You’re transforming your business. How are you going to do it? You know that large waterfall programmes often fail and through bitter experience (e.g. ERP implementations) the market shifts before you’ve had a chance to make it a success. You need something faster, more responsive – something agile!
Agile is definitely a mot du jour in executive circles. It promises increased speed and improved responsiveness in a world where change is accelerating. But do we become agile in order to transform or do we transform to become agile? How do we get the best from both?
To answer this question, we’ve created a ‘what to’ rather than a ‘how to’. This is more useful in a transformation where start points and complexity are real things that need to be addressed. Indeed, this is a smörgåsbord of experiences that are important and that you need to deal with. There is no set pattern. After all, if you need to visit both Leeds and Manchester which one you visit first depends on where you start from.
Can transformation be formulaic?
Your transformation and move to agile is unique to your company. You need to find your own voice. Expertise and track record counts for something, but as cultural shifts are required the answer will be specific to you. For example, by prescriptively adopting the Netflix culture you’ll not achieve what they have.
In agile and transformation we have two competing ideals. Transformations are large, complex, lengthy initiatives whereas agile has a heritage that excels in small, high performance, tightly-knit teams. How do we reconcile these?
What must we do?
To make agile a success we need to create a culture for it to thrive and we need to integrate agile into our transformation thinking.
But we know that in transformation the ambient culture always fights back. So, unless you become “change cultured” when implementing agile and transformation, your results will be poor. By enhancing culture to thrive during change you will produce the desired long-lasting, sustainable results.
To integrate agile, we’ll take its essence and build it into to our transformation. This is best expressed in the 4 outcomes that agile really values. Here they are repurposed for transformations:
- Relationships not transactions
- Delivery over documentation – actions speak louder than words
- Focus on what is right, not what can go wrong
- Responsiveness is completing fast and building momentum.
So, let’s create the culture and embed agile into our transformation.
Become ‘change cultured’
Culture is the bedrock of how organisations perform. If your culture is tuned for change then you’re probably on the right track already. However, for the vast majority of businesses this is not the case.
And culture isn’t just bolted onto the current organisation. A real change in behaviour is required. The DuPont safety culture is a shining example of embedding key behaviours throughout an organisation.
Actioning this checklist will lead you to the right culture:
Most cultures need to embrace change through continuous learning and becoming relentlessly ambitious. This will start to build the agile mindset required to deliver responsive change. Ambition drives the vision higher and continuous learning increases capability to deliver it.
Apply character (values, attitudes and control)
Culture shouldn’t just happen. It must be architected and implemented. To do this you’ll need people that have the right values, character, attitudes and motivations. These are some of the key components of cultural design. When you know the performance culture you want, embed it as part of the transformation.
Grow agile within transformation
Agile produces cohesive teams (like molecules sticking together in a water drop), but the scale of transformation also requires adhesive teams (teams that work together). Resolve this conflict by creating small teams that communicate and collaborate. By orchestrating small teams collectively, the benefits of agile can be delivered across the transformation.
Recruit agile experience
Recruit people that understand agile, who know your journey and can work in your culture. Agile is nuanced and relies on skilled resources. Don’t be fooled by its seemingly simple approach.
An ambitious culture will have innovation in its core. Apply different thinking to current processes and new problems – from market requirements through to reception desks. You transform to improve and every touch point will have an impact.
Bring diversity of thought and be inclusive so all stakeholders are heard. Employ people with different experiences and ways of thinking to challenge the status quo. Include people so they are valued, feel safe and can excel. Don’t let authority dominate, all voices are important.
Fight fake, insincerity and platitudes
Fight fake, insincerity and platitudes with belief and caring. You know you still have a rump of the old culture when people say the new words but behave in the old way. Stand for what you believe in and care about what you’re doing.
Be clear on accountability
Deploy an accountability tool like RACI. It’s not about command and control but effective decision making. Accountability provides a key piece of group adhesion that binds agile to the strategic transformation.
Trust people to trust you
Be authentic so people trust you. Trust them to deliver to the best of their ability. Ensure the culture you’ve created delivers on this promise.
Transformation is difficult: be open and clear
Transformation is complex and hard enough. Anything less than total clarity and openness is going to confuse and delay. Using the best of agile within transformation will create this openness and clarity. Let’s see how this affects the scale of change, the cadence of change and the need to focus externally.
Scale of Change
One of the challenges in transformation is the sheer scale of change. Whilst daunting, a transformation can be broken down into its atomic parts. At this level use agile. These moving parts can flex and change to suit evolving circumstances. Also, the whole transformation needs to be responsive. Organisationally, behaviourally and motivationally, this is addressed by culture. But you still need a mechanism to propagate the changes across the whole transformation. Here clarity is crucial.
Metrics, understanding and improvement
Build metrics that illustrate and illuminate what is really happening (and going to happen). These are fundamental to understanding complex change. Dashboards, questionnaires, balanced scorecards, retrospectives and feedback loops are really helpful. But be very discerning about what metrics you use, what they actually measure and what you’ll do with the results.
Go the extra mile though and actually change the transformation based on your understanding of the issues. This is a key step in transformation maturity.
Don’t just rely on metrics. Data Informed Decision Making is more effective than Data Driven Decision Making. Get a feel for the real issues by interacting with internal and external customers. Engage with those who are doing the work so you learn more than metrics can ever give. You’ll understand the impact of what you’re doing with real people. It is culturally astute as well.
Communicate relentlessly about transformation. But do so in a smart way. The same story told time after time becomes background noise. Keep fresh by creating multiple stories with the same message using different angles. Use emotive language to make people care about success. This level of communication and storytelling builds interest and knowledge retention.
If you’re doing this well it is hard to over-communicate. People are always interested in what will affect them.
Cadence of Change
Build momentum and scale by being very deliberate about the cadence of change.
Focus on short term themes within an overall plan that can change. Themes allow people to focus on the ‘here and now’ (e.g. the next 3–6 months) and create quick wins to drive momentum and results. Use these results to define and calibrate the next theme. For example: create themes at a high level and sprints at a lower level. Use metrics from the themes to attenuate the whole transformation. Use sprints to provide more granular responsiveness.
Celebrate quick wins
Celebrate quick wins to drive a positive feedback loop generating more wins and more momentum. Sprints provide the perfect platform for this, while themes keep you relentlessly moving towards the goal.
Don’t forget the roadmap
Agile mustn’t be aimless. Focus on the strategic goal with roadmaps. In this way short term responsiveness is combined with long term business architecture.
Roadmaps also stop you covering the same ground. You’re laying the road slab by slab, not covering the same ground again and again. Don’t endlessly prototype organisational design.
Small teams, big collaboration
Small teams increase responsiveness; collaborating teams deliver the bigger picture. Make sure you put effort into the collaboration across teams – you’ll need to be intentional if it is to succeed.
Use configuration management to understand the complexities and dependencies. Going on the journey without it is like sticking regional timetables together and hoping that your cross-country train journey will be seamless.
Building on a point above, a key to delivering agile transformation is to focus outwards from your own group or team to across the organisation and beyond.
Remove tribal behaviour (where people define themselves by who they’re not, rather than the common purpose that binds them). Tribal is tactical and destructive. Be collaborative by working together and being accountable. Build enduring relationships.
And in all work the common good must be king – service-based leadership should be displayed by all.
Address the whole market rather than specific clients. You don’t want to be beholden to the few when you want to scale. In doing so build for your extended enterprise because your stakeholders are throughout your ecosystem. Ultimately, you’ll be able to create new markets and opportunities, rather just fulfil existing needs.
Integrating agile into transformations brings the responsiveness that so many of them lack. And in doing so you won’t lose the strategic intent of your transformation.
One of the by-products of this approach is that governance will be easier – people will push together in the right direction; trust will increase; scope, progress and authority are clear and feedback loops are in place.
This change culture; scale and cadence of change; and external focus will impact on each other and become iterative and continually improving.