Boiling it down: Traditional vs. Agile

Marshall Guillory, Agile Rising

People are turning towards agile practices for a variety of reasons. Some want to adapt rapidly to change, others want to transform their organization in a meaningful and productive way. Whatever the case, agile is an excellent way to rapidly adapt to change. When done correctly, your transformation can enable your organization to grow and adapt rapidly and effectively.

In waterfall and/or traditional ways of working, team members find themselves assigned to a set of tasks in a path through the large batch delivery of requirements as a solution or component. Project Managers and team members are incentivized to boil down the requirements into individualized tasks. Tasks are used to indicate performance, as well. Complete your tasks, you win.

In Agile and Lean ways of working in an enterprise, we build a system that is incentivized to boil down work to the team level in a common, single-threaded backlog (e.g., an “enterprise backlog model” at scale). We use cross-functional, long-lived teams and the “Achieve our shared and aligned goals” concept at the team (Iteration goals) and value stream network (ART PI Objectives; a team of teams) in this way of working and thinking about work. In this way, the team and the team of teams or organization wins. If we apply customer centricity as well, the customer wins too.

This is very different than traditional approaches to leading and managing work. Part of this is simply the language; the words we use are important. When we practice Lean and Agile, the culture feels different—dramatically different—because our behaviors have changed. We also learn to operate in generative ways instead of bureaucratic or destructive forms, and we use new or changed mental models to interact, perceive, and make decisions.

When we practice Lean and Agile, the culture feels different…because our behaviors have changed.

Marshall guillory

Lean and Agile Practices

There are practices in Lean and Agile that support the different ways of working and thinking that must be learned, put into practice, and reinforced through leadership and feedback loops and markers. Some of the team level practices are fairly universal across an organization, such as pair work, mob programming/mob work, User Story Mapping/Journey Mapping, Feature decomposition, and Agile Product Delivery, Capacity planning and consequent management system, and enabling lean flow through the use of a Kanban system and measurement.

Key Takeaways

The key takeaway is that exposure to new knowledge in a course is only the first step in a learning journey and the fulfillment of a demonstrable learning culture. Create time and space to learn and practice new skills while building a new system from which your teams will operate.

We must understand what the incentives are for individuals and teams. Understanding incentives allows organizations to hypothesize about building a system that creates the environment for teams to thrive and customers to be delighted.

Want to up your agile skillset? Take your knowledge to the next level by watching an Agile Rising webinar, or taking one of our courses. As a SAFe Gold SPCT partner, we teach a variety of SAFe classes. Check out our course schedule to learn more!