The Excel file that saved my life in Agile Transformation and how it can do the same for you!

I’d like to share the story of how Excel saved my life, well ― my professional life. I know in finance and business intelligence Excel is everything, but what about in an Agile Transformation?

I warn you: this is not about the latest concepts in Agility. It is not about the future of organisations. This is a back-to-basics story for those who are at the beginning of their journey, or maybe in the middle of their journey and need a boost. If you would like to know what the first steps looks like, this story ― and my beloved excel ― might help. You can download the sample Excel file and supporting material (Powerpoint pack) at the end of this post.

Many years ago, when I was a project manager, how we did things wasn’t called Transformation or Embedding Agile. My title wasn’t even Scrum Master. We were simply building and delivering cool software. We were happy doing a fun job building interesting websites. The way we managed our development progress was basic ― we had Planning sessions, a Morning WIP catch-up, and a combination of retrospectives and demos. That was it!

As time passed my roles changed and I became an Agile Transformation Coach. I soon realised that’s a different story all together. See, when you are a Scrum master you are responsible for creating a collaborative environment where team members can thrive. Scrum Master is also responsible to remove the blockers and impediments to ensure team can deliver what it aimed for. When you are an Agile [Transformation] Coach, you are responsible to bring new ways of working to organisation by teaching, showing and coaching Scrum Master, Product Owner, team members and also stakeholders. The business term for it is capability uplift.

Eventually, I was asked to teach teams how to be Agile. I knew about being Agile, not doing Agile. However, I was frequently – and sadly – asked if I could put some Post-it notes on a wall and make them Agile. With a smile on my face, the answer to that particular request was “of course, yes”, and I went off to do what I needed to do.

However, the question stayed with me: “how could I show you that I’ve made you more Agile?” The answer had to include more than just Post-it notes. How could I, after 6 months of engagement, demonstrate I had actually done ― and succeeded ― in my job? How could I prove whether or not I’d transformed teams and changed the way they worked?

I struggled with this question for quite a while. To be honest, I sometimes worried that I might be shown the door, because no one (including me) could measure what I was doing. My fear only increased as I knew how much more still needed doing, which the Big Boss couldn’t see.

The early stages of change is quite visual and visible, then it appears calms and done. However after 7 to 10 sprints real problems such as code structure, culture, lack of capabilities will surface. And here is when I get nervous I fail to communicate how much more can be done. Simply because there are so many aspects to Agile Transformation. Hence it is called transformation and hence doing it successfully is not that easy!

And then, lo and behold, I was saved!  A friend showed me an excel template that measured the Agile maturity of teams!

Firstly, it has collated all activities that i used to do, in one place. Even more than I used to do. So with this, no chance I miss anything. Secondly it made invisible transformation effort visible and measurable! Thirdly, I am a bit shy to confess this but it was something I could show to my managers and they could show it to their managers! Kinda like when athlete collect trophies on their walls, I could now have lots of these graphs on the wall, proudly showing my blood and sweat, leading to some big and meaningful improvement!

And now …..

Meet my beloved Agile Maturity Assessment spreadsheet

(TEAM NAME) - Agile Maturity Assessment YYYY M DD Master Template V2

Since being introduced to this file and the approach it presented, I’ve made numerous changes to suit my needs. (I don’t actually know from where this file originated, and really hope sharing it here doesn’t break any copyright laws.)

Now, I’d like to explain why I treasure this golden goose of a file that never, ever leaves my Google drive. Primarily, this file presents a simple view of the many little and assorted things that collectively measure a team’s Agile Transformation progress.

  1. All-Rounder. The Assessment has a hundred plus lines that cover a breathtaking 16 areas of work.Screen Shot 2018-09-04 at 12.44.44 pm
  2. Objective Assessment. Unlike most assessments where scoring is quite subjective and based on the view of an expert, these are things which can be observed by an outsider or a team member. As a result, regardless of one’s role – be it a senior manager, team member, or Agile coach, the score results are the same. Basically, it is an expert-agnostic. Next point will clarify this a bit better.
  3. Simple grading method. For each line-item, there are 5 conditions that examine team behaviours and analyses the frequency of something happening: never, occasionally, sometimes, most times, and always. Again, one doesn’t need to be member of a team in most cases to be able to observe and complete these observations. The original grading was:

Level 1 -> Establish

Level 2 -> Efficiencies

Level 3 -> Flow

Level 4 -> Throughput.

Screen Shot 2018-09-09 at 9.09.43 pm

As this approach made it difficult for me to grade each line, I decided to simplify it. And more aligned to my above point, making sure regardless of who does the assessment, result needs to be the same. In the example below, “Team respects definition of done?” is something that anyone us observe the team can how frequently this is happening, e.g. there are 5 features on the board this sprint and it seams 3 of them are published respecting DoD and maybe 2 we turned a blind eye on it. This is particularly important for organisation with more than one team.

  1. Radar. Who doesn’t like a nice spider web on a wall? With this radar – the rounder and bigger the results, the higher the maturity!

If you love numbers as much as I do and are goal driven, you can see why I love this Excel file so much. As a consultant, anytime I start working with a new team, I start with this assessment.

Screen Shot 2018-09-04 at 11.43.48 am

Based on a team’s maturity level, we decide on the first milestone and ensure that it features measurable success criteria. Like so:

Screen Shot 2018-09-04 at 11.45.31 am

This is an example of a team in a digital agency building an interesting web app. Our first milestone was fundamentals. (This is not, however, always the case; most teams these days have the basics in place.) So the first milestone would focus on improving productivity or transparency.

After Seven sprints

Here’s what I think is the best part. After 7 sprints, I asked the team to perform a self-assessment. Ensure that this assessment is not done by team coach or the person that did the original assessment. I believe it should be done by all team members, individually. You can’t, of course, mark your own work. Once each self-assessment is complete, the results can be aggregated to arrive at something like this:

Screen Shot 2018-09-04 at 11.50.56 am

Presenting progress

If you absolutely have to present this information and a team’s progress to senior and wider stakeholders ― as I have in the past, this is how I have done it. Template available for download.

I presented the 3 spider webs, I mean the radars. Then for each one the 16 areas I did a block with below structure.

Screen Shot 2018-09-04 at 3.37.36 pm

And for each area I presented what is done well and what is the next step. I also highlighted if something needed extra attention.

Screen Shot 2018-09-04 at 4.56.18 pm

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Pro Tips

  1. This assessment is not the goal of what we do as Agile Transformation Practitioners.
  2. This information should not be used for any other purpose than to highlight the focus area for coaching/transformation and the opportunity to reward teams. It cannot be used to judge teams or be used against them. Also,
  3. It should not take a huge amount of time. 1-2 hours of time for the initial assessment and a couple of hours following a team self-assessment to put things together. Timebox yourself!

Senior management

If you are a senior executive that’s considering going Agile, prior to inviting an Agile coach or Agile Transformation consultant to join your team, I suggest doing this assessment yourself, as it can save a lot of time and bring you closer to your teams. If you can’t observe some of these identified behaviours in your team, chances are they don’t exist, so just trust yourself and your eyes. Also you might want to use this tool to assess the effectiveness of your leadership in organisations. You obviously don’t need to share it.

You can download the Excel template, Powerpoint template, and above sample scenario information here.