July 24, 2014

Agile Coaching Blog

BigVisible Webinar: Transformation Beyond Agile Teams

The latest Webinar by BigVisible co-founder George Schlitz and principal agile coach Michael Hamman focused on how to keep the agile energy flowing beyond agile teams.

As more and more companies attempt to leverage agile development practices toward increased business effectiveness, managers are beginning to realize the broader organizational implications of agile. They are discovering that true agility goes beyond just having agile teams.

Agile’s focus on team delivery and execution often exposes gaps in the organization’s ability to be adaptive. Existing rules, structures, processes, and leadership styles present problems—they either don’t seem to fit the way agile teams are operating or actually get in the way and cause conflict. The result is a fizzled transition, one that starts with excitement and energy, but eventually loses steam or regresses.

To be sustainable, effective agile practices must address the broader organization. Agile must move beyond the agile team.

Ready to dig a little deeper?

The next webinar in the agile transformation series focuses on leading through environment design. Many leaders and managers approach change from the perspective of modifying people’s behavior. How do we get buy in? How can we incent our people to take greater ownership? To be more innovative in their thinking?

Imagine if management in our complex world was less about changing people’s behavior and more about designing environments that favor emergence of the kinds of capabilities you, as a leader, envision. Find out how to make this possible.

Check out the recorded webinar now.

As promised, below you will find the questions from the webinar that did not make the Q/A section. If you have additional questions do not hesitate to contact us.

Question One: How do we hire for the unexpected? We want leaders who can think outside of the box but we don’t know how to hire for these types of characteristics? What does leadership mean in a culture of experimentation.

We believe that it is actually possible to build the capacity for catalytic leadership with existing staff. In fact, our typical initial approach is to introduce a simple leadership and management learning and working initiative that will help leaders experiment with/practice environment design and orienting around shared vision. Leaders will be developing this capacity while doing their normal jobs, and will surface organizational and cultural impediments to improvement in the process.

As current leaders and managers are undertaking the learning journey towards more catalytic leadership, the hiring process will naturally evolve so that catalytic styles are targeted.

Question Two: How does Lean Startup play into Agile transformation,does it have to? You mentioned that it does play a role but not how.

In the webinar we proposed five aspects of any organization that need some amount of focus in a successful change effort. Those aspects were Execution, Delivery, Product/Business Strategy, Organization, and Leadership. Lean Startup fits primarily in the “Product/Business Strategy” aspect, though it has implications in all of the others. The Lean Startup method is a scientific approach to innovation, to getting the right products to customers faster. It is an application of agile and lean principles to the innovation and business/product strategy. Agile methods traditionally focus on execution and delivery of products—how they are created and built. Focusing just on delivery, though, might result in more efficient teams, but not necessarily teams that produce the right product for customers or that learn from feedback as well as they could. Lean Startup complements the delivery capability of agile methods with a rapid, disciplined approach to experimentation and learning. Similarly, an organization that is able to experiment and innovate quickly by leveraging prototypes and other low-fi approaches might be constrained if they did not have agile delivery capability.

We mentioned that Lean Startup has implication in the other aspects as well: Many organizations realize that organizational processes, structures and culture might not support the environment agile and lean startup need to realize the greatest benefits. Leadership plays a key role in helping overcome these challenges. An upcoming article will describe this relationship, and the relationships between all the levels, in more detail.

Question Three:If you could offer one key recommendation to others interested in becoming more agile or achieving greater agility, what would that be?

Start with the 5-aspect model. For each level, ask these questions:

  • What about each aspect is an enabler or impediment to our organization becoming more agile in general?
  • What efforts are underway to introduce agile, lean and related approaches to each aspect?
  • Which aspects are we disregarding (and thus may be risks)?

This will give you a very simple, yet powerful assessment of your change effort, and an idea of some areas that may be at risk or in need of attention.

Question Four: How do we measure employee performance and team success?

This is an area of vast amounts of research, study, and interest to many. It is also quite broad. Two general recommendations:

  1. Regardless of what you are measuring, strive to focus measurement on holistic goals as opposed to goals that optimize local things. Focusing measures on real outcomes as opposed to things like activities should result in greater improvement. Our work often includes helping organizations identify better measures as they improve.
  2. Consider the complex world we are in. Measurements are meant to help us make decisions. Ensure that measurements are ones that will result in better decisions. The better these measures help us determine progress towards real outcomes, the better our decisions will be. At any level, ask “What decisions do we need to make?” Then, design measurements that will help you make those decisions best. Avoid settling on things that are easy to measure just because the data is available—this will often lead to “local optimization” and poorer decisions. Avoid “vanity metrics,” which might make people proud or feel good, but are not actionable.

There are many great readings on this topic, such as “Vanity Metrics Versus Actionable Metrics and “Validated learning & Systems Thinking. Consider, too, researching some of the types of measurement that are growing in popularity as agile and lean startup become more mainstream.

You can also check out more amazing resources from BigVisible!