Facilitating Organization Change

Random thoughts on organization changes

Which compromises are making your agile transformation fragile?

Agile transformation is a long journey for large companies. Holding off on getting started until all the necessary enablers are in place for successful adoption means the valuable learning which comes through experimentation will be lost. During this formative time, teams will have to cope with constraints which hamper how far down the agile delivery continuum they can operate.

An inability to dedicate primary roles on teams is normal and it is reasonable to start an agile journey with this impediment. However, if nothing is done to address the underlying root causes such as a continued belief in the productivity benefits of multitasking or a lack of understanding of how much work can be done concurrently based on resource capacity then delays, the waste of context switching, and higher defect volume will persist.

Environment or technology constraints might prevent teams from completing all stages of delivery for work items. Phase-based life cycles supported the model of shared testing environments which could be booked by teams for specific periods of time. A shift to end-to-end testing throughout the life cycle will be hampered by a lack of dedicated environments. This forces teams to work in a “Scrum-fall” manner which prolongs launches and will increase the cost and schedule risks of delayed defect detection and resolution. The tactical fix might be to throw money at the problem by provisioning sufficient additional virtual or physical environments, but a more lasting solution might require a shift to a partial or full product/capability/value-stream focus from the current project-centric one.

A lack of high coverage automated testing is a common blocker for teams working with legacy applications. Without this, the cost of testing through the life cycle increases dramatically as does the likelihood of missing regression defects. Investments in developing full automation for an existing application are extremely costly and are rarely justified unless there is a significant backlog of enhancements to be delivered over long product lifetimes. But unless there is a real commitment to empower teams to automate test cases from the very first release for new applications, this situation will never improve.

Constraints and compromises are common when undertaking an agile transformation. But not addressing the underlying root causes will significantly impede the ability to achieve sustainable benefits.

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

Agile transformations should lead with changing mindset and behavior rather than practices

Like most North American kids growing up in an urban environment, my son learned to drive cars with an automatic transmission. Now that he’s been driving for a year, I’m starting to teach him to handle a manual transmission. While the most visible aspect of this is shifting, the exquisite art (to quote the Bride) lies in the proper use of the clutch. Once a driver develops the feel for a clutch and is able to find that sweet spot between dormant and stalling so that they can get a car rolling without the use of the gas pedal, the rest is mere mechanics.

Golf presents a similar scenario – learning to swing a club is secondary to mastering weight transfer. Through practice, once that skill becomes second nature, the rest of the swing will come. But if we start with the top down approach of learning to swing using the shoulders and arms, it will take much longer to develop a good swing.

Agile works much the same way.

Just because we divide our project’s timeline into sprints, conduct daily standups and bi-weekly retrospectives and ask our teams to self-organize, if the underlying behaviors of senior leaders, mid-level managers and team members don’t change, we are just putting lipstick on a pig.

Behavior and mindset changes don’t happen overnight and it’s not easy to confirm what has changed the way one can when introducing a practice or tool change.

This reinforces the importance of a change strategy for all levels of stakeholders involved with the project. While they might appreciate the benefits of agile delivery, if they haven’t reflected on the mindset changes required, stakeholders will act like chickens when we’d need them to be pigs. Senior leaders, delivery and control partners need to understand how they will need to adapt before they are put on the spot to support an agile project. Embracing the change won’t happen overnight which is why effective coaching is required to enable them to become the advocates we need to champion changes with their peers.

The challenge is that there is usually a demand to demonstrate value from a change in delivery approach within a reasonably short time.

That is why it is best to start with one or two small projects to provide a safe opportunity to try, fail, learn and improve.

Start with practices and tools and Cargo Cult behavior is almost a guarantee.

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

PPM and Agile transformations are two birds of a feather…

At first glance you might think that there couldn’t be two organization transformations with greater difference than the adoption of project portfolio management (PPM) and the transition to agile delivery. After all, when problems occur, the former is often perceived as bureaucracy gone mad whereas the latter is negatively stereotyped as just do it chaos.

Both transformations have a lot more in common than you might think.

Both will fail if fundamental mindset and behavior changes don’t occur. Neither can succeed with just introduction of new practices or tools. The best portfolio prioritization scoring model or the most integrated sprint planning and reporting tool suite will merely provide evidence of dysfunction if behaviors don’t change. The shift for PPM requires staff at all levels to elevate organization strategy over personal pet projects and to recognize that optimizing the whole sometimes requires sub-optimizing a part. Agile requires a similar shift in thinking from centralized decision-making to embracing empowerment and self-organization. But once the right mindset has been cultivated, a parallel introduction of new procedures with appropriate supporting tools can increase the effectiveness of the change.

Both transformations require vigilance and ongoing coaching to ensure that backsliding does not occur. Without this, cargo cult behavior will be seen from both portfolio governance participants and agile teams. Re-emergence of stealth and zombie projects or multi-level decision-making and chronic over commitment and under delivery sprint-after-sprint are clear signs that discipline is lacking.

Top down and bottom up commitment is critical to both. Without the former, it is not possible to overcome political and financial obstacles and skipping the latter will usually be reflected through the reporting coming out of implemented tools as garbage in, garbage out.

You will be forced to evaluate organizational policies and structure beyond the obvious points of impacts. New roles such as portfolio managers, agile coaches and leads will emerge, and performance objectives and incentives will need to shift from individual achievement to portfolio or team achievement.

Finally, both transformations are journeys, not just destinations. No matter how efficient a company’s delivery practices or portfolio management practices get, there’s always room for improvement and instilling a culture of continuous improvement is superior to focusing on a few major changes.

 

Categories: Agile, Facilitating Organization Change, Project Portfolio Management | Tags: , , | Leave a comment

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