Maintain a sense of change urgency through agility

According to John Kotter’s model for leading change, the first step to overcoming inertia requires us to instill a sense of true urgency in those we need to support, implement and sustain the change. While it is ideal if this urgency is tied to What’s In It For Me, at a minimum, we all want proof that committing our time and political influence to a particular initiative at this very moment is cheaper than the cost of doing nothing.

But the steps in Kotter’s model, like PMBOK processes, are not to be followed in a purely sequential manner. 

Significant organization transformations usually require a year or more to become “the new normal” and we are only fooling ourselves if we assume that those stakeholders who were focused and motivated to champion our initiative in its early days will continue to remain so for the long haul. Executives and mid-level managers are constantly juggling competing priorities and as long as it appears that a change initiative is not on fire, their attention spans are likely to be shorter than that of a goldfish.

As such, we need to iterate back to instilling that sense of true urgency at regular intervals. The specific cadence varies based on the complexity and duration of a transformation. Fan the flames too rarely and the spark will be extinguished. Do it too often and you’ll be treated like the boy who cried “Wolf!”.

But is reminding stakeholders that they need to support us enough to gain this support? Maintaining focus requires quid pro quo otherwise we are likely to hear “What have you done for me lately?” 

This is why regardless of the nature of a transformation we need to inject agility into its delivery. We can follow adapted versions of key Manifesto principles such as:

  • Our highest priority is to satisfy our stakeholders through early and continuous delivery of business value
  • Deliver business value frequently, from a couple of weeks to a couple of months, with a preference to the shorter timescale
  • At regular intervals, the team reflects on how to implement change more effectively, then tunes and adjusts its behavior accordingly
  • Change champions and the team must work together frequently throughout the transformation

Newton’s first law: An object at rest remains at rest, or if in motion, remains in motion at a constant velocity unless acted on by a net external force.



Categories: Agile, Facilitating Organization Change | Tags: , , , | 1 Comment

How do we encourage organizational adoption of an agile mindset?

Changing mindset is all the rage in the agile community.

Years of failed transformations which started with practice, methodology or tooling changes are convincing many that changing the hearts and minds of all stakeholders involved in value delivery provides a more safer road to organizational agility.

But how do we change people’s minds? We aren’t trying to change what they do as that results in superficial agility, we want to change how they think about what they do.

Attending a course is not the answer. As Morpheus states about The Matrix: Unfortunately, no one can be…told what the Matrix is. You have to see it for yourself.

Wouldn’t it be great if there was a red pill that could flip that switch in our heads and turn us into inspiring, empowering, servant-leadership aligned, waste-exterminating leaders?

The Scrum Guide states that a key responsibility of a Scrum Master is “Leading and coaching the organization in its Scrum adoption and surely a key element of that centers around shifting mindset. Realistically, when teams are struggling to embrace agility, the majority of a Scrum Master‘s efforts are spent coaching them. This is the rationale behind organizations investing in coaching support outside agile teams. But even there, many agile coaches focus their efforts on evolving Scrum Master capabilities or at best working with a few key stakeholders surrounding the project or product release.

But a fish rots from its head.

To institutionalize agility, not just from a delivery perspective, but with regards to portfolio investment making, resource allocation, and operations, mindset change is needed from the top down which means that coaching services should also be targeted at multiple levels of the organization. Having executive leaders who truly walk the agile talk increases the likelihood of senior and mid-level managers doing the same. While it is common for staff to pick up bad habits from their managers, the same holds true for positive behaviors.

How much coaching assistance and time is required to realize a sustainable level of mindset change?

As usual, it depends. Factors such as organization size, current culture and behaviors, external forces, competing priorities and overall sense of urgency will all influence the level and duration of the investment in coaching. However, just as team-level coaching should start heavy and reduce over time as our teams get better at learning to fish, executive and mid-level management coaching should do the same. At some point, just as with delivery teams, leadership teams need to become self-managing and self-disciplined.

Until someone invents a red pill (or more likely, a chip), the best alternative we have is coaching coupled with the power of imitation. 




Categories: Agile, Facilitating Organization Change | Tags: , | 2 Comments

So how’s your agile transformation going?

If your organization is in the midst of an agile transformation, ideally this change was justified through a business case which articulated expected benefits and the means by which those benefits would be measured. But we rarely live in an ideal world.

So how could you assess whether the initiative is delivering value or not?

You could look at a metric like average time to deliver scope but this has limitations. Averages by themselves mean nothing. If there is an overall reduction in the distribution of release times and ideally a shrinkage in the variation for these release times, that might be cause for optimism if a sufficiently representative sample was taken before and after.

Just because we are delivering scope sooner doesn’t mean we are reaping the full rewards of an agile transformation. A team might miss the mark by prioritizing schedule over quality and we would end up producing a product which the customer doesn’t want.

And, this says nothing about how we delivered that scope. Over short timeframes using Theory X-type behavior it is possible to whip a team into delivering quickly but we would usually see a corresponding reduction in quality and in team satisfaction.

Perhaps we could look at velocity across teams. While we know that velocity should never be used to assess performance between teams or at an individual level, surely an ongoing, incremental increase in velocity across the majority of teams would be a positive indicator? Unfortunately, without introducing other measures to add perspective, it would be relatively easy for a team to claim such improvements at the expense of quality, or delivery of real value to their customers.

In place of these vanity metrics, consider these:

  1. The distribution of lead time to deliver utilized features – by filtering out unutilized features, our time to market distribution will focus on true value add to our customers
  2. Features utilized/features completed – this ratio will assess how effective teams are at meeting the true needs of your stakeholders
  3. The distribution of defect severities and counts – this will assess whether quality is being sacrificed at the altar of speed
  4. The total number of high impact organizational blockers – assuming teams are surfacing and escalating organizational impediments to full agility, a reduction in the number of these blockers should translate into improved delivery outcomes
  5. Team satisfaction – this will keep a pulse on team morale to ensure that it is not suffering through the transition
  6. Customer or key stakeholder satisfaction – this will be another balancing measure like #5 to ensure that the end is not justifying the wrong means

Developing a balanced, holistic approach to measuring outcomes should help to sustain leadership support and to focus continuous improvement efforts on the right things but just remember:

…not everything that can be counted counts, and not everything that counts can be counted.” – William Bruce Cameron


Categories: Agile, Facilitating Organization Change | Tags: , , | 1 Comment

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