When facing disruption, it’s tempting for an organisation to try and expedite their journey to Agility. Taking a big bang approach to becoming Agile, particularly when it comes to your people, has risks for any organisation. In this blog, we outline an approach that addresses the challenges we have witnessed with big bang adoptions and provide a way forward with a set of principles that can be used to guide the iterative and incremental changes required to maximise Agile success.
We saw a large retail company carry out an organisational restructure as its first step to realising its vision of becoming more Agile and in the hope of becoming leaner and more competitive. The expectations of the restructure were that it would immediately deliver the benefits that being Agile promised.
The underlying objective of this restructure was to move away from hierarchical, rigid structures, to create a structure that allowed for ideal Agile cross functional teams that were empowered, collaborative, flexible and lean. However, it wasn’t long after converting to a flatter model overnight without changing people’s mindset to Agile, that the impact of the disruption was experienced, as it gave rise to dissatisfaction and hindered the organisation’s Agile adoption. See our blog post on how perceptions of Agile can hinder the adoption.
The organisation quickly discovered that the road to Agile is not a transformation that happens overnight by restructuring your people (an approach we would not recommend), but is rather a progressive change that should be approached in an iterative manner – both organisationally and culturally.
Guiding Principles to Follow
Define: Clearly defining what Agile means to the organisation
A clear definition of Agile, tailored to meeting an organisation’s unique needs, helps ensure the transformation momentum continues towards the desired outcomes, especially after an organisational restructure. Evaluating how far along the Agility spectrum the organisation currently is, and how far it would like to go and needs to go, provides a starting point and frame of reference to measure success. Answering questions like “Why do we need to become faster, cheaper, and smarter?” and aligning it to the core Agile mindset and principles assists in creating the succinct story to drive a successful Agile adoption. This provides a consistent, clear and accepted vision for people to work towards, reducing the likelihood of confusion and resistance. For guidance on how to determine where your organisation sits on the agility spectrum you can read our post on Hybrid Agile.
Be Transparent: Providing transparency and visibility from the top
Transparency and visibility into management decisions required to achieve the defined organisational vision, during and post the restructure, can enable a successful Agile adoption. We have seen through leadership adopting an approach of transparency and visibility, that this not only brings a sense of comfort to the teams, but also shows that leadership really does buy into the Agile ways of working. Like first impressions, the way an Agile adoption is started, and then carried out, baselines the field for success. It is important to be mindful that the objective is to foster a culture of transparency and visibility with the team, rather than secrecy and hierarchy.
Own: Encouraging an ownership mindset
With team structures becoming less hierarchical in an Agile environment, employees are prompted to step up and take ownership. Supporting and up-skilling people to undertake this ownership mindset, one where everyone feels collectively responsible for the outcomes, helps smooth the transition into Agile. This can be done by reshaping performance metrics to adopt the continuous improvement attributes that Agile encourages and/or facilitating various coaching sessions about ownership mindsets. Empowering people to take an ownership mindset can be exciting for some, but without the right support, some staff may feel more pressured and disgruntled about Agile given the expectations to drive towards a faster pace and deliver more frequently.
Collaborate: Proactively facilitate collaboration
Equipping people with the right knowledge about Agile principles and practices not only educates them for better decision making, but also helps increase collaboration and momentum to adopt Agile. Activities with the objective to facilitate collaboration help re-bond and repair an organisation that has become disjointed from a restructure. Examples of activities to promote collaboration are Agile training sessions, coffee clubs, brown bag sessions, and core scrum framework rituals such as showcases and retrospectives.
Celebrate: Celebrate success from becoming Agile
There is nothing more encouraging than hearing positive feedback straight from customers after a period of change, where some may have found it quite challenging. When there is positive feedback, celebrate it! Seeing tangible benefits certainly creates the desire for employees to adopt Agile thinking, and proves that an Agile way of working is actually rewarding and highly beneficial. When celebrating the successes, link these back to the original intent set out when defining what Agile means to your organisation. Measuring how you have become “faster, cheaper or smarter” by using metrics, such as cycle time to value for an initiative, can really showcase your success.
Repeat: Iterative vs. “Big Bang” Restructure
To achieve the end state vision without disrupting operations, an Agile transformation should be carried out iteratively – including the way an organisation is restructured. This provides the opportunity for people to co-create the Agile transformation, rather than have the disruption immediately imposed on them. There will be the opportunity for people to provide feedback about the transformation, learn from the small changes to adapt, and inherently have a sense of responsibility towards the outcome of the Agile transformation.
To summarise, when kicking off an Agile transformation, disruption through an organisational restructure is not the way to start. A restructure will not enable success as it will likely result in resistance and disgruntlement against these new ways of working. The right culture needs to be in place for an organisation to undergo a successful transformation, without being hindered by the restructure disruption, one which encourages the right behaviours and enables this iterative transformation. It is important that management are proactive in leading these initiatives that encourage the right behaviours. A simple and clear set of guiding principles can be used to navigate an Agile transformation – Define, Be Transparent, Own, Collaborate, Celebrate and Repeat. At the end of the day, there are no short cuts and to become truly Agile without disruption to operations, an iterative transformation should be carried out.