Proposal: Learn about Open Agile Adoption

Imagine that we, the agile advocates, have agile going a little bit in our organization.  How do we get it more broadly adopted?

One challenge is wanting everyone doing something that is consistent and reasonably professional.  (This could be any of several flavors of agile, but for now, imagine Scrum.)  We want this because of the many benefits it will bring to all. (Yes, Virginia, there are circumstances where Scrum might not work. Or, possibly, where Scrum needs to be reduced to work.)

This organizational need ( is easier to manage and to do well, if consistent), is a problem because people do not want to be forced to do what someone else wants.  In general, people are not consistent.  They want to be ‘free.’  This need for freedom or autonomy is especially important with knowledge workers.  (Cf. Drive by Daniel Pink.)

A second challenge,  with broad agile adoption means, almost always, the culture of the organization must change.  Why?  Agile is based on a set of ideas that  is not the de facto  set an organization uses.  It is a change of paradigm, to some degree.  Perhaps some parts of your organization support all or most of the ‘agile’ ideas, but then other parts are disharmonious. (By ‘part’ I do not necessarily mean a group of people.)

Why is culture so important?  This is hard to explain, but the simple version is that people will not perform practices effectively if they do not fully accept the ideas on which the practices are based.  Organizations will not receive the full benefit of agile until the culture changes.  More accurately, as the culture changes toward the agile values and principles, the benefits will be greater and greater.

Culture is difficult to change.

So, how do we do it?

First, I think we must accept, we cannot make an organization change.  We can allow change, and we can influence change.  That is, we can suggest ideas and try to explain them, so people will like them, and embody them.

Factually, there are many examples of the opposite approach, ‘forced agile adoption’; where the group is forced to do agile, and the results are decidedly unimpressive.  And we have a mixed bag of ‘gray area’….people are unsure whether they are being forced or whether they have a little, some or no influence in the change.  Lots of bad examples in that group.

There is an alternative.

We can let the group adopt agile freely and openly.  That is, they can decide themselves, via a series of actions, to define and work through and adopt agile.  This works quite well. At least in the relatively few examples we have of this.  If you have studied the management of knowledge workers, you know some form of this approach is the only way.

One specific approach like this is Open Agile Adoption.

So, what is Open Agile Adoption?

Let me describe it simplistically.  It follows these 7 steps:

Step 1.  Some volunteers have started something agile (I will assume it was a pilot Scrum Team).  The pilot Scrum Team has some success.  Some people have been trained, or at least studied and learned about agile and Scrum.  Perhaps you have a Scrum coach handy.  Also, several Scrum advocates in the organization.  You have discussed agile with a Leader, and the Leader likes the idea, and wishes to support it, and broaden its adoption.

Step 2.  You train and coach the Leader and the agile advocates in ‘Open Agile Adoption.’  This is not trivial or minor work, although it may appear so at first.

Step 3. You start ‘telling the story.’  You describe the past, present and future in a ‘story’ narrative, that helps people see things progressing well.  You introduce the agile ideas and practices (eg, via Scrum training).  It is important that they do not feel they will be forced to do agile or Scrum.  Arrange some education, so they start to know what agile is.  Education can come in many forms.

“Telling the story” continues throughout.

Step 4. Organize and announce a special day (I like to call it a Tactical Workshop), that will be an Open Space event, where they can work on ‘agile’.

This is mainly an invitation from the Leader to the group, inviting them to help define what we should do next in agile.  The Leader does not define agile in a narrow way, but defines the vision and the basic outcomes the Leader is seeking (eg, deliver more business value, higher employee morale, higher quality, or similar goals).

‘Agile’ is defined by the Leader as anything that helps with these greater goals, as well as, conforming to the Agile Manifesto and Agile Principles (a set of basic concepts).

The invitation by the Leader is key.

Step 5.  Conduct the 1-day Open Space event (OS-1).

At the event, people are allowed to self-organize, to figure out how to adopt agile broadly.  This is done using the basic rules of Open Space.

They might define what agile is, they might work on practical impediments, they might define the key aspects of culture that might need to change.  In any case, they start to ‘figure it out’ as a group.

In the course of this day, many things happen.  A few things are clear.  They are respected, and their contribution is wanted and needed.  They design the details of the change, themselves.  Initiatives outside this one day are also sought (and needed) to make the change happen.

What are the effects?  One is that the people no longer resist being changed.  They now feel they are part of the change.  The wisdom of the group is harnessed to implement the change effectively.

This may sound simple, and in some ways it is, but the Leader and the agile advocates also have a subtle and important role.  They also participate as part of the group.

Step 6. The group now executes a ‘chapter of change’, for 2 or 3 months.

It is very important during this 2-3 month period that the ‘story’ or the stories are told often.  The group needs a positive message about the change.

The group experiences the change they agreed to.  And they work on additional changes during this period (presumably things that were discussed in the OS-1).

Step 7. We have another Open Space event after the 2-3 months (OS-2).

One can think of this second Open Space as being like a Sprint Review and Retrospective of the prior 2-3 months. And like a Sprint Planning Meeting for the next 2-3 month ‘chapter of change.’


Those are the basics. They have proven to be effective.


To start this off, I offer a 1-day introduction to Open Agile Adoption and the ideas around it.  Ideally the Leader and the agile advocates attend.  Perhaps even a ‘champion skeptic’ attends.  This small group learns, and becomes ready to help the larger group on this journey.

It is important to start this with the right attitude.  The attitude should be that we are helping the group.  We are not ‘making’ them adopt agile, but rather we are offering them the opportunity to make some improvements, to make themselves more productive, to deliver more business value to customers, to make their work lives more fun.  If you trust them enough and talk to them enough, usually they reach the same conclusions as the ‘agile experts’ have proposed about what agile is.

So, the proposal, the specific commitment at first, is only a 1-day course that introduces that group to Open Agile Adoption.  After you learn more about it, then you can decide whether to take the next step.



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