To have the best chance of sustaining agile in an organization, it must be introduced in an “inside-out” way, where you first define your culture and only then set up the internal structures and processes.

That’s the thinking of Pete Behrens, an agile leadership coach with Trail Ridge Consulting, who shared his views on “the agile journey” during a VersionOne-sponsored webinar I was invited to moderate.

(Another way of doing agile: SpecDD: The hybrid agile method)

“Culture is key” to effective agile adoption, he explained, as organizations have to adapt to the different methodologies that agile introduces. The results of a poll taken of the hundreds of webinar listeners showed that 58% said their organization’s culture was impeding their agility, while only 25% reported that their culture enabled agility.

So how do you do that? You must begin by integrating roles, teams, departments and locations, Behrens said. “You have to realize it’s a journey,” which involves attracting, onboarding and retaining people for agile throughout the organization. “You’re not just fixing the development process, but changing the culture. QA becomes everyone’s responsibility,” not a siloed task, he explained. Once that happens, the QA team can be disbanded. Breaking down department barriers changes roles and titles.

Behrens discussed work he did with Salesforce, which back around 2006 ran into major developments challenges as the organization quickly grew from 20 people to 250. He described the company as having a “compete” culture, in which individuals wanted to be the best tester, the best software engineer, the best at any given role.

The cultural change was prompted by the creation of a new role called “engineering management,” which split the responsibilities for software delivery between engineering managers and product owners. “The engineering managers dealt with the how, and the product managers dealt with the what,” he said. Culturally, the change was that teams would win, not individuals.

(More advice on agile: The right time for agile development)

Another key point Behrens made is that agile “is not a destination.” Instead, it is a process. Agile leaders must operate on the organization, not the product, with an organizational change backlog. Shared ownership—versus having one expert—creates growth and flexibility, the hallmarks of an agile organization.

About David Rubinstein

David Rubinstein is editor-in-chief of SD Times.