In the previous posting, we introduced 15 rules of the Agile transformation change management. We also mentioned that each of those rules needs to be implemented before you move to the practical aspects of Agile implementation: selecting and introducing the framework, creating practices, processes, identifying tools, and forming Agile teams.
These topics are written from Agile coaching perspective, but each of them applies to every stakeholders of your Agile transformation, from senior stakeholders to internal and external customers.
We listed the following 15 Breyter Rules for Agile transformation success:
- Create case for change.
- Build coalitions.
- Be inclusive.
- State goals before introducing change.
- Co-create new reality.
- You can never overcommunicate.
- Build it, and they will come.
- Be genuine, transparent and positive.
- Question the status quo.
- Be assertive and courageous but not controlling.
- Serve but don't follow.
- Lead without authority.
- Walk the talk.
- Celebrate success (but not too early).
- Never stop!
Let's review these rules one by one:
- Create case for change. Status quo state is most stable. If you want to change status quo, you need to shake it, and the only way to shake it is to expose its inefficiencies. For each organization, those would be different. Is quality a concern? speed of delivery? flexibility? are customer unhappy? why? Talk to people, observe, ask five why's the lean way to understand root causes, review artifacts. If you are fortunate, hire an external vendor to perform organizational assessment. This exercise will help you come up with the baseline for the success metrics for your Agile transformation and will pre-define your dashboard or your organizational survey - whichever combination of tools you will choose to use to measure progress on a regular basis.
- Build coalitions. Relationship building is important in personal life, in career success, in your happiness and sense of accomplishment at work. However, in Agile transformation it is not something that is just important, it will make or break your Agile transformation. What do I mean by that? Let's imagine you arrive to an organization as a newly hired internal Agile Coach or as an external consultant supporting Agile transformation. The person who leads the product team has been in the organization for more that 10 years. You can clearly see that this person has not bought into Agile. Besides skepticism that you observe, you hear from other about multiple comments that this person questions your and your team's mission at every meeting he/she attends at every level. You make a decision to talk to this person.
There are two choices: inform this person that you won't tolerate this type of backstabbing and share with the Agile transformation sponsor that the product organization leader is a closed minded individual stuck in the mindset from 1980's. The second choice is to put yourself in this person's shoes. He/she has been with the organization for many years and feels proud about multiple products and services that have been created. The company is making profits by selling those products and services, and the feedback from customers has been largely positive. Now you join the organization, question the products, want to change how they are being envisioned and built, and confuse people without having sufficient understanding of the organizational culture or the products being offered. Which choice would you make?
The easiest choice is to escalate and sometimes you cannot avoid that, but this should never be your first choice. If this person is genuinely interested in the organizational success, you share the same goal. Spend time with this person, share data, invite to Agile ceremonies, expose your dashboards, suggest help in specific areas of his/her concern.
- Be inclusive. Follow the same approach as discussed above with your key stakeholders, invest time in meeting with them individually prior to the meetings where the future of Agile transformation is decided, get their buy-in by genuinely and openly share your beliefs, values, and priorities. Besides targeting specific groups and decision-making individuals, create venues such as Lunch and Learns, Book Clubs or Open Spaces where anyone who is interested in the topic would feed welcome and listened to.
In one of the organizations I supported, we started an Agile Lean Practitioners Meetup - which was a great marketing and talent attraction opportunity for the company as well as a great venue for company employees at all levels to come, learn, share their experience, and meet interesting people involved in Agile. For us as a group of Agile coaches, these meetings were a great opportunity to identify internal change agents who later became formal and informal leaders of Agile transformation within the company.
- State goals before introducing change. This rule is super important. You want people to follow you for the right reasons. You want them to be as excited about the changes you are bringing, about empowering teams and individuals, about building the software that will delight your customers, about collaborative environment you are going to build. You do not want them to join you based on assumptions that are wrong or irrelevant. You do not want "yes" people around you who won't question ideas and challenge you. You do not want people who join you because "Agile" or "Lean" is a buzz word and they feel that being part of a new team will allow them to move fast on the career ladder. However, if you do not set expectations right, how would you expect them to join you for the right reasons? So what do you do?
First, you need to define your values and the success criteria for your transformation. This is based on the analysis you did in Rule #1. here's an example:
"We as an organization lack transparency so Agile transformation will help people share and be aware of others' successes and challenges. No one will be punished. Actually, we want to fair early and often, and we want to experiment and take risks. No one is punished for their mistakes done as part of these experiments. Actually, these failures will be celebrated as nothing else gives us a better learning experience. Each month, we will have a company-wide demo to show our latest development and showcase new products. We are also going to publish our continuous improvement newsletter and implement 2-second lean practice across the organization. Making transparency and experience sharing an integral part of our company's culture is one of primary goals of Agile transformation. We will measure it by capturing process changes implemented based on lessons learned and by calculating time saved by re-using functionality across departments, based on open communication. We expect those parameters to grow 50% within the first 6 months of Agile rollout."
If you heard this from an Agile Coach who leads Agile and Lean implementation for your company, how would you not be excited and willing to take part of the effort?
- Question the status quo. We mentioned that status quo is a stable state. This is a psychological axiom widely used in the negotiations theory. Read or watch Margaret Heffernan for a brilliant explanation of this fact and the joy of challenging it. Nothing is fixed. No opinion is sacred. Whether it is inertia or the organization is not prone to challenging authority, find a tactful and empathetic way to question current practices, whether this is active listening or asking thought provoking questions, or trying small things that produce big impact, one at a time, and showing successes. In one of the organizations that I coached, Agile terms were a taboo. They experienced a painful Agile transformation a year ago which miserably failed and cost jobs to many loyal and smart people. Agile was considered disruptive and irrelevant for that organization based on compliance requirements, lack of urgency to reduce time to market, and overall relaxed delivery culture. Besides, everyone was fairly happy with status quo, except for customers, executives, and a few software developers with prior Agile experience who were labeled as "troublemakers".
What did we do as Agile coaches? One on the team suggested to run as fast as we can, so that we do not ruin our reputation. His argument that if the organization is not ready for Agile transformation, if they do not see that the change is necessary, the best we can do for them is to let them fail big time, so that they realize that the change is a matter of survival for them and not luxury. We did consider this as our last resort, but we made a decision to give it a try. This included our agreement to avoid Agile and Lean terminology completely. We did not use the word "Scrum ceremonies", we said "meetings". Instead of "scrum masters", we continued saying "project managers". Within a few month, we were running Scrum full speed and no one even noticed, and of course, everyone loved it. This "sneaky" approach helped us avoid resistance and introduce change without openly disrupting the status quo.
- Co-create new reality. In the previous Rule, we discussed disruption. However, once the change is implemented, it has to be anchored. John Kotter's eights principle is about anchoring change in the culture for sustainable change. For me, it is more than culture. The change has to become the new reality, the norm for the organization, and it is up to us as Agile and Lean Coaches and change agents to make this shift possible. Let's review an example.
As an Agile Coach leading change, you addressed a challenge this organization had, which was paying zero attention to metrics as a measure of their progress. They did have organizational goals before but those were vague and not in a SMART format. When you started the Agile transformation, you assessed their processes and products, supported them in articulating their vision and stating SMART goals, and defining metrics around those. All of those are annual goals. Do you need to wait until the end of the year to check whether those have been achieved? Obviously not.
In order to anchor this new thinking, you introduce interim metrics in all possible forms: large screens serve as information radiators around the office, there are real-time dashboards in your Agile tools (both JIRA and Rally provide great capabilities to do so), you present results weekly to your CIO, COO, or even CEO (or divisional leader for larger organizations), these data is shared at Townhalls and in the company blog, someone even started a competition who will forecast next month results more closely - and eventually becomes part of the culture, something that everyone follows and is interested in. This example is a great segue to the next rule.
- You can never overcommunicate. Do not be afraid to overcommunicate. I've heard a lot from Agile coaches: let's not share this information yet. There are multiple excuses: it has not been approved or adopted, or we want to know first if this is going to be a success, or we shared it already in the blog, why would we share again in company's Townhall? We don't want to be repetitive, boring, controlling, or irrelevant. Here's the news: you cannot overcommunicate organizational change. Where there is change, there is always anxiety, and anxiety needs information to calm down.
However, one thing you can do is miscommunicate. During organizational change, any equilibrium is fragile. If something needs buy-in or there is a formal approval chain, respect it. If the information is sensitive, collaborate with the peer to target the message and ensure that it produces the impression you want to make. But none of it should be an excuse for withholding information or waiting with sharing something that is relevant.
- Build it, and they will come. Many Agile Coaches give up early. And in some instances, early means months, sometimes it means years. Agile transformations take time to catch on. It depends on how flexible the organization is and on their prior experiences (for example, if an organization is going through periodic layoffs, people will fear change and need to be reassured and empowered, or if they had a prior negative experience with Agile and Lean, people will resist change most actively).
The only advice is to continue trying, and try new forms, new types of communication, new pilots. Make yourself helpful and build your reputation, even if these are only marginal process optimization initiatives. Use this time to build relationships, meet with key decision makers on a regular basis to discuss their pain points and how you can support them. Create book clubs to discuss Agile and Lean books and conduct them only if one person shows up. You will be surprized that this will pick up.
- Be genuine, transparent and positive. This rule is about you, my fellow Agile Coach. For all of us Agile Coaches, there are good days and bad days, Days when you feel victorious. Proud. Full of energy and able to move mountains. There will be days when things will go wrong. Terribly wrong. Your sponsor will tell you that you drain resources and bring no value. When you will be ordered to do things that you do not believe in. Days when your teams fail. When a major deployment has to be rolled back. You will doubt yourself as a leader, as a coach, as a human being. Both victorious days and the days of defeat (seaming, temporary, and sometimes even imaginary) have great learnings and big threat.
Let's start with victorious days. On those days, when your powers seem limitless and your influence has no limits, emerge in the power of gratitude. Think of those people who believe in you, who followed you, who became better than you are. Thank them, share the victory with them, transfer it to them.
On your tough days, do not question yourself, your skills or abilities. This of your failure as a learning experience, assess it and build on it. Once you assess it, you may find out that your sponsor is also human and needs support and re-assurance, that the teams bounced after the rollback and the product is online again, or you may find out that you have to re-think the whole transformation effort, which will be a great new learning for you. Remember and cherish those days and the experience that comes with them.
Sorry to sound too sentimental or preachy, but I have seem many Coaches who became victims of either one of those situations. Some became self-absorbed and some gave up. Neither one is the answer, and I have no doubt you all know that. However, there will be the days that will challenge you, so I want you to be prepared. Staying genuine, transparent, and positive will let you avoid any of the risks listed above.
- Be assertive but not controlling. There is a fine line between being being assertive and controlling. Today, I was interviewing a highly skilled candidate for an Agile Coaching position. I asked him to share his values and his beliefs with me, and he told me that he never questions authority.
"What do you mean? - I asked.
"I am always loyal to my boss."
"I also highly value loyalty, - said I. - Can you give me an example of it?"
"Sure,- said the candidate.- When my boss wanted me to create a roadmap for my program, I created one and he told me I should do you different. So I changed everything I had and did what you wanted."
"Why did you decide to do it? Was his idea better?"
"No, I did not question it. He is my manager, so I did as he told me."
For me, this is not what I expect from an Agile Coach. I expect Agile Coach to have values, to have opinions based on experience, to question, and to disagree. The other type of an Agile Coach is my recent colleague, super smart and experienced Agile delivery professional. In leading a Scaled Agile implementation, he had everything defined to the minor level of detail. His favorite word was "compliance". His advice was stellar and the playbook covered all intricate details of a successful Agile implementation at scale. Everyone expected his program to do miracles, and everyone was shocked when it failed miserably.
So what is the optimal solution? Empower the teams, organizations, individuals, guide them, advise them, listen to them, but don't try to control and prescribe. Use your emotional intelligence and well informed judgement to draw the line. For example, if your organization decided on OKRs (Objectives and Key Results) which have metrics associated with those, you need all teams to provide input into this data. If they do not see value, talk to them, explain the reasoning, show the data, explain impact on alignment and training efforts, make sense out of this effort and be as assertive and fact-based as you can. Listen to them. If they are concerned about the time to collect data, help them with the tools. If they are concerned about transparency, ensure there will be no negative outcome from the management. Do whatever you need to alleviate their concerns and show them metrics. But don't come to them and tell them that if they do not produce data next month, they won't receive full year's bonus payment. Handle this topic with passion and integrity which defined you as a coach.
- Serve but don't follow. This is another one that is not trivial. In a number of organizations where I led Agile transformations, the concept of a Scrum Master as a servant leader was challenged. What does this oxymoron mean in practice? For me, it means a lot. Be humble but have your values and goals clear and don't give up your integrity to be helpful, even if empathy is your number one trait.
I've seen Agile Coaches who tried to be helpful to the extent that they became implementors of senior management orders and seemed to forget why they were in the organization. If senior managers had a hands-on experience in implementing Agile transformation, they won't hire you. I've seen brilliant Scrum Masters who turned into excellent facilitators and note takers. Be mindful when you start turning into one of those and course correct immediately. It takes months for an Agile Coach to gain reputation and it sometime takes on instance to lose it.
- Lead without authority. The previous rule is in a way similar to this one, but this one provide a new view on this role. As an Agile Coach, you most likely have limited or no authority over people who define success of the Agile transformation. How can you lead them then? I recall an Agile Coach who resigned because she was very upset about not having Scrum Masters as her direct reports. Her complaint was that "they were not listening to her". What is expected then? Who is a real influencer?
Early in my professional career, I heard from an executive in the company I worked for: "You are too nice to be an influencer." This caused me to think a lot about this topic. Are influencers always mean? controlling? prescriptive? non-caring? self-absorbed? Over the years, my answer is that it's in fact the opposite. No wonder this company has major leadership issues.
There is a lot of great advice on how to lead without authority. The authors talk about quiet confidence, ability to become an active listener, to make good choices, to provide mentorship, create the environment (rather than adjust to it), and show respect to others. Harvard Business review uses the term that I like, lateral leadership. My point about it that some people are born with it, and some people can develop it. To do so, they have to be willing, open minded, and build their learning on the culture of ongoing feedback. But without this skill, there is no successful Agile Coach.
- Walk the talk. No matter what circumstances occur, always walk the talk. For you as an Agile Coach, Agile is about being Agile rather than doing Agile. Best coaches approach Agile transformations in a similar way. If we do not live Agile values, we are giving them gym clothes but they will not to the gym if we do not help them believe in the power of health life and in exercising regularly. One of the Agile Coaches I respect, said "beware Agile Coaches who take people to church vs. helping them believe in God." I find this statement very true.
- Celebrate success (but not too early). So you've accomplished a lot, followed all the rules above, and your Agile transformation is a success. Invest time in celebrating successes of your teams. Share in information radiators, come up with internal prizes, establish surveys to nominate people and teams who deserve them. Make is super visible and prestigious. However, balance these celebrations with anchoring the changes in the culture and sustaining those practices in their day-to-day implementation.
- Never stop! And finally, remember that Agile and Lean transformation never ends. Challenge. Innovate. Disrupt. Set new, more challenging objectives. And once these teams, programs, organizations, practices become sustainable, identify new challenges and overcome them. And if you get stuck or discouraged, re-read the 14 Agile transformation rules above.
And of course, feel free to comment or to add your rules in the comments below.