change, you need to reset your expectations.

If agile development is the way forward, why do so many organizations resist? Agile practices and small, iterative improvements are all well and good—most organizations can see that. What's lacking is the realization that this is a top-to-bottom change in culture, delivery, and IT.

Most corporate attempts to move from sequential delivery to agile, iterative approaches meet with a great deal of pushback, leading to failure. When working in such organizations, it's helpful to remember the Star Trek Prime Directive: Don't go influencing planets or cultures that are unable to use such advantages wisely.

In other words, don't try to persuade companies, teams, or cultures that aren't ready to use agile methods. If the business isn't prepared, bringing in external consultancies to help the organization deliver agile won't improve things either. Such firms generally don't stop to ask if an organization should move to agile or if the organization is ready for it. Firms will simply do what they're being paid to do, which in this case means implementing the agile approach, like it or not.

Explaining the value of agile

Even if companies aren't ready to change, you should explain the value of agile and guide the business in terms of what the shift will mean.

The place to start is to help the business understand that every company is a technology company these days. Whether you're dealing with payment transactions, stock management, customer details, or some other process, your company is using information technology. Some companies struggle to admit this and fall at the first hurdle. They continue to view IT as an expensive business facilitator, rather than a driver.

Next, focus on people and teams. Moving to agile means reevaluating the delivery model and the software delivery lifecycle. It means changing views to small, iterative, automatically tested and deployed products. Making a small team of seven to ten people responsible for all aspects of delivery, rather than the scores of people typically involved with legacy waterfall projects, may be too much for some organizations to swallow.

It's a team effort

Like the crew of the Starship Enterprise, each member of an agile team must learn to work together on any challenge put before them. Finding the right crew can be difficult. I've interviewed many people over the years for testing positions, and while they believed they were working in agile mode, they were actually delivering in mini sequential cycles of two to four weeks.

I'm concerned by comments such as "We didn't finish testing on time because development delivered late" and "We found a defect and passed it back to the development folks to investigate." Candidates that make such comments don't understand that it's all about what you achieve as a team.

Culture is the most difficult aspect of the agile transition to change. Landing on a planet and handing the locals a communicator won't make them an advanced civilization. Agile is a culture, not a process, and people need to buy into that. It's not something that can be packaged and delivered to your door.

Ultimately, the organization must be ready for agile before it can move forward. Sometimes, stepping back and allowing the business the time it needs to recognize the need for change is your best course of action.

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