Facilitating Organization Change

Random thoughts on organization changes

How are you resolving your agile transformation blockers?

Teams leading agile transformations can encounter multiple challenges along their journey including changing the mindsets of senior and mid-level managers, transitioning from a focus on specialists to developing generalizing specialists, educating and effectively engaging delivery or control partners and reducing the time and effort required to deploy deliverables once they’ve been deemed production ready. Worse yet, it can sometimes feel like a game of Whac-a-Mole – as soon as your team resolves one hurdle then another two surface.

How about being agile with your transformation!

Treat each of these blockers as a work item in a backlog. Collaborate with stakeholders to identify appropriate acceptance criteria to help you know when you’ve successfully resolved the issue. Size the work items with your team. As with all preliminary estimates in agile don’t aim for precision but rather for consistency. T-shirt size them or if you feel creative use an alternative fun sizing taxonomy (Decepticon-sizing?).

Prioritization will be a challenge. Just like managing a backlog of product requirements, it’s rarely as simple as letting business value be the sole determinant of priority. Many of these hurdles will be interdependent. You might also want to incorporate relative uncertainty into the ranking process by tackling higher risk and impact hurdles first.

Once you’ve prioritized these blockers at a high-level your team should decide whether it is worth disaggregating them into smaller hurdles. Techniques such as story mapping could then be utilized to help you create a release plan for resolving the issues.

Now comes the tricky part – socializing the plan with your senior stakeholders. Assuming they accept the list of blockers and their relative priority you will want to share it with delivery teams and control partners across the organization. This will increase their confidence in the transformation as well as helping to manage their expectations regarding the resolution timeframes for specific blockers.

A critical step is to adapt and evolve the plan as your transformation progresses but don’t obsess over creating the ideal plan. As new blockers get identified by delivery teams, size them, prioritize them and add them to the backlog. Use information radiators to share status. For example, you could post a list of which hurdles are being actively worked on, which ones are “on deck”, and a burn-up chart with an up-to-date forecasts of when the backlog will be cleared. Your team should also decide whether a sprint-based or lean lifecycle makes sense given their capacity and maturity.

Resolving a backlog of organization blockers can seem an insurmountable task but take the opportunity to increase buy-in and provide a showcase for the benefits of being agile.

 

 

 

 

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

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

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