The silent killer of innovation – and this is particularly true of agile change – is a lack of transparency and grudging, introverted corporate politics. Nothing does more damage to an organisation than individuals striving to secure their status or expand their personal powerbase. When decisions are taken in backrooms and not made transparent retrospectively, the inevitable outcome is discontent. Often this kind of egocentric behaviour is amplified by the absence of a culture of trust.
What to do?
Demand and encourage absolute transparency throughout the company, as well as a “culture of failure” that appreciates learning opportunities. People may be unaccustomed to this, and it may be (very) uncomfortable for certain individuals. At the same time, transparency brings many hitherto unacknowledged conflicts out into the open. At first glance, this may seem daunting, but it provides you with an amazing opportunity to resolve all these conflicts in one go. Set an example yourself – practise transparency in everything you do! Openly admit your mistakes, stay steady through conflicts and never stop encouraging your colleagues. This will help you and your company grow!
Imagine the following: A large corporate department employing around 300 staff is expected to transition to agile working methods in less than six months. To minimise dependencies between the different teams and build a clear structure, every team is expected to take part in scrums. Each sprint is held over a four-week period.
This approach doesn’t create agility or flexibility – it merely substitutes a new framework for an old one. As a result, your employees are frustrated, because a four-week sprint based on scrum methodology makes no sense to them and they weren’t involved in the decision.
What to do?
Refrain from seeing Scrum as the solution to everything. Scrum has its strengths and is ideally suited to some applications, just as Kanban, Waterfall and Design Thinking are suited to others. Let your employees decide, freely and in consultation with each other, how they work best and most productively.
“How should we configure our taskboard?” and “Which tool should we use to measure progress?” are two of the questions I am asked most frequently by teams and managers at the start of an agile transformation project. But the important thing is not which tools we should use, or how many columns our taskboard has. The important thing is what we want to achieve. To answer this question, we need a clear vision, a clear understanding of our customers, and a clear conception of our product. Once these things are defined, we can customise our architecture as appropriate, devise suitable processes, assemble a team and choose the right tools.
What to do?
Start with what’s important. Think about the kind of corporate culture and employee mindset you would like to see in five to ten years’ time. Look at the project from a business perspective.
The BAPO model is one of my favourites. When thinking about your business, always start by asking yourself the key question: “How do I create value?” Your value-creating business shapes the architecture of your systems and products. In turn, the architecture shapes your working methods, and these in turn shape your organisational structure. Hence BAPO: Business–Architecture–Process–Organisation.
Then consider how you can best implement this model. Develop an agile mindset: Suitable training courses and an active community can help. Be persistent – at this stage, constant repetition is your best friend.
The absence of a mandate, or a “wrong” mandate imposed by senior management, is a stumbling block that is guaranteed to trip you up. The following mandate is a good example of a “wrong” one: You’re expected to change something in the company, perhaps even implement agile working – but without changing the existing corporate culture or decision-making processes. Senior management takes no clear position on these issues and gives you no support.
What to do?
Accept the fact that senior managers are also just people confronting a totally new challenge. They don’t have the perfect solution for everything, and occasionally feel just as insecure as anyone else. Engage in dialogue, share your thoughts and ask them to provide what you need to accomplish the task!
We explicitly developed our Agile Project Management certification course to equip you with the skills you need for agile transformation.