Real Agility Program – Leadership Transformation Team

One of the main components of our Real Agility Program for enterprise Agile transformations is the Leadership Development track.  This track is a series of monthly leadership meetings with one of our consultants to help them establish their Leadership Transformation Team.  This team is based in part on the concept of a guiding coalition from John Kotter’s work (see “Leading Change“), and in part on Edgar Schein’s work on corporate culture (see “The Corporate Culture Survival Guide“) as well as our own specific experience on successful Agile transformations in organizations.

The very first thing, of course, is to establish who should be on the Leadership Transformation Team.  There are six major categories from which the team must find representatives:

  1. The Executive Sponsor, for example the CIO
  2. Business Management, for example an SVP of Sales or Product Development
  3. Process Management, for example the head of the PMO or Compliance
  4. Technology Management, for example VP of Technology or Development
  5. Human Resources, for example a Director of Staff Development and Training
  6. and Apprentice Agile Coaches / Agile Champions

In total, the number of people on this team should be no more than 12, but smaller is better.

Once established, this Leadership Transformation Team must execute on three core responsibilities in perpetuity:

  1. Urgency and Vision: constant, strong, repetitive, prominent communication of the reasons for change and a high level view of how those changes will happen.
  2. Lead by Example: use of an Agile approach to run the Leadership Transformation Team’s work – we recommend OpenAgile for the process, but Kanban may also be used.
  3. Empower Staff: focus on removing obstacles by making structural changes in the organization, helping staff master standard Agile processes and tools, and eventually, creating innovative Agile approaches customized for the organization.

This leadership support is a critical success factor for an Agile Transformation.  One of the first steps in our program for this team is to help with the creation of the team’s plan for the transformation.  This plan can be derived from an number of sources including assessment work, but includes a number of standard items that must eventually be addressed for a successful transformation.  At a high level, these include:

  • Hiring, performance evaluation and compensation
  • Reporting relationships
  • What to do with project managers, business analysts, testers and certain middle managers
  • Key metrics and processes for measuring progress
  • Technology and physical environment
  • Vendor relationships and contracts
  • Compliance, regulation and documentation

Many of these items are multi-year change efforts that need to be closely guided and encouraged by the Leadership Transformation Team.

One final point about the Leadership Transformation Team needs to be made: the work they do must not be delegated to subordinates.  If something is part of their three core responsibilities, it must be handled directly by the members of this team.  Therefore, the team members need to allocate a significant percentage of their time to the effort.  Usually 20% is sufficient to get started.  The proportion may wax and wane slightly over time, but if it gets too low, the Leadership Transformation Team will lose touch with the transformation and the risk of it going bad increases substantially.

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Agile Transformation and the Chasm

In his book “Crossing the Chasm“, Geoffrey Moore describes the difficulty of creating a popular new product due to a conceptual “chasm” between the first people who adopt a new product and those who come later.  He describes five types of people in relation to how they adopt new products:

  • Innovators – always actively seeking out and trying cutting edge new products.
  • Early Adopters – excited to try new things, but after the worst “bugs” have been removed.
  • Then there is the Chasm – many products fail here.
  • Early Majority – willing to try new things but need strong testimonials or real-world proof.
  • Late Majority – require time-tested proof before they will adopt a product.
  • Laggards – resistant to change and hesitant to adopt anything without strong personal incentives.

This product adoption behavior also applies to new ideas in general, and of course, to Agile Transformation [Agile Transformation vs. Agile Adoption] in particular.

Implications of the “Chasm” Model

An organization attempting to do an Agile Transformation [Kotter's 8-Step Change Model] should understand how to use this model to ensure long-term success.  This diagram illustrates the concepts (click on it to see it full size):

First, the organization should start the transformation by finding the innovators and early adopters.  These people can then be recruited to run the initial pilot projects.  They will be enthusiastic and will typically adapt themselves to the new behaviors and thinking patterns required by Agility.  If they are properly supported by managers, they will also be successful – at least within the bounds of a limited pilot environment.  Success here will mean that the pilot projects deliver value, use feedback effectively, and the participants (team members and stakeholders) will be happy with the results.

In this stage, it is best to avoid putting people on the teams who are from the early majority, late majority or laggards groups.  These people will tend to drag on the results of the pilot projects.  This is a common mistake in running a pilot program and leads to discouraging results.  One way to help filter between these two groups is simply to ask for volunteers for the pilot projects.  Innovators and early adopters will be much more likely to volunteer for a new initiative.

After the pilot projects have shown some good results, the next step is to go the general roll-out.  In this step, you are now working with the early and late majority.  These people need much more substantial support for a change of this nature.  They will require intensive training, and hand-holding in the form of coaching and mentoring.  This hand-holding can come partially from your innovators and early adopters.  Some of the participants in the pilot projects will have the desire to share their success.  From these, you need to carefully select and prepare a few who will act as internal coaches.  If you are a small organization or if you wish to do your transformation quickly, you will likely need to hire coaches from outside your organization as well.

The early and late majority require evidence of benefits and reassurance that risks are minimal or can be mitigated.  This evidence partially comes from your pilot projects.  However, this may not be sufficient.  There are two other important sources of evidence for this group: the leadership team and external experts.

The leadership team must be committed to the change to agility and can demonstrate this commitment by doing their own management work as an agile team.  The exact details of the agile process do not need to be identical to that of the staff teams, but it should be recognizably similar.  As well, this “Agile Transformation Team” must make itself very visible during the general roll-out.  This can be done with communication and by taking up visible residence in a central conference room or bullpen.  As well, this Agile Transformation Team must work diligently to remove obstacles that are raised by staff teams during the general roll-out.

The second source of evidence comes from external sources.  Published case studies are one valuable source.  However, there is a huge value in a visible management investment in external support from recognized experts.  This can be in the form of training, coaching, consulting as well as informal “lunch-and-learn” meetings, town hall meetings and the like.  When engaging experts, it is imperative that the Agile Transformation Team act on their advice otherwise the early and late majority will take that as a sign of hypocrisy.

The final stage of a roll-out is to deal with the laggards.  For the most part this is a do-or-die proposition for these people.  Either get with the program and engage like a committed employee or leave the organization.  If your organization is large enough, you will likely have observed some of these people leaving the organization in the general roll-out.

For some organizations, this transformation process can take many years.  An organization with thousands of people should expect to be working on the pilot projects for at least a year, the general roll-out for at least three years.  Often it will be longer.  Good luck on your agile transformation effort!

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Professionalism and Agility

Recently, I have been reading Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell. Fascinating reading. In this book, Mr. Gladwell chronicles some of the backgrounds of top professionals in artistic, sport and business endeavors. He tried to determine why these individuals/groups have accomplished so much in their lives and why they are in the top of their profession. Tiger Woods, Bill Gates and the Beatles are a few of the many professionals he examines. There should be no doubt in your mind that Tiger Woods is the top golfer, Bill Gates is a very successful entrepreneur, and the Beatles are a prolific band.

Please forgive me Mr. Galdwell if I summarize and distill your findings into a few short sentences. The answer is 10,000 hours. Each of these individuals or groups put 10,000 hours into their chosen profession before they arrived at the top. They viewed their professions differently, were passionate about what they did and behaved differently when learning their profession. I am not suggesting you need to work for 10,000 hours before you are successful. I am suggesting if you adopt the same methods they do, you will increase your chance of success.

As I observed these top professionals, I began to see similarities in a number of areas. They seem to share a comfort in their ability to grow and develop. I am not sure they set out to be the top but they certainly thought they would overcome what life threw at them and they trusted their own capacity to excel. I have found that giving yourself a steady message of what is possible helps you deal better with life and to overcome all the negatives around us. As an example, I seldom read the newspaper or watch the news, for this barrage of negative messages affects my outlook of what is possible. It seems to me that these top professionals insulate themselves from negative messages as well.

Next, they have incredible self discipline skills. They practice their profession with passion. They don’t believe in luck as much as they believe in hard work. This is where the 10,000 hours come into their development. They are constantly practicing to improve and master their profession. The top professionals did not achieve their position through luck, they attained the position through hard work.

To summarize, their methods are to be positive about your ability to cope with the future, give yourself positive messages, be disciplined about mastering your profession and be prepared to work hard to achieve the position of the professional.

There is a quote I like that was told to me by a businessperson from Jamaica. When asked his view of life, he said “I refuse to be held hostage by circumstances!” The top professionals choose their future and are agile as they cope with what life offers.

It seems to me another reason why these individuals are so successful is that they were very agile in their approach to life. They created their future rather than follow others. Through their own personal agility they made the right decisions to gain a top position in their chosen profession.

So the question I have been wrestling with is this: If they can be the top, then why not me? What is holding me back? Well, if you have ever spent time with me, or read any of my books, you would know the answer. The only thing holding me back is me. Can I get better? Yes, I can. Can I work harder? Yes, I can. Can I be more successful? Yes, I can. Can I be more agile in my approach to life and its challenges? Absolutely yes!

So how about you? In these troubled economic times, we have an opportunity to re-invent ourselves. The best way to survive and thrive from our current situation is to build the future we desire. Rather than expending a lot of energy worrying about your current situation, you should be taking that energy and using it to take charge of your future and build a new reality. Approach whatever life throws at you with agility. I believe success is a choice. Make good choices and everything is possible.

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Cool Blog – SustainabilityCulture.com

One of our partner organizations, HBI Leadership, has launched a blog called SustainabilityCulture.com.  Check it out!

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Agile Benefits: Five Essential Reasons to Try Agile

Although there many other benefits of agile, and although those provide us with other reasons to try agile, the five essential benefits of agile are:

Rapid Learning – disciplined application of the scientific method to explore the best ways to deliver valuable results.

Early Return on Investment – opportunity to use the results of work starting with the work delivered at the end of the first iteration.

Satisfied Stakeholders – engagement in the process in a way that allows meaningful contributions from all stakeholders.

Increased Control – mechanisms to track/measure and therefore steer the direction that work is going so that it meets goals.

Responsiveness to Change – processes, tools, roles and principles that allow a team and an organization to embrace change rather than reject, control or suffer from change.

These reasons are sufficient and apply to operations work, project work and open-ended research work, whenever humans are involved. The above links take you to more detailed descriptions of each of these benefits.

What are some of the other benefits of agile?

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Change is Natural – “Embrace Change”

Kent Beck’s book “Extreme Programming Explained : Embrace Change” provides a good introduction to how software development can embrace the constant change that affects our world. Some of the practices he introduces are very software-specific. However, the overall basic message is sound and provides a foundational principle for all agile work. (By the way, the book is excellent.)

Change really does occur everywhere. Change is constant. A google search for “embrace change” or “change is constant” will both turn up an incredible variety of articles, papers, discussions, books and viewpoints that all affirm the constant nature of change and the need to embrace it.

Nevertheless, it is sometimes difficult to accomodate change when we also have a legitimate and deep desire to know what is coming next.

For many teams, the environment in which they work is constantly changing. This change can be caused by competition between organizations, scientific or technological advances, fads and cultural shifts, major events in people’s personal lives or even just a change of opinion with a stakeholder. Any change, even small change, can invalidate a planned course of action. However, goals (as distinct from plans) are more stable and often survive even major environmental changes. Therefore, rather than trying to plan the future, an agile team can focus on being able to respond to change while still reaching a goal.

Nevertheless, a team needs some sense of what it will do in the near future. A team can work with a “horizon of predictability”. This is the distance into the future which a team can be reasonably certain that plans will be stable. Depending on the environment, this may be as little as a few minutes, or as long as a month. It is rarely longer. The horizon of predictability is not a precise demarcation, rather, expect change with a probability based on the horizon of predictability. Then, plan to respond to change. Be detached from the concrete details of a plan, particularly if they occur outside the horizon of predictability.

Agile Work - Horizon of Predictability

Responding to change requires a major mental shift for many people that is difficult and takes time and environmental support. People are often penalized socially or formally for being flexible or adaptable. This quality can appear to be “wishy-washy”, uncertain, indecisive, uncommitted or even rebellious.

The terms “agility” or “agile work” refer to this principle of embracing constant change since it is the most visible of the principles. However, the ability to respond to change relies on the establishment of agile work disciplines and practices.

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