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How to Get the Most Out of an Agile Assessment

by Dean Kynaston
People working and communicating across different media

An agile assessment is invaluable for understanding how your organization stacks up against agile values and principles. An agile assessment reviews projects and the organization’s management of their portfolio, people, and practices through the lens of business agility.

Historically, agile assessments were used to identify current team maturity and whether the agile techniques were implemented properly. Today, agile assessments are critical for survival through risk mitigation. After spending hundreds of millions of dollars on system integration services, organizations are learning that what their consultants told them was 60% complete is actually a bunch of work in progress; there is nothing tangible to ship.

The agile assessment can be tremendously impactful if positioned correctly, as it spawns meaningful conversations for positive change. Here are some guidelines that can help you make the most of your assessment investment.

Preparing for your Agile Assessment

An agile assessment will be most effective if you prepare well. Preparation should include:

  • Abundant communication (both before and during the assessment)
  • Exploratory interviews
  • Behavioral observations
  • A thorough review of artifacts and tools

Communicate, Communicate, Communicate

Good communication is vital for a successful assessment. Begin by setting expectations with the leadership in your organization that an agile assessment is coming. Next, share with them the scope of the assessment and purpose. Help them understand that you expect the assessment to expose key improvement opportunities supported by a project or organizational transition strategy with an agile maturity roadmap. Finally, describe the business benefit you hope to achieve.

Share that an experienced agile coach will perform the audit and approach the assessment across three dimensions:

  • Interviews and Observations
  • Assemble Results
  • Gathering Feedback

The agile coach will summarize the assessment findings and discuss the recommended improvements outlined in the agile maturity roadmap at the end of the assessment. In addition, the discussion will review the observations, why the coach made the recommendations, and steps to act on those recommendations.

Setting expectations through good communication about the length of the assessment, the approach, the intent, and expected outcomes will help everyone involved.

Interviews

Depending on the scope and breadth of your assessment, you’ll want to consider the names of key individuals you feel will be helpful to the assessment. The agile coach will interview organizational leaders who enable product delivery and potential pilot scrum team members. Interviewees should include executives, managers, supervisors, stakeholders, engineers, scrum masters, product owners, quality assurance, architecture, release managers, DevOps, security, as well as representatives from departments outside the IT or product development organization (human resources, sales, marketing, operations, finance, legal, etc.) Before scheduling interviews, however, you’ll want to discuss the list with your agile coach.

For assessment participants, help them feel safe and understand that their total commitment to the assessment will lead to more beneficial outcomes. Interviews are kept anonymous, so encourage participants to be truthful and honest.

Observations

The agile coach will also want to observe the organization’s interactions. You’ll want to consider any project or organizational meetings that would be good indicators of the organization’s current state, such as:

  • Planning sessions
  • Requirements gathering sessions
  • Product demonstrations to stakeholders
  • Change advisory board (CAB) meetings
  • Development, quality assurance, architecture, infrastructure team meetings
  • Leadership staff meetings
  • Executive-level meetings
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Help the agile coach observe handoffs, typical discussions, and organizational strengths and weaknesses.

Review of Artifacts

Valuable artifacts and tools for the assessment to review:

  • Copies of the system development life cycle (SDLC)
  • PMO guidelines and standards
  • Corporate policies and procedures
  • Employee onboarding training
  • Merit increase or performance management guidelines
  • Bonus or other rewards policies
  • Release and change management policies
  • Existing backlogs and metrics
  • Test automation policies
  • Product kits
  • Technical debt lists
  • Status reports
  • Impediments, issue and risk logs
  • Tools used for development
  • Any other documentation that describes the current state

Your agile coach will appreciate having access to corporate email, contact information, and organizational calendars.

During the Assessment

The assessment will lead to many observations but also bring up many questions. The agile coach will be careful not to disrupt the meetings or flow of the day with questions. Transparency will be critical as the agile coach’s goal will be to ensure no surprises during the assessment review.

Individuals and Interactions

During the assessment, the agile coach will be looking for people they believe have the passion, ability, and aptitude to begin taking on new agile roles. A key outcome of most assessments is the establishment of an agile transition team (ATT). Ideally, recommended staffing of the ATT is shared during the assessment review but is not always possible. The purpose of the ATT will be to support the agile transition, create the environment for pilot teams to reach their full potential, and own the implementation of the agile maturity roadmap created during the assessment. They’ll also look for team members who can become members of a pilot team. The pilot team will help the entire organization and ATT learn what it takes to support business agility. The pilot team will achieve quick wins on a low-risk project or product as they learn the agile fundamentals.

Agile Maturity Roadmap

A key deliverable from the assessment is the creation of the agile maturity roadmap. The roadmap, created with the organization’s leadership, will outline quick wins to start the flywheel, followed by more long-term goals and objectives. The roadmap is the primary discussion topic of the assessment review, bridging the gap between the current state and the future agile state.

Remember that the beauty of the roadmap is its changeability, and we should consider it as a backlog of ideas that will improve your organization’s agility. The order of the roadmap may change as the organization changes. The ATT will lead by example in practicing agility as they continually refine their backlog of organizational improvement opportunities. 

Expect the roadmap to include an organizational training plan. Training will be required for product owners, scrum masters, developers, stakeholders, and leaders. The organization should direct initial training at ATT and pilot team members. Training is critical for building transformational momentum.

Closing the Assessment

The assessment will conclude with a review and conversation with executives and other leaders (including future ATT team members) about the assessment results.

The review will cover the strengths, challenges, and recommendations. The agile coach will cover the recommendations in detail to help everyone understand identified challenges, why they made the recommendation, and how they will address the challenges. Also, the agile coach will review potential impediments, barriers, and pitfalls.

Lastly, the assessment review will outline the first action items, which usually include embedding at least one agile coach to assist the ATT and pilot teams in implementing the agile maturity roadmap. Most organizations struggle to implement these changes successfully without professional agile transition support from experienced agile coaches. Lack of support (professional coaching) for teams transitioning to agile thinking is one of the top pitfalls (pg 26) experienced by most organizations.

Conclusion

Assessments can be extremely valuable for finding out if your investment in agile transformation yields the results you hoped. Successful assessments are founded on effective communication, openness, honesty, and a willingness to listen, followed by a desire to change. Turn your assessment investment into meaningful conversations that will help your organization improve. Both your organization and customers will appreciate it.

Contact us to learn more about an agile assessment for your organization.

Event Start Date: 
Wednesday, Oct 20, 2021

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