Agile transformation: start with the minimum

Damian Heffernan
3 min readJul 1, 2021

MVS: The simplest model to start working in a more agile way.

I’ve seen a lot of Companies struggle with transforming their ways of working because they try to do too much too soon. Big Bang implementation of a complex operating model — what could possibly go wrong. Big bang implementation of anything is difficult if not impossible.

There’s the mindset and the principles; straightforward. There’s a few basic methods out there you can adopt like Scrum described by the creators in their article “The New New Product Development Game” by Hirotaka Takeuchi and Ikujiro Nonaka way back in 1986. But while it looks simple at first glance Scrum is actually difficult to implement. It requires new roles, new language and new practices across technical and business domains. Change is hard. It’s even harder when you start using a completely different language at work: scrum master, ceremonies, product owner, refinement, sprints, etc!

Not only are most of these frameworks or methods complex but there are a lot of them too. Can you correctly choose a model that will suit your particular business and context? This Agile tube map has it’s faults but it does give you a glimpse into how many methods are available.

One of the principles is to break our work down into small manageable pieces and experiment and iterate as we learn to see what works and what doesn't. In that spirit I’d like to present the Minimum Viable Start to implementing Agile practices. Three agile things you can start with immediately and then modify and expand as you need to. Yes just three things.

The principle of iteration: Plan do check act.

diagram of plan do check act — Kaizen A Key to Japans Competitive Success, McGraw-Hill Publishing Company Masaaki Imai, 1986, p.95
Kaizen A Key to Japans Competitive Success, McGraw-Hill Publishing Company Masaaki Imai, 1986, p.95

The agile process in a nutshell:

MVS agility — the Agile process in a nutshell

So what practices do we need to support the processes?

Three simple, easy to learn and easy to do practices: Daily standups for communication and alignment. Kanban for tracking your work and communicating priorities and retros to check-in on how you’re going.

In the spirit of alignment to branding :) it’s called the Minimum Viable Start:

  1. VisualisationKanban — Continuously Prioritised backlog
    Planning is inherent in the Kanban method
    Break work down into smaller pieces — show them on a board
    Have the requirements for the next piece ready enough — “just in time”
  2. Standups
    What are you working on?
    Sometimes you have finished work, sometimes you are still working on the same thing
    What is blocking you from doing the best work of your life?
  3. Retros
    Creates the timebox — you hold at retro at a significant point such as delivery of a piece of work or release of a feature
    Chance to reflect and try to improve
    Progress not perfection!

Once you’re up and running you can iterate and potentially add practices to suit your own ways of working and context. These three simple techniques are easy to implement and also expandable once you’re familiar with them and expand on the outcomes you are seeking. Kanban for example is simple to explain and start doing but you can expand by using lots of different Kanban based techniques to make it a very advanced system of working. Remember Toyota had to start somewhere.

Learning to use these techniques is simple and you can start using them within hours. Within days you’ll see improvements and within weeks you’ll wonder why you didn’t do this earlier.