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Adopting Agile and Maintaining Sanity

posted Jul 15, 2014, 2:12 AM by Tim Carroll   [ updated Jul 15, 2014, 2:56 AM ]

Delivering software through an Agile Scrum methodology is a paradigm shift for an organization. The mindset changes from strong project autonomy to a much more cohesive relationship with a product. This can challenge the human resource structures of traditional projectized units, including budgets, position descriptions/assignments, career tracks, and people management. The adoption of Agile Scrum methodologies and techniques is a catalyst for this rethinking, because these methodologies require a project team to acquire and concern themselves with domain knowledge of the product at a much more detailed level for an extended period of time, whereas traditional projectized team members align themselves more squarely with a repeatable product-domain-independent skill-set (i.e. software delivery on the java platform).

As this pendulum swings, an organization must be careful not to fall into the trap of moving too far in the other direction (i.e. alignment with product). Aligning human resource structures (again, budgets, position descriptions, career tracks, and people management) too closely with a product will make it difficult to isolate dollars associated with change initiatives, and it will become much more challenging to fluidly move human resources once products have reached a sustainable level of maturity. To prevent this, new adopters of Agile Scrum should instead look to program management as a tool for establishing the necessary medium-term alignment of human resources to a particular product domain. Programs can be established as a wrapper around Agile Scrum managed projects and used to center groups of people from traditional projectized roles around a particular product domain without tipping the apple cart and preventing those resources (both dollars and people) from being easily reallocated to other projects and programs at a later date.

Since the application of program management does not tear down projectized units or the projectized human resource structures, there are various other concrete short-term and long-term benefits to the organization. First, budgets dollars can continue to be allocated to change initiatives and isolated from service budgets in a way that promotes transparency and helps to prevent unintended internal reallocations. Next, position descriptions, career tracks, and all associated people management remain relevant and intact, which supports both employee recruiting and retrainment. In other words, the professionalization of skill-sets and all the discipline involved in standing up a sustainable service will be unharmed, and all the human resource infrastructure and product development processes an organization has worked hard to achieve can still be utilized.