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Agile Transformation: how to select the appropriate pilot projects?

Posted by jc-Qualitystreet on 2009/11/19

Even if rare examples of “Big Bang” agile adoption exist, as Salesforce in 2007 (not without a very strong preparation), I am convinced that a successful agile transformation requires two or three (max) pilot projects.

REAL PROJECTS, REAL TEAMS: TWO PREREQUISITES.

First, the selected pilot project is an opportunity to change and to learn but it must be also  sufficiently representative to be usefull and effective in a transformation approach. Do not experiment what could be agility in real life, do not try agile methods in your own organizational context before a general adoption is a mystery to me. You miss an important source of knowledge, refinement and improvement and also a good opportunity to initiate change management.

BUT HOW TO SELECT THE APPROPRIATE PILOT PROJECTS?

This is a recurrent but crucial and challenging question… Mike Cohn answered it recently by proposing 4 attributes to help the choice. His four criteria suit me well:

  • Duration: The ideal pilot project should be neither too short (to be credible, representative and to give a learning opportunity) nor too long (for an effective capitalization and a rapid agile generalization).
    In short : Between 2 and 5 months (max)  with 4 to 7 iterations
  • Size: The ideal pilot project should start with a single, small collocated team. A distributed team or several small teams would add unnecessary complexity during the pilot phase, unless working with distributed teams is the norm within the organization.
    In short: One single, small and collocated team
  • Importance: Unimportant projects will lead to less commitment and won’t be representative and credible… but critical or top priority projects would entail too much pressure for a team in a leaning situation. A good balance must be found for the ideal pilot project.
    In short: Medium importance, not critical but valuable for the organization
  • Business sponsor engagement: The ideal pilot project should have an engaged business sponsor. His commitment is a key to remove any obstacles. He will also be the best ambassador to promote the new methodology.
    In short: One engaged business sponsor

In summary, to launch an agile transformation, the ideal pilot project is both:

1. A real project with a real team

3. A project of a duration of 2 to 5 months (max), for example with 4 to 7 iterations

4. A project with a single, small and collocated team

5. A medium priority and non critical project but valuable for the organization

6. A project with an engaged business sponsor

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