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Agile Coaches' Corner shares practical concepts in an approachable way. It is for agile practitioners and business leaders seeking expert advice on improving the way they work to achieve their desired outcomes. If you have a topic you'd like discussed, email it to, or tweet it with #agilethoughtpodcast.

Jun 18, 2021

Most literature around starting an agile (or scrum) team makes the assumption that you will be starting from scratch. But oftentimes, you’re joining an organization with teams that are in the middle of a half-built or fully-built product.


As an agile coach being brought into an organization, you usually have to work with pre-existing teams that are in the middle of their product life cycle with pre-existing behaviors and norms.

In this episode, Dan and Sam are exploring what it is actually like starting in the middle of an agile journey and offer their tips and advice for agile coaches in addressing common challenges associated with pre-formed teams, products in the middle of their life cycle, and organizations already in the middle of their agile journey.


Key Takeaways

The different ways you can be “in the middle”:

In the middle of an agile journey

In the middle of team formation (or by working with an already fully-formed team)

In the middle of building a product

A combination of all three

Addressing challenges of joining a team that is in the middle:

There needs to be a mindset shift around the whole team being accountable (rather than each individual for themselves)

When a team already has its behaviors and norms established, they can be nervous with new roles and expectations being introduced

It is important to respect the team’s history and knowledge

Scrum doesn’t say “abandon your job titles,” rather, ‘‘You work out how you want your team to look. As long as you can get to done.” (i.e. it’s okay to stick with your original job titles as long as you remember that you’re all in this together as a team; not individuals)

Those in senior positions (i.e. those with more expertise and experience) should shift into a mentorship role for those junior to them

Recognize that the team is going to have to take smaller bites at the apple every sprint instead of taking on these huge challenges that will take months

Create safety by delivering in smaller chunks

Do regression testing more often

Slow down and automate the old stuff

Addressing challenges of a product life cycle that is in the middle:

Sometimes, adding value to the product might be in removing features that nobody (or few people) use, that are slowing down the delivery of new features that people will use

If it’s expensive and not giving your team/organization a return on investment, reevaluation should take place around why you are spending money to maintain this feature

Look at value investments from a product standpoint even when you’re not starting a new product from scratch

A challenge with jumping into products in the middle is that the strategy has been laid out in a fairly plan-driven way (the requirements are largely thought to be understood)

“Scope creep” isn’t actually a monster; it’s a friend that helps you have a better understanding of your requirements

Bring users in earlier and ask for feedback earlier (this helps get users engaged, interested; you’re able to correct course mid-flight to create something that users actually want)

You don’t have to wait until a sprint to adjust

Addressing challenges of joining an organization that is in the middle of its agile journey:

This usually takes the form of A) the organization has tried to do an agile transformation themselves and now recognize they need help, or B) they had a consultant or coach come in previously, dismissed them when they thought they were done, everything went off the rails, and now they need to bring in another consultant once again to fix it

“[Agile is] a journey; not a destination. So we have to continue going [forward]. I think it’s actually a misnomer to say that we, [as agile coaches], come in in the middle of an agile journey. It’s all middle. Once you take that first step, it’s ‘middle’ for the rest of time.”

Agile journeys take a long time; there’s not a magic wand to shift behavior

The organization needs to learn how to do the learning because it never stops

Adam Ulery’s tips for being brought into an organization “in the middle”:

First, understand where the organization is right now

What do they do really well right now? Where are the gaps that need to be addressed?

Conduct an assessment (doesn’t need to be formal) to understand their current challenges

What are their goals? Their business goals, their agile journey goals, and where they would like to be in the not-so-distant future (i.e. six months to three years)? Based on this, develop a plan on how to move forward with them


Mentioned in this Episode:

Agile in the Enterprise Survey by Gartner

Sam Falco’s LinkedIn

Adam Ulery’s LinkedIn


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