Agile HR: Start by Getting Awareness

As organizations are changing the way they work, their need for overall business agility is growing. Different departments are trying to not only implement the agile frameworks and apply Scrum or Kanban to enhance their capabilities to deliver value but also completely redesigning their function and AgileHR is one of those departments which requires a radical shift. You need to change the way you look at things and approach things. Agile requires a different culture that is team oriented, and much more collaborative and creative. As many practices organizations currently use for Recruiting  & Onboarding, Positions & Career Paths, Performance Review & Evaluation, and Rewards and Bonus systems are individual oriented, and are coming from competing and controlling cultures, the change is inevitable. The higher level of business agility is in the environment, the stronger pressure is for changing the practices as well. So what is HR role in the agile space?

We can say that: “We build organizations around motivated individuals, involving them in co-creating their journey.” Agile HR focuses on the best employee experience from the first contact, through Day1, supporting their growth, and motivation, and increasing their value to the organization. It’s not about processes but a different culture. We simply create environments enhancing collaboration, co-creation, innovations, and creativity. Very different from what HR role is in traditional environments. I see HR as the core of the transformation. They need to allow it to happen, they need to support that shift.

Continuous Feedback

Every change needs to start with awareness about the current and desired stage. What is our current culture? What are our values? What is the current level of safety? What is the engagement of people? Do we understand employee satisfaction? Are they promoters?

If you look into the ADP Research Institute Global Study of Engagement “Only about 16 percent of employees are ‘Fully Engaged’. This means 84 percent of workers are just ‘Coming to Work’ instead of contributing all they could to their organizations.”

Be aware of those things is a good starting point. Many organizations start by measuring engagement on yearly basis. And it’s a good start. Having the ability to compare results not only to the global data but also to your company trends. But if you start doing it, two interesting things usually happen. First – people start complaining that they have to fill in too many questions at one time, and second that once you start digging into the data and trying to inspect and adapt based on that, people start telling you that their responses are not particularly valid anymore – for example, there was a lot of stress in December, but now, in January we feel we are fine, etc. So sooner or later you realize you need to do such surveys more frequently, and also in a distributed way. The good news is there are many tools that can support that need. I have experience with using Officevibe which is designed to ask one question per week and that way is giving you more frequent data points and trends so you can make it actionable. It’s easier to be measured and you can see the impact of changing the practices right away.

Top 10 Agile Podcasts

Lately, I realized that people start listening more than reading and that podcasts become quite popular. So here is a list of my personal recommendations on top 10s agile podcasts.

#1: The #AgileWay Podcast by Zuzana Zuzi Sochova

#AgileWay podcast is exploring challenges organizations face on their agile journey. How to become a great ScrumMaster, how to change your leadership style, or how to embrace agility at the organizational level. Zuzi has also Czech language podcast “Jsme Agilni”.

Listen on Apple Podcasts: https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/agileway/id1555101534

#2: LeSS (Large Scale Scrum) Matters Podcast by Ben Maynard

The LeSS (Large Scale Scrum) Matters podcast guides you through a proper understanding of how to use Scrum with multiple teams. Ben invites practitioners from the LeSS community to share their experiences with scaling Scrum.

Listen on Apple Podcasts: https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/less-large-scale-scrum-matters/id1605120218 

#3: (Re)Learning Leadership Podcast by Pete Behrens

(Re)Learning Leadership podcast is facilitated by Agile Leadership Journey founder Pete Behrens. The current ways of leading are failing to meet the challenges of our disrupted workforces. Today’s leaders have a choice between adaptation or atrophy: are you ready to evolve your mindset and accelerate change within your organization?

Listen on Apple Podcasts: https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/re-learning-leadership/id1551181774

#4: Relationship Matters Podcast by CRR Global

The Relationship Matters Podcast  We believe Relationship Matters, from humanity to nature, to the larger whole. Beyond Emotional Intelligence (relationship with oneself) and Social Intelligence (relationship with others) is the realm of Relationship Systems Intelligence where one’s focus shifts to the relationship with the group, team or system. This podcast is not specifically about agile, however in agile world relationship matters.

Listen on Apple Podcasts: https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/relationship-matters/id1507583306

#5 The Collaboration Superpowers Podcast by Lisette Sutherland

The Collaboration Superpowers Podcast by Lisette Sutherland focus on remote work. Recently the remote work becomes a necessity, but not many organization knows how to make it healthy, effective, and collaborative space. Lisette Sutherland, one of the most experienced people about remote work I know,  is interviewing people and companies doing great things… remotely! These interviews are packed with stories and tips for those whose business models depend upon successfully bridging distance to accomplish knowledge work.

Listen on Apple Podcasts: https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/the-collaboration-superpowers-podcast/id931999061

#6: The Agile Book Club Podcast by Justyna Pindel and Paul Klipp

The Agile Book Club by Justyna Pindel and Paul Klipp is a podcast about books. Agile books. Every month, Justyna and Paul review a different agile book, sharing our thoughts, elevator pitches for the books, favorite quotations, and key takeaways.

Listen on Apple Podcasts: https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/agile-book-club/id1465706071

#7: Agile Toolkit Podcast by Bob Payne

The Agile Toolkit Podcast by Bob Payne is one of the first agile podcasts, interviewing agile community about agile software development, methods, tools, and business agility.

Listen on Apple Podcasts: https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/agile-toolkit-podcast/id78532866

#8: Scrum Master Toolbox Podcast: Agile storytelling from the trenches by Vasco Duarte

The Scrum Master Toolbox Podcast by Vasco Duarte interviews Scrum Masters and Agile Coaches from all over the world to get you actionable advice, new tips and tricks, improve your craft as a Scrum Master with daily doses of inspiring conversations with Scrum Masters from the all over the world. Some of the topics we discuss include: Agile Business, Agile Strategy, Retrospectives, Team motivation, Sprint Planning, Daily Scrum, Sprint Review, Backlog Refinement, Scaling Scrum, Lean Startup, Test Driven Development (TDD), Behavior Driven Development (BDD), Paper Prototyping, QA in Scrum, the role of agile managers, servant leadership, agile coaching, and more!

Listen on Apple Podcasts: https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/scrum-master-toolbox-podcast-agile-storytelling-from/id963592988

#9: Bridging Agile and Professional Coaching Worlds Podcast by by Tandem Coaching Academy

Bridging Agile and Professional Coaching Worlds is a podcast with focus on anything and everything coaching – from Agile to Professional. We bring you the best of the best from the Agile and Professional coaching world, building that bridge between the two. We envision the future where Agile world embraces professional coaching skills and competencies, bringing them closer together.

Listen on Apple Podcasts: https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/bridging-agile-and-professional-coaching-worlds/id1499503189

#10: The Working Genius Podcast with Patrick Lencioni

The Working Genius podcast by Patrick Lencioni is designed to help people identify their natural gifts and find joy and fulfillment in their work and life. What type of work makes you thrive? Are you burning out because your job requires you to work in your areas of frustration? How can teams and families better tap into one another’s gifts? This podcast answers all these questions and more. This is another podcast that is not agile by focus, but quite relevant in agile space.

Listen on Apple Podcasts: https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/the-working-genius-podcast-with-patrick-lencioni/id1553105854

Other great podcasts recommend by the community:

There are many more. Let me know if there is a podcast you like missing and I’ll add it here.

Agile Amped Podcast – Inspiring Conversations

The Agile Amped podcast by Accenture | SolutionsIQ is the shared voice of the Agile community, driven by compelling stories, passionate people, and innovative ideas. Together, we are advancing the impact of business agility.

Listen on Apple Podcasts: https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/agile-amped-podcast-inspiring-conversations/id992128516

Agile FM: “The Radio for the Agile Community”

Agile.FM by Jochen (Joe) Krebs interviews interesting agilists and bring their stories for a few years already, recording at many conferences. They cover a wide range of topics, for example Scrum, Kanban, Lean, Extreme Programming, CSM, PSM, Product Owner, Communication, Leadership, Agile Transformations and Cultural Change.

Listen on Apple Podcasts: https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/agile-fm/id1263932838

A day in the life of an Agility Enabler

A day in the life of an Agility Enabler podcast by Jesus Mendez helps with building the next Agility Enabler’s generation in Montréal, Canada. Highlighting talented Scrum Masters, Agile Coaches and Agile Leaders from the Lean/Agile Montreal’s community, it intends to reveal what a day in the life of an Agility Enabler looks like and to help the audience with discovering the human being behind the Agility Enabler, its personal story, challenges, successful stories, tips, tricks and many more.

Listen on Apple Podcast: https://www.listennotes.com/podcasts/a-day-in-the-life-of-an-agility-enabler-tEmuaAecxbf/#

You are a Leader

Some time ago I published my new book The Agile Leader: Leveraging the Power of Influence that is looking at organizational agility and is focusing on the shift required from the leaders. I wrote this book to help people understand that agile is more than just some frameworks and practices. There are many stories from my friends and colleagues, which can give you a different perspective on the agile journey. People often ask me what is the biggest obstacle preventing organizations from embracing a greater level of agility. And I usually turn that question back to them. Everyone is a leader, everyone is having a power of influence and can make a difference. Don’t wait for some magic as it’s not going to happen. All you need is to have a vision, where do you see the organization in maybe five years from now, know why is it important for this organization to change. And what happens if the organization won’t change. Are we still going to be successful? Or are we going to starve? Share the vision of how different this organization needs to be, and why is it important. Create a sense of urgency. Without it, no change will ever happen.

You are a leader, no matter what position you are having right now. Leadership is the state of mind.

Once you have a vision, you need to be able to motivate people and learn from feedback. It’s not just about the ability to give feedback that people understand and are able to change based on that, but primarily about the ability to be open to hear the feedback yourself and learn from it. Giving feedback is hard, but receiving feedback is even harder. How many times you rejected the feedback from your peers by saying in your mind that something like “they don’t understand it”, “They don’t know all the details.. “, “I know better”. It’s easier that way, isn’t it?

In a complex VUCA world, where most of the problems involve volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity, we need different skills. Individuals are not that successful in dealing with complexity and reacting to unpredictable and unstable business environments, we need a higher level of creativity, we need a team to come up with more innovative solutions to solve the challenges. That’s where the ability to listen to the feedback and learn from it is crucial.

Combining both strong vision and feedback feed the motivation. People are not working at their best just for incentives, they are working at their best when they deeply care about the outcome, where they feel a need to support that vision, where they feel involved and have a voice. Successful organizations know that and create environments with high trust, transparency, and open communication, where feedback is encouraged.

And don’t forget, you don’t need any positional power to become a leader. You are the leader, and you already have all the power you need, the power of influence.

Collaborative Environment

Speaking of creating the right environment – even in the agile world you sometimes need to make a decision. While that’s not surprising to most managers, it’s often something that agile coaches struggle with. On the other hand, managers often struggle to collaborate and participate, while agile coaches are usually much better at it. All over in an agile environment, you need them both. Decision-making and collaboration.

Agile Leader Wheel

Decision-making is not that hard once you have a clear purpose of what you like to achieve. But without a clear vision, there are so many options to choose from and the nature of the complex world makes many of them looking good, they all are ok, but it’s impossible to know which one of the right ones, without trying, inspecting, and adapting. And again, the ability to hear feedback and learn from it is critically needed. As in a VUCA world we can’t know which option is the right one, all we can do about it is to experiment and learn from failures. Fail fast, learn fast. There are environments where people react well to what I’ve just said. They understand that it’s better to know you are not going in the right direction sooner than later, they work in short iterations, experiments and get open and honest feedback regularly. They know it’s better to return after a week than when the entire delivery is done in a year from now. Those environments are already agile, they have high trust and are neither afraid of transparency nor failure.

But there are environments where people react with frustration on my sentence. “What do you mean by failing?” they ask. “We can’t fail here!” they say and you can sense the fear and stress growing in the space. “We would be fired if we fail.”.  And I’m not surprised. They are living in a different mindset, where they still believe the world is predictable and the business problems can be analyzed, planned, and solutions delivered accordingly. They try to pretend that unpredictability doesn’t exist and that the world is not complex. Just analyze, plan, and do it. That’s it. And all the difficulty is in how to manage it. That’s a traditional mindset and if you like to change it, and increase the agility in a space, you need to start with increasing trust and transparency. Without it there is no real collaboration happening.

In collaborative environments, there are two soft skills needed – coaching and facilitation. You might never be as good at them as professional coaches and professional facilitators are, but be able to use them and help people to raise their awareness about the situation and have an effective conversation and collaborate better is always useful.

Finally agile is a change. Change of the way of working, change of culture and mindset. You can address it at three different levels – changing yourself, through your own behaviors and habits. Becoming a role model. In my mind, this is the most powerful change. Leaders need to change first, the organization will follow. Secondly, you can change the way we work by implementing different frameworks and practices. Thirdly, you can influence the organization and the system level and change the culture and social system.

Agile Leader

Over the last two decades, agile shifted from software teams to organizations. We talk about different cultures, agile organization, agile leadership, agile HR, agile finance, all over business agility. Simply the ability to embrace agile values and principles at the organizational level and change the way organizations run their business. It’s a fundamental change that is more than just implementing some framework.

“Business agility creates an organization best able to serve its customer, no matter what the future brings.”

I found this definition fascinating. In today’s complex, fast-changing, and unpredictable world, agile organizations are good at responding to the nowadays challenges. Agile brings flexibility, allows you to respond to changes fast, learn through the iterations, inspect and adapt. In order to be successful, organizations need to serve its customer, no matter what the future brings. Fixed plans are failing as the business environment is not stable enough. All that matters is creativity and flexibility.

In my second English book published by Addison Wesley – The Agile Leader: Leveraging the Power of Influence I’m looking at organizational agility and focusing on the shift required from the leaders and organizations. Through practical exercises and assessments, you learn how to unleash your potential, become a better catalyst and community builder, sensibly apply transparency, improve functions from HR to finance, and guide entire organizations towards greater agility. Agility at this level is not about practices, nor frameworks. Though those are good at the beginning, as they are helpful in creating an environment with high transparency, autonomy, and collaboration, the real impact we need to create goes way beyond that. Creating a culture that supports innovations and creative solutions is a pre-requisite for real organizational change.

So how does agile start at the organizational level? You can say it starts with a management decision or training, but I would say it all starts with a dream. Is that dream strong enough to leverage the discomfort caused by changing the way we work? Is it strong enough for you? Or let me ask you this: If you won a lottery, would you be still going to work trying to make it happen? Or would you better give up and take a rest? And I’m not speaking about having a vacation to relax for a while, but is the vision important enough for you to hang around even if you don’t need to get paid? No change is smooth and agile brings a fundamental shift of values and culture, so you better have a strong reason for the change.

Being an agile leader is a journey. It always starts with you. You need to change first, the others will follow. Agile leaders need to have a vision that will motivate people to join their effort and work together to achieve it. They need to create a collaborative environment, with high trust, and transparency where the feedback is natural. They need to motivate people by giving them purpose, autonomy, and a learning environment.

Top 5 Books You Have To Read Building Agile Organization

People are always asking me what to read. I created the three lists recommending books ScrumMasters shall read, books Product Owners shall read, and books agile leaders shall read. And recently I got some great books from my friends, so I thought I will write one update page referring to them. This list is intended to help people on their agile journey who want to deepen their understanding of what Agile organizations are about and how leadership needs to change.

top 5 books Agile organization

#1: Johanna Rothman – Modern Management Made Easy

The first recommendation is a trilogy Modern Management Made Easy from Johanna Rothman. The books are full of stories and practical examples. Here are few quotes from the three books so you can choose which one is the most interesting for you.

1. Practical Ways to Manage Yourself is focusing on you as a leader. Modern management requires we first manage ourselves—and that might be the most challenging part of management.

“When we exercise our personal integrity, it’s true, we might lose our job or a specific role. However, even I have never immediately lost a job. Very few managers lose their jobs if they say, ‘No,’ to a management request that lacks integrity.”

2. Practical Ways to Lead and Serve (Manage) Others is looking on how to work with other people. Great managers create an environment where people can do their best work.

“Many first-line managers see themselves as the expert, as the sole source of knowledge for their group. You may have started as the expert. However, as soon as you become a manager, start moving out of that expert’s seat. You can’t be the expert for the team.”

3. and finally the Practical Ways to Lead an Innovative Organization are looking at organization as a whole. Learn to create an environment where people can innovate.

“Great managers solve culture problems. And, culture problems are big, messy, systemic problems. You’ll address something over here and something over there will break. You’ll never run out of problems to solve. Maintaining a culture of integrity might be the most challenging job a manager can do.”

All over, the three books bring a nice overview of modern management practices, are easy to read, and give practical examples of how to change your leadership style. Each book covers several myths which help you to reflect on your current practices and change the way you work.

#2: Michael Spayd, Michele Madore – Agile Transformation

Another book I recently got is Agile Transformation: Using the Integral Agile Transformation Framework™ to Think and Lead Differently. It’s looking at agile transformation

“Becoming a transformational leader challenges us to make room for our own deep passion for change, coming up against the personal limitations in us that prevent this change from occurring through us.”

In the world we live in, which is complex and unpredictable, we need to re-think how we are thinking about organizations, leadership, and transformation. How can you work with other leaders, what kind of leadership is required to successfully lead transformational change, and what is realistically required for agile transformation?

#3: Zuzi Sochova – Agile Leader

The third on the recommendation list is my new book The Agile Leader: Leveraging the Power of Influence. It continues where the Great ScrumMaster book finished and is focusing on how to change the organizations and leadership in the agile space. It will help you to unleash your agile leadership potential and guide your entire organization toward agility. It’s a great overview of concepts for managers, directors, executives, and entrepreneurs―anyone, regardless of position, who’s ready to take ownership, challenge the status quo, and become a true agile leader.

“Having a critical mass of agile leaders is the key factor to organizational success in the VUCA world. Supporting agile leadership and growing agile leaders is one of the most important tasks on your agile journey.”

#4: Heidi Helfand – Dynamic Reteaming

The fourth recommended book is looking at evolutions of teams. Dynamic Reteaming: The Art and Wisdom of Changing Teams got recently it’s second edition and it’s a great book for all people interested in the team dynamic.

“Whether you like it or not, your teams are going to change. People will join your team and people will leave your team. You can grow your organization with dynamic reteaming in mind so that you have a resilient and flexible structure, or you can adjust your existing organizations to enable dynamic reteaming.”

#5: 97 Things Every Scrum Practitioner Should Know: Collective Wisdom from the Experts

Finally, there is a fifth recommendation for a very interesting book collected and edited by Gunther Verheyen. This book is a collection of short essays from 97 thought leaders (97 Things Every Scrum Practitioner Should Know: Collective Wisdom from the Experts) who share their insights from their agile journey about transformation, product value delivery, collaboration, people, development practices, ScrumMastery, organizational design, and Scrum.

“Bring the agile values to the organizational level. Address the system in its whole complexity and turn it into a self-organizing network of great teams. At this stage, you can see your organization as a living organism. Being a ScrumMaster is a never-ending journey. The #ScrumMasterWay concept can guide them.”

Emergent Leadership

Agile organizations are collaborative, creative, and adaptive networks. They are like living organisms, operating on different principles. They naturally flatten the hierarchical structure, making the Org chart quite unimportant. They are based on autonomy, self-organization, and empowerment, leveraging the power of self-organization and instead of hierarchical leadership, they rely on emergent leadership which is not tight to any position but can emerge from different situations and needs on the fly. In Agile organization everyone is a leader. Everyone can take a step and take over an initiative. If that initiative gains the interest of others, they form a team and support it. The radical transparency takes care of feedback and corrects any ideas which are not supporting the overall purpose we are all trying to achieve.

And here is the reason why traditional organizations are generally afraid of loosening the fixed positional power structures and giving teams autonomy. They are often scared of emergent leadership and I’m not surprised by that. In order to make it work you need to have a collaborative culture with high trust, transparency and safety, and strong evolutionary purpose which creates alignment among different parts of your organization so they are heading towards the same direction. Without a clear purpose, everything might look like a good idea worth of trying and higher autonomy usually only creates chaos, while strong purpose helps people to test their ideas by asking a simple question “If we do that, how does it going to help to get closer to the desired state defined by the purpose?” and if it doesn’t we don’t do it and figure out something else which will help us to get there. Radical transparency will allow any initiative to be tested by the crowd and filter weak ideas already before they start. The safe to fail environment encourages people to take over the responsibility and come up with their own ideas. Finally, the collaborative environment will support good ideas. In an agile organization, nothing is fixed. Sometimes I came up with an idea and others form a team around it, next time I join the initiative as a team member. Leadership is emergent and structure liquid.

Now, do you need it? That’s up to you to decide. It all depends on the overall business environment and the challenges you need to work on. Are they predictable and repetitive? A fixed structure will help you to be faster. Are they unpredictable and hard to plan? Are you regularly facing the VUCA (volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity) challenges? Then more flexible structures with emergent leadership will be necessary to crack the challenges and be successful in nowadays constantly changing world.

Journal of Business Agility – Emergence

Recently I received a nice magazine in my mailbox, the Journal of Business Agility – Emergence. If you are looking for stories from different organizations, inspiration from agile leaders, I would recommend you to subscribe to it. Businesses Agility Institute is known for high-quality content conferences, and the Emergence magazine is a good example of very good curated content. So what caught my attention from this first issue of the magazine?

Budget planning: Prioritization – Capacity – Funding

I start with the first article where Jardena London shares her insights about Budget planning. It’s so much close to what I experienced as a Director running a software organization. “Stop talking about budget and capacity until you prioritize the outcomes you want across the organization. Even the high-level strategic goals need to be put in order.” So many organizations are unable to focus and try to push more things without a conversation about priorities. Once ordering is done “Start by planning capacity by teams, it’s way easier than planning for individuals. You may find that your current team structure no longer serves the needs of your portfolio, so you’ll have to tweak it, maybe add/ remove team.” On my journey, I learned that working with teams is so much easier than trying to plan everything with individuals. From the organizational perspective, working with individuals is too detailed and all different irregularities made it too fuzzy and unpredictable. I can also relate to this note: “Don’t plan out the year, plan the now.” In the current VUCA world, the yearly planning cycles feels outdated and unrealistic. I still remember when we went away from estimations and how enlightening it was. However, when I speak about it now, many people are almost freaking out. How can you plan your capacity without it, they ask. “When we estimate hours, we miss all kinds of variables like task switching cost, administrative time, and buffer time. We spend energy trying to get more precision in the output than we have accuracy for in the input.” Instead, in an agile environment, we focus on forecasting how much teams can produce in a short iteration. “With the same number of people, capacity can change over time. Improvements to capability and technology can impact capacity. Capacity is great for forecasting and planning.” But it’s still a concept very hard to accept not only by finance departments but also by the teams. Finally, “Once you have prioritized and planned capacity, and you’re ready to go, allocate funding. This is the very last thing we do, allowing money to be free and flexible as long as possible.” Agile is about flexibility and the ability to be change responsive. “Decoupling prioritization, capacity and funding can breathe new life into budget planning, alleviating the difficulty for employees and improving outcomes for the organization.”

Fact Sheet: The State of Business Agility in 2020

For those who like facts, numbers, and charts, there is a summary of the State of Business Agility report. “In 2020 we saw a significant increase in business agility globally. Compared to last year, we have seen more organizations commencing their business agility journey, and those on the journey report greater progress.” It’s no surprise for me, as I’m getting the same message from organizations, but it’s still good to have it confirmed with data. And it’s also no surprise that “Leadership continues to be the common theme amongst all transformational challenges.” I can see that in most of the organizations. Boards and executives are struggling with a core understanding of agility beyond practices, processes, and frameworks. Their experience with business agility is still very limited. The good news is, that there are many inspirational stories and use-cases covering every spectrum of organizational function, but still looking for an agile organization is a tough job. When I was writing my new book The Agile Leader: Leveraging the Power of Influence I was bringing in some of those pioneers to share their insights in a short story. We need more stories about the successful agile. We need more insights from their journeys. That’s the only way how to make business agility more accessible for leaders and organizations. If you are looking for three tips where to start, the report brings you three tips: “Organizations who reported higher ratings in these three characteristics also report higher overall business agility and associated benefits: 1. Encouraging a culture of learning and experimentation, 2. funding business outcomes rather than specific work outputs or projects, and 3. aligning work to customer-centric value streams.” Very true. Experiment, learn from feedback and deliver value. Looks very simple, but it’s unfortunately very hard to do in some organizations.

The agile journey of Scrum Alliance

I was watching the Scrum Alliance journey for several years, and I’m very proud of how they changed and the experiments they were courageous to take. Living the Scrum values is never simple, and being agile is a journey. “The Scrum Alliance revolution – beginning with reflection, continuing through a complete rebuild of the organization’s working methods, and ending in a revitalization of public perception.” That’s easy to be said, but hard to be done. “Before the self-organization process, Scrum Alliance had multiple departments with multiple part-time scrum teams. Afterward, the structure had been simplified to six cross-functional and cross-departmental scrum teams.” Once the change was implemented as a trainer I could see immediate value to be created every sprint. How interesting change from all the years before, where value delivery was much slower. “By changing the internal structures of Scrum Alliance, Melissa and Howard had also changed attitudes, operational standards, and revitalized the ethos of the entire organization.” It’s great to read about successes but equally important is to read about things that didn’t go so smoothly. Being agile is a journey and this article is showing the journey with all the transparency and honesty. “Most importantly, Melissa and Howard have built an organization that strives every day to practice what it preaches and embody the values and principles of Business Agility” and that’s something you don’t see every day.

And there is more…

Stories from leaders, experiences shared by practitioners. That’s all that we currently need on our agile journey as a society. Agile is not anymore a different project management method. For long ago it left the basement where the IT department was closed. It’s changing the way how organizations operate, and how they do their business. The topics of Agile Organization, Agile Leadership, Agile HR, Agile Finance, and Business Agility are everywhere. There are schools applying agile values and principles, there are governments changing their way of working. Agile is everywhere. The new generation is different, they don’t want to be told what to do, they are asking for higher flexibility and autonomy, they require freedom to choose from where they are going to work and how they deliver the value. Some organizations already figured it out and started accommodating the change. Others are picking up. “The intention of business agility is to create an organization best able to serve its customer, no matter what the future brings.” That last part – no matter what the future brings – is in my mind the most important. Imagine an organization that is flexible and fast responsive, so it is ready for any situation. What else could you wish for succeeding in the VUCA world, right?

Subscribe for Emergence Journal and get a 10% discount using “agileprague” promo code.

Barriers of Agility

In most of the surveys about barriers of agility in organizations, you learn that the top three places are culture, structure, and leadership. There is no surprise. Organizations were designed for a different world where you can analyze the situation, plan what you are going to do, cascade the goals through the organization, and deliver it accordingly with minimum change requests, simply for the predictable world. The problem is that in the last decades the world has become less predictable and changes were more frequent, the VUCA challenges overtake our everyday life reality and the organizations realized they are too slow to respond. Like dinosaurs thousands of years ago. Change is inevitable. Analyzing, planning, and following the plan is not an option anymore.

Innovations, creativity, and flexibility are new norm and organizations which can create environments where teams are self-organized, collaborate on maximizing the business value, and co-creating the organizational goals are taking over positions in the Fortune 100 list. Most of the big corporations are still in the cage of the old-world reality. They optimize for speed. But speed is not that important asset anymore as going fast in the wrong direction doesn’t lead anywhere. Instead, we need flexible environments optimized for creativity. Thinking about flexibility, the organizational structure needs to change to allow it. Departments focused on competences or components, not business value, is meaningless. They kill creativity. Hierarchy keeps responsibility by the managers and prevents people from taking ownership and decide themselves. Again, it kills creativity.

Culturally the traditional organizations are leaning towards competing over collaborating, and controlling over creating. The practices of detailed positions, reward systems, performance reviews, and individual goals and objectives are keeping the organizations in competing and controlling quadrants.

Finally, the leadership needs to change significantly. Traditional organizations were expecting leaders to be Experts or Achievers. Agile organizations need Catalysts. They need leaders who are visionary, purpose-driven, are able to see the business and organizations from different perspectives. They enhance collaboration and are good at building teams and networks. They search for win-win solutions, are good coaches, and helping others to grow. They support running experiments and use failure as learning.

All over we can say that Agile Organization needs different leaders, cultures, and structures. You don’t have to start with changing all of them at once, but sooner or later such change is inevitable. The fewer barriers you give agility on the way, the more likely the frameworks, methods, and practices make a difference and help you to be successful in the VUCA world.

Autonomy

Autonomy is a topic that is in my mind for a while. How come that in some environments it’s so simple to let it grow and some others are so much struggling with it. The more I think about it, the more I feel it’s about trust or fear of losing position, power, or comfort. And environments with no trust are not places where agile is much successful. In order to allow autonomy in even a small group as a development team, the trust must be there. I’ve seen the companies which were struggling to allow teams to choose their own name. “What if they choose something offending?” Like really? Now if you deal with such low trust, there is no way Scrum can work. I’ve seen organizations where they track when people are in the office and have so many restrictions that their computers become useless. “What if they don’t work and play games? Or not coming to work?” Isn’t that funny? The more restrictions you create, the more time people spend on breaking them or the more demotivated they are. Neither will help you to create successful products.

“Trust is prerequisite, transparency enabler, and purpose of the driving force for autonomy.”

Building trust takes time. Start small, don’t be afraid to be vulnerable. Ask yourself what is the worth thing which can happen. Ask what are those people around you scared  and how can you help them to feel more confident. The second ingredient in the mix is transparency. Being transparent about what needs to be done, what the success looks like, and what are the things we want to avoid is crucial. People learn by doing. Be transparent with the feedback. Perfection is not useful, it’s all about learning from small failures. Finally, the third ingredient in the mix is a purpose. Autonomy without a purpose only creates chaos. The higher the autonomy, the stronger the purpose needs to be to glue it together. To give everyone the same goal, belonging, identity, the reason for why they are there.

Imagine a kid’s camp. The Red group is defending the castle, the Blues are trying the take it over. Kids are naturally forming small autonomous teams, making their own decisions on the fly. They share information as they move forward. They don’t need any detailed instructions, any KPIs, any manager to give them process. All they have is a strong purpose. Your organization is not any different. Trust is a prerequisite, transparency enabler, and purpose of the driving force for autonomy. Building such an environment requires a portion of agile leadership.