6 Steps on How to Start Agile, if You are All New to Agile

6 Steps on How to Start Agile, if You are All New to Agile

To start agile is to start a transformation. To start agile is to embark on a journey that will challenge you, and at some point provide you with all the answers to why you should start agile.

Well, if you are all new to agile, then let’s start with what agile is, before talking on how to start agile. There are roughly to ways of doing projects, that is sequential and iterative methods, also referred to as agile methods.

The sequential method, will start doing one thing (phase) before moving on to the second, only when the first is completed. When the second phase has been completed, then move to the next; and possibly passing some kind of decision point when moving phases. Waterfall methods going through phases like Analysis/ Specification – Design – Develop – Integration – Test – Deployment, are widely used.

Iterative methods -or agile methods, on the other hand, will roughly speaking be doing all these steps in parallel, in tiny chunks and reviewing each tiny chunk as it is delivered. Effectively, we only set the course for minor bits of functionality at the time, requiring us to constantly evaluate ‘what’s now most important to do’ as we get see the solution in real life being put together like small pieces in a puzzle. The short clarification and development periods may be as short as 1-2 weeks and still be able to deliver meaningful add-on’s to the project. The more familiar of these agile methods are Scrum, Kanban and hybrids at team level. And as these can be applied at organization level they also support a scaled (program-like and even higher levels) in frameworks like SAFe and LeSS.

Common for all agile methods, is that they best way to run them is quite a bit different to what is optimal in iterative (waterfall) methods.

So how do I figure out, where to start agile?

The good news is, that by asking the question you have already started! By asking this question you are well on the way to realise that it might be relevant to start this differently. And asking means inviting help and knowledge to step in.

“If you want something you’ve never had You must be willing to do something you’ve never done.” ― Thomas Jefferson

1. Team up with knowledge.

If you were to embrace a new market, a new technology or new customer segment I guess you would add knowledge first. And let knowledge (and not theory) guide you on how to proceed. Apply the same logic here, to get started. This may also be the first time you feel that the agile journey will be difficult in more ways than you expected.

Finding the right way to add knowledge that actually applies to your business and your domain, and your timing – possibly even without having the tools to evaluate the qualifications, can be tricky. But you are not the first to do this.

2. Start simple, learn and grow

If you plan to big-bang apply agile methods to the whole company, then I guess your plan is to plan carefully and then launch? Just as you normally run projects and programs in the waterfall comfort zone.

Your pilot on being agile, is the planning of being agile. Go simple and start short term planning. Earn some learnings, and then grow bigger by causing a ripple effect.

You will make mistakes, and there will be lots of surprises. If you embrace that openminded, you will proceed stronger.

3. Empower the right people. And trust them.

Being agile as a company or organization, is about managing expectations. Top down, bottom up, and both ways continuously. Top down you tell your expectations of what is most important, and you will be met with replies to what you get very soon. Your best qualified people, those you empowered, will optimise the how. Bottom up, they will ask for support when relevant, when you support a trust based environment.

Your highly skilled will do their best in all their work, as they also seek success. If you don’t trust them in this, make sure to get people you trust. Or start trusting the people you have, as trust is essential for agile to work.

4. Support the team(s)

One key to success in agile is to inspect and adapt. Another key is to share knowledge as you thereby recognise that you – and you alone – cannot achieve the goal. Creating the trust-based environment where everyone shares big and small issues; some relevant now, some maybe later, itself supports the culture of inspection an adaption. This is where the positive yield starts.

So, share the big picture and the team will apply that when optimising for success. Empower the team to do the optimisation, and they will succeed and earn the trust you gave.

5. Share learnings

In agile often you learn from mistakes – the oops’s! But no one really what to be known as the you-made-a-mistake-person. But everybody would love to be known as the good guy that gave wisdom to others.

So kill the word ‘mistake’ and only use the term ‘learning point’. You can call it cheating, yes. But it works! And this actually leads directly into the last point.

6. Celebrate success. From the first tiny success and onwards

You wow when babies smile the first time, or take the first steps; to encourage them to keep going. And it works. Well, when you do something that may seem just as new to you, the wow-ing also fuels the process. Further, you actually get double benefit of the cheering – the individual will notice it and at the same time it applies as team building, growing the team ownership and the team responsibility.

You are now ready to start on how you start agile!

Team up with knowledge, learn & grow, empower the right people, support, share and celebrate. And take pride in seeing the teams operate agile and taking ownership of what you empowered them to do.


Good luck with your agile journey!

Majken Vildrik Thougaard, Independent Agile Specialist & Owner of VILMA Consulting

PS: Down the road you will learn to measure agile experience by the number of mistakes you made, and have learnt from.

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