Most of my 7+ years of Agile coaching and scrum mastering has been working with existing waterfall organizations and helping them become more agile. During this period I have seen a wide range of companies and a wide range of successful adoption, but I have noticed one thing that is constant. This was brought home recently as I reflect on my most recent agile presentation/discussion given at Geekdom in San Antonio last week.
In this Agile open forum the majority of the questions dealt with transitioning from waterfall to agile. This is where I first publicly broached Apke’s law which states:
Your transition to agile will only go as far as the highest ranking manager who understands and supports it.
While to some may say “duh” this is obvious, there is a great value to understanding this law. If you begin your agile implementation at the IT or software development effort it is not long until you will feel the strains of a system that is maximized for waterfall. When these collisions occur you will need someone to arbitrate and make decisions. Since an agile transformation is required, there will come a layer of management that will not understand or support. Your transformation will stall here.
My advice is to use a two prong strategy – use your small victories at the team level to drive the discussion at the very top of the organization about transforming the organization to support more advanced and stable growth through agility. This is why I have blogged about the need for a CAO – Chief Agile Officer. I am still waiting for my offer.