Theory of Becoming Agile

The Theory of Becoming Agile explains that agile transformations are a complex multi-dimensional network of changes. Not just on the software development practices dimension, which is the most intuitive and probably the reason why agile was adopted in the first place, but also on other critical dimensions such as team practices, management approach, reflective practices, and culture.

What All Changes When Becoming Agile?

  • Software development practices. This is the raison d’etre for software organizations, the core work practices. These practices and their execution needs to move from traditional, if they were traditional before, to more and more agile practices such as Scrum or XP practices, based on the teams’ choice of specific agile method.
  • Team practices. Agile teams find themselves being involved in a whole lot more than simply software development practices. Project management practices such as task specification, clarification, estimation, prioritization, and allocation are no longer limited to tech leads or Business Analysts. More and more, the team gets exposed to these practices, and so they must transition from manager-driven to becoming team-driven.
  • Management approach. The managers must also transition into becoming agile. By manager here, I mean anyone in a management role, e.g. project manager, product manager, scrum master, product owner, tech lead, etc. Becoming agile demands that the manager also transitions from driving the team initially to empowering them when mature on this dimension.
  • Reflective practices. Reflection and learning are key to continuous improvement. Agile teams reap the most benefit from their agile adoption when the reflective practices transition from being limited to more or less embedded in everyday practices.
  • Culture. I define culture as a combination of the organizational culture, the team culture, and the individual culture or personality. The culture dimension must also transition from being say hierarchical to open.

The theory predicts that:

  • The software development practices will be the first to start to change.
  • The team practices and management approach must reflect and adapt to each other. Self-organization can be achieved when the team practices move from being manager-driven to team-driven and when the management approach moves from being driving to empowering. In other words, both the team and manager must be ready to assert and encourage autonomy respectively.
  • The reflective practices are the most challenging to mature. Practices such as the retrospective will be the last to mature.
  • Culture is the most critical dimension, affecting all other dimensions. If the culture is conducive the other changes can be smoother and faster, and vice-versa.
Rashina’s Theory of Becoming Agile

The theory of becoming agile was published as a research article and received a Distinguished Paper Award at the International Conference on Software Engineering, 2017.

Read the original theory of becoming agile article.