Scaling the agility of small teams and projects across the entire company is a demanding undertaking. Many companies still shy away from that. The following guide gives managers seven tips on how to operate the agile transformation successfully.
- The agile transformation requires experience in agile management beyond the application of Scrum in projects.
- If agile change is driven too much from above, it risks being perceived only as a commanding wave.
- A continuum of cooperation and collaboration characterizes agile transformation.
Many companies have gained experience in individual agile projects but are also faced with scaling agility at the company level. This presents them with significant challenges that bring about far-reaching changes. In the end, it results in a radical shift in strategies, values, structures, processes, working methods, and finally, the corporate culture because agility is much more than sticking the label “agile” on your Moleskine management book in the hope that the values and principles will somehow find their way into the company.
The thought of these developments alone sends cold shivers down the spine of many of those responsible. “Agility, yes, but should the outside world change first” is often a typical thought pattern in many companies. However, the fact is that the world out there is already in a comprehensive process of transformation. The reason: It is vital to constantly adapt to a rapidly changing market or be swept from it. Nokia sends its regards. The question is when and how to make this change and transformation represent – and not whether.
Top Management Must Support Agile Structures
Scaling and agile transformation on a large scale succeed because the resulting agile enclaves in companies at the appropriate point in time through the management supported and carried out. Support from top management is key to making change, setting direction, and countering the inevitable threats.
This assistance is not needed at first but at the latest when the avalanche has started. But when the top management sets about implementing “agile” as a blueprint and forcing people to be more agile, the worm is already in the apple. If agile change is driven too much from above, it risks being perceived only as the next wave of commands and control. The pseudo delegation of responsibility downwards is perceived in the corporate system, and the levels below duck down until the next management trend is driven like a pig through the village.
In theory, the agile transformations also are initiated by someone at the lowest company level. The difficulty there, however, is that it gets lost in the details of day-to-day business. People fail to see what goes beyond their unit. There is often a lack of organizational networking to mobilize broader support.
Consequently, the agile change on a large scale requires the middle management level as a trigger factor because it is in a position between top management and the operational level. Often it is precisely at these levels that the champions are located among the executives who see agile change as a solution to today’s challenges in the business world. Out of conviction, you are ready to stand up for agile ideas and fight for the agile notion, no matter what.
The champions take into account seven success factors for scaling agile ideas in the company:
Agility for agility’s sake will not succeed. It, therefore, requires an occasion. It is not just about daily business challenges, which are changed with the help of agile working methods. Instead, it also revolves around the issues behind it that arise suddenly and ever faster. The focus is on answers to the following questions:
What do you want to change?
What is the reason you want to change?
What values and what benefits do you want to create?
What are the weaknesses that you want to eliminate?
What opportunities does this create?
What is happening in the business world that is forcing you to change?
Answer the questions to create an occasion for agile transformation.
A continuum of cooperation and collaboration characterizes agile transformation. To be successful, you must therefore form an interdisciplinary team – a team that has the will, skills, resources, and the willingness to take responsibility for one or more tasks. The team must get to know and apply agile elements and integrate them into their way of working. This is usually only possible with external support and impulses. The reason: Teams that have received a lot of instructions initially have difficulties finding the right level of self-organization and self-responsibility that agile approaches require.
What is a team working towards? A vision of change, a goal. Otherwise, there is no functioning team. Without a concrete plan, a team would have no clear idea of how to achieve it. And if there is no sense of urgency, it would not take the time and effort required to achieve the goal. That is why you need to share your vision and plan with your team. Once that is the case, transfer responsibility for it to the team. Autonomy, flexibility, and the ability to react quickly are what you want to achieve.
The first significant change in the direction of agility is the consistent focus on achieving concrete results. Many companies at all levels spend far too long on things that remain unclear for a long time or that do not move the business forward. Such developments must be stopped. The first thing a team typically has to think about is the benefit it wants to create and how it can be made transparent. Therefore, measuring and analyzing the results achieved is an important aspect. Even the most straightforward benefit analysis helps to improve ideas and sharpen teamwork.
In general, well-planned agile transformations fail because of apparent obstacles, such as line hierarchies, one-way communication, lack of required resources, etc. It can also be the communication and approval processes that have been used to date that delay decision. Any delay is directly proportional to the loss of time and money. Therefore, the key to speeding up the process is to remove barriers as quickly as possible – not to sit them out. Barriers can also be small things, such as the lack of suitable space where the team can work in an agile manner. You should therefore provide the necessary support to remove barriers as quickly as possible.
It is often easier to start a new change project than to complete an ongoing one or interrupt it for a specific time. The reason lies in human nature: Anyone who tackles something new shows determination and initiative, two qualities that are particularly valued at the management level because they calm nervous executives. The danger with this type of activism is to set in motion a vicious circle that ends in a “blockage.” In the sense that a lot helps a lot, the temptation is obvious to start several change initiatives as possible in parallel. The parallel start of many changes and, if necessary, the distribution of the same resources on them usually ensure that the system becomes more and more concerned with itself. The elaboration is delayed.
The Kanban flow philosophy advises against precisely this mistake: Parallel activities by the same team or the same person are largely avoided: All changes are based on capacities. The bottlenecks decide the throughput. It follows that a new project can only be started when a team has finished its topic or a reprioritization has taken place. The appropriate changes are “viral” – they propagate without any order. So pay attention to the speed – if it takes too long, it is a sign that the time may not be correct.
Make sure that the successes of the team or teams are as visible as possible for the whole company and are at least celebrated with small gestures. Success stories and celebrating achievements have a tremendous psychological effect on change work. It generates a pull effect in which others imitate the agile changes. Each success seems to create a group of passionate evangelists who can’t wait to tell others how well agility works. It can also be a success to celebrate the current failure. Companies like Amazon or Google hold so-called fuck-up nights, for example. In it, teams report on failed projects and their experiences. This allows others to learn from it and avoid further failure.
The intellectual energy required for agile transformation is generated through cognitive diversity and interactions between people with different backgrounds and perspectives on the world. This implies experience in agile management beyond the application of Scrum in projects.
At the same time, it is just as dangerous to follow external advice slavishly and dogmatically and to allow change to be dictated by others. External Advice Must, therefore, is received, evaluated, and adapted to local needs. Things are not done just because outsiders say so, but because they make sense in this context. In the process of adaptation, changes are taken into possession and integrated into everyday life.
In a nutshell: If you have the above success factors in mind, you can find out what the agile transformation can look like in your company on the whole – or you can ask someone familiar with it.
Many leaders are often discouraged by the slow pace of change. In addition, some difficulties and setbacks occur during agile transformation. Suppose we look at other profound organizational changes throughout history that have affected large numbers of people. In that case, we can plausibly argue that the agile movement has been moving forward reasonably quickly since 2001. Companies such as Apple, Amazon, and Google have already integrated agility into their DNA, displacing industrial giants of the 20th century from the top positions as the largest organizations in the world. So it’s time to start.
Also Read: The Business Trends For 2021