Real Agility Program – Leadership Transformation Team

Leadership IconOne 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.

See also our article about the Recommendations component of the Real Agility Program.

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Quick Reference: Kotter’s 8-Step Change Model

This model is good for people to consider when doing an Agile-Lean Transformation.  I use a process based on this model when working with clients, although the reality of work on the ground often means not following this model perfectly.  Without further ado, here is the model:

Step One: Create Urgency

What is the critical reason for change?  What is the “burning platform”?  What reason can people get behind emotionally for the pain of change?  Why are you considering agile and lean, and how is it urgent to use these methods?

Step Two: Form a Powerful Coalition

I call this as the Agile-Lean Transformation Team.  These people are usually managers and executives who can make change happen by virtue of budgets and positional authority.  They help with training, coaching, team formation, ongoing assessment, planning etc.

Step Three: Create a Vision for Change

The coalition creates a strongly worded statement that helps everyone see how they fit into the change process and results.  Tie the use of Agile-Lean to the end result.

Step Four: Communicate the Vision

Constantly!  Every opportunity, repeat the statement, discuss its application and implication.  Use both formal and informal methods.  Share links to information about Agile and Lean, create an elevator pitch and use it constantly.

Step Five: Remove Obstacles

The coalition supports staff who are struggling with how to make the change real in practical terms.  For example, an agile team might want a proper team room.  The lack of such a room is an obstacle to be removed by the coalition.

Step Six: Create Short-Term Wins

Choose places to focus effort that will be successful pilot projects.  Make sure that successes are broadly communicated.

Step Seven: Build on the Change

Make sure to have a backlog of projects to do using Agile-Lean, and make sure that as you go you are improving your use of Agile-Lean.  It takes time to break down old habits.

Step Eight: Anchor the Changes in Corporate Culture

Ensure that new staff are immediately and effectively educated on the use of Agile-Lean, and ensure that Agile-Lean continues to pervade the thinking and behavior of people throughout the organization (not just IT!!!).

(NOTE: this is based on the book “Leading Change” by Kotter, and a web page about this model.)

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