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 In the current VUCA world, the yearly planning cycles feels outdated and unrealistic.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?

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.

Employee Engagement

Most of the organizations are doing some employee engagement survey nowadays. Mostly they do it on yearly basis, then it usually takes a few weeks to generate results, so then when they finally communicate the results, no one remembers the situation when they responded anymore, talk about aggregated results and then forget them for the rest of the year. Next year they compare them with the previous year, talk about it for a while and let it go for the rest of the year, and so on. Employees complain it takes so much time to answer that many questions and there is no value in doing so. Not surprising, and not much agile either, right. But how many organizations have agile HR? Not many. So let’s change that. Agile is about regular cycles, fast feedback loops, and continuous improvement. If you apply those principles to the Employee engagement survey, you realize that you may not ask 25 questions every year at the same period of the time, but instead, how about if we run employee engagement in sprints and every week or two ask one question. It cost almost no time to answer that, and you can make the results automatically transparent to everyone right away. They are actual and visible to everyone immediately. Then every now and then, when there is a theme emerging from the results ask the people who care about improving it for input on how can we get better as an organization. Openspace is a great tool to address such challenges, smaller sessions can be organized as world café. Communities are formed on the fly to help organizations address the challenges and come up with ideas on how to change the system, environment, and the way we work. Straightforward and simple.

If you are looking into more theory about Employee engagement the Business Agility Institute brought together a group of researchers to examine general steps and programs that may help boost engagement, present an overview of the many drivers that can impact engagement, and discuss techniques to develop engagement strategies. We’ve shared the highlights below. Read more about Employee Engagement https://businessagility.institute/learn/whitepaper-employee-engagement/.

Hierarchy

I recently posted a quote from a conference saying that “Removing hierarchy and cross-team dependencies made space for strong collaborative teams.” Interestingly, I got many comments and questions about it. So let’s talk about hierarchy and why we don’t need it in Agile space.

But before we dive deeper… What is the hierarchy? – using dictionary definition: “Noun – a system in which members of an organization or society are ranked according to relative status or authority.”

Traditional Organizations Need Hierarchy

Organizations where employees are ‘ranked according to relative status or authority’ is what we inherited from the traditional organizational paradigm which is built on top of the belief that hierarchy is the key – every organization needs to have an org chart, we have to have a clear line of reporting and decision making. And I’m not saying it’s wrong, you can keep all the traditional practices like a career path, positions, performance reviews, KPIs, etc. however such organizational design is not what I’m interested in and has nothing to do with ‘being agile’. Traditional organizations might be still well functioning, applying some frameworks and ‘do agile’, but the mindset at the organizational level is just not there yet.

Agile Organizations Are Flat

What I’m interested in is applying an agile mindset at the organizational level. Help not only individuals to ‘be agile’, but the organization as well. Agile is fundamentally changing the way organizations operate. Agile organizations are built on a new paradigm. They have a team as the key building block and are forming collaborative, creative, and adaptive networks from them. In a team, we don’t have status, and we have no ranking either. All team members are peers, with no positional hierarchy and power. Indeed, you can gain respect from the other team members in a team, but you can also lose it if you don’t bring value to the people around you anymore. It’s flexible and dynamic. All you need is radical transparency, peer feedback, and honest culture with implicit trust. You might say it’s a lot, and I’m far from saying it’s easy. However, once you experience it, you never want back to the traditional world.

Who decides on the process? Teams. In a flat organization, they are not only self-organized, but self-managed (so they are responsible for the processes), self-designing (so they are designing teams), and self-governing (so they are setting overall direction). To get more insights on those terms, see how LeSS defines them. All over, you don’t need much more than what I already mentioned – transparency, feedback, and trust. If that’s too abstract, you can get inspired by Sociocracy 3.0. It will give you more ideas on how to get there.

Who set’s the goals and objectives? No one. They are co-created by the teams, reviewed through radical transparency, and inspected and adapted via frequent feedback to flexibly address the business challenges. At the end of the day, fixed goals are useless in the VUCA world. VUCA stands for volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity. In other words, we speak about the world which is not predictable anymore. The cascading goals neither unify nor motivate. The more decentralized and autonomous the organizations are, the higher need is there for a strong evolutionary purpose. Co-created and owned by all. Transparent. You can get inspired by Frederic Laloux’s work.

What about budgets? Who says we need to have a budget in the first place. Again, you don’t need much more than what I already mentioned – transparency, feedback, and trust. Make all the finances transparent, and use instant peer feedback to review it. If that is too radical, you can get inspired by Beyond Budgeting.

All over, I guess you got the pattern. In an agile flat organization, we don’t need most of the traditional practices. All we need is radical transparency, peer feedback, and honest culture with implicit trust. No one is saying that you have to turn your organization into a flat structure and an agile mindset. But if you want to do that, be ready to redesign the way you work entirely.

Agile HR: Shape the Culture

I already wrote here that during the agile journey, the Agile HR changes the entire focus from being compliant driven to focus on overall employee experience. Agile HR is about leadership, system coaching, and large groups facilitation. And there is another layer. Agile HR should shape the culture. Yes, that’s right. There is an interesting framework of Competing Values which is in a very simple way describing culture as a tension between control and creative quadrants and competing and collaborative quadrants. The traditional organizations were grounded in the control and competition hemisphere, having the fixed processes, hierarchy and competition at the both individual and organizational level, while the agile organizations are more leaning towards the collaboration and creativity hemisphere changing the focus from individuals to the teams and networks, having higher level of autonomy and empowerment, forming partnerships instead of fighting with competitors.

As organizations continue on their agile journey, the culture is shifting and sooner or later the practices need to follow. For example, having a very hierarchical narrow position structure becomes an obstacle of a higher level of collaboration and self-organization. The silos are in the way of the cross-functional teams so the first step is to get rid of traditional positions i.e. Developer, Analyst, Tester and create a team member position as in the cross-functional team that’s all we need. The steep carrier path gets in the way of collaboration from the other side so organizations usually descale and become (more) flat as they rely more on intrinsic over extrinsic motivation. Speaking about motivation, how many of you are motivated by performance review and KPIs? None? That’s right. So what’s the other option? When we remove the individual goals and KPIs together with the performance review, how can we assure people get actionable feedback? So instead of artificial annual performance conversation, we invest into creating a learning environment where people learn from failures, get frequent peer feedback and mentoring from their colleagues so they can co-create their journey and grow as individuals and teams together. It’s not that much about any magical practices, but more about coaching and facilitation skills – that’s where ScrumMasters could be quite helpful. And I guess I can continue.

And keep in mind, it’s not about practices, processes, and tools, those can only support or make your journey harder. It’s about having a strong sense of purpose, common values, and joined identity. Once you have it, the practices will follow in a very natural way. So where to start? Think about your organization, where your culture is right now, and then think about where you need to be to keep up with nowadays business challenges and stay competitive. Only then, you are ready to assess individual practices. Are they supporting that shift? Are they indifferent? Or are they in the way of the desired culture shift?

Agile HR: Leadership, System Coaching, and Large Groups Facilitation

Finally, as the last blog about the Agile HR in this series or talent management if you like, is focusing on the skills and experiences of good HR. Primarily it’s about the understanding of Agile mindset and ability to create an environment where Agile culture can flourish. Environments supporting collaboration, transparency, open peer feedback, trust, team spirit, ownership, empowerment, and responsibility. The more Agile your organization is, the higher the need for coaching and facilitation skills it creates. The role of HR is critically important to grow coaching and facilitation skills in the organization and support individuals and teams with education on coaching, facilitation and guide them on their journey.

Another fundamental shift is from management which is based on decision making and delegation into leadership which is not given by any position but is a state of the mind. Anyone can become a leader. It’s only your decision if you are ready to take over the ownership and responsibility and lead an initiative, team, or product. The peer feedback will take care of enough self-awareness so leaders can emerge through the organization. Very often we speak about emergent leadership as one person can act as a leader of one initiative while at the same time being a team member of another one. As the evaluations transform into regular peer feedback and coaching for development, the key goal of the leaders is to help other leaders to grow where again, the need for good coaching and facilitation skills is inevitable. 

The fact that HR changes the focus in Agile organization to the overall employee experience is only the beginning. So let me suggest another idea. The good HR shall act as an organizational ScrumMaster or agile coach if you like, operating at the third level of the #ScrumMasterWay concept, focusing on the overall system. At this level it’s not that much about coaching individuals but coaching teams and organizations as a system, leveraging tools from system coaching like ORSC. It’s not that much about team facilitation but the ability to facilitate large groups with 100’s people, leveraging tools like world-cafe and Open Space. It’s about being a model of an Agile leader growing the ‘we-culture’ and mentoring other leaders to grow to Agile leaders. In short, Agile HR is Agile leadership, system coaching, and large groups facilitation. 

Agile HR = Agile leadership + system coaching + large groups facilitation.

Five books every Agile leader should read before they start Agile transformation

To continue my with my book recommendations (check Five books every ScrumMaster should read and Five books every Product Owner should read), I have several books here, I would recommend every Agile Leader and manager in Agile Organization to read before they start Agile transformation. It’s a mix which will help you to understand Agile Leadership, Agile Organization, it’s structure, design, and culture and allow you to adapt to the different leadership style. Enjoy reading 🙂

  1. Niels Pflaeging – Organize for Complexity: How to Get Life Back Into Work to Build the High-Performance Organization is about complexity and work – and about how to deal productively with both. A condensed introduction to the theory and practice of organizational high performance. A manifesto for contemporary leadership and profound transformation in organizations of all kinds. It is “practically theoretic”, featuring cutting-edge insight. It proposes new language and thinking for a new way of work and organizations.
  2. Frederic Laloux – Reinventing Organizations is a must. The way we manage organizations seems increasingly out of date. Survey after survey shows that a majority of employees feel disengaged from their companies. The epidemic of organizational disillusionment goes way beyond Corporate America-teachers, doctors, and nurses are leaving their professions in record numbers because the way we run schools and hospitals kills their vocation. Government agencies and nonprofits have a noble purpose, but working for these entities often feels soulless and lifeless just the same. All these organizations suffer from power games played at the top and powerlessness at lower levels, from infighting and bureaucracy, from endless meetings and a seemingly never-ending succession of change and cost-cutting programs.
  3. Large-Scale Scrum: More with LeSS is looking at the organizational design from a different perspective. Rather than asking, “How can we do agile at scale in our big complex organization?” a different and deeper question is, “How can we have the same simple structure that Scrum offers for the organization, and be agile at scale rather than do agile?” This profound insight is at the heart of LeSS. In Large-Scale Scrum: More with LeSS, Craig Larman and Bas Vodde have distilled over a decade of experience in large-scale LeSS adoptions towards a simpler organization that delivers more flexibility with less complexity, more value with less waste, and more purpose with less prescription.
  4. The Responsibility Process: Unlocking Your Natural Ability to Live and Lead with Power is about FREEDOM, POWER, and CHOICE. Leadership is innate. The Responsibility Process proves it. The Responsibility Process is a natural mental pattern that helps you process thoughts about taking or avoiding responsibility. How you navigate it determines whether you are leading toward meaningful results or just marking time. This book gives you precision tools, practices, and leadership truths to navigate The Responsibility Process and lead yourself and others to freedom, power, and choice.
  5. Leadership and Self Deceptions shows how most personal and organizational problems are the result of a little-known problem called self-deception. Through an entertaining and highly instructive story, Leadership and Self-Deception shows what self-deception is, how people get trapped in it, how it undermines personal achievement and organizational performance, and- most importantly the surprising way to solve it.

BONUS:

Finally, there is a bonus book which I wrote a few years after this blogpost 🙂 The Agile Leader: Leveraging the Power of Influence Book published in December 2020 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. See more at https://greatagileleader.com.

What is Agile Leadership

What is agile leadership about? How would you define it, how would you explain it? Those are just a few questions people are asking these days.

Agile leaders are able to inspire others, creates and communicate an appealing vision or a higher purpose which motivates organization and would constantly be looking for better ways of working through feedback. It’s about being inclusive, support others on their leadership journey. Being open to new ideas, experiments and innovations. Support creativity. Be able to garden the right mindset and creates cultures based on collaboration. Agile leader is a coach and good listener.

Agile leadership is not about tools, practices or methodologies. It’s an ability to look at the organization from the system perspective, understand system dynamics, be able to get awareness about what’s happening, embrace it, understand it and become an integral part of the system and finally be able to act upon and influence it with coaching, and initiate a change.

Agile Leadership Model

New management paradigm is about collaboration and trust, decentralization, continuous adaptation and flexibility, cooperation and teamwork. From the static management in the industrial era, we shifted to strategic management in last twenty years of the last century and moved quickly into the dynamic management which tries to keep up the speed with modern constantly changing, complex world. That’s the world which critically needs agile leadership as anything else is not flexible enough to deal with nowadays challenges. Companies need more creativity, collaboration, and innovations – simply agility. That’s the way how to be successful. That’s the way how to achieve their goals. That’s the way how to survive and don’t become new dinosaurs who are so huge, slow and inflexible that they eventually disappear from the world.

Agile Leader Competence Map

The more Agile Leadership is popular, people are asking for more description. Who is the Agile Leader, what makes him different from a traditional manager, and which competencies and skills they have to have. So I created this Agile Leader Wheel so you can map the competencies and skills.

Great Agile Leaders have four core competencies in which they can create a vision, enhance motivation, get feedback, and implement change. Vision is the driving engine. It’s not necessarily related to the product and business but the organization itself. The second segment is motivation. Agile Leaders understand the nature of motivation, are familiar with the power of intrinsic motivation of autonomy and purpose. The third one from the top section of the Agile Leader Wheel is feedback. For Agile Organizations feedback is crucial, it makes the team and product feedback part of their DNA, it becomes an integral part of their culture. The same for Agile Leaders, the regular feedback from the system is the key to their success. The last piece is the ability to implement change. For Agile Leaders, the change is happening at three levels. Firstly there is a change in myself, my own beliefs, reactions, the way I work. Secondly, there is the ability to influence others. Make them part of my team, get supports who will help me to lead the change. Finally, the third element of change is a change at the system level, the whole organization level.

Agile Leader Wheel

In addition to the mentioned competencies, Agile leaders will need to balance the time when they need to make a decision and when it’s better to collaborate and empower others to take a responsibility for that. Finally, on the right side, Agile Leaders are facilitators and coaches. We are not speaking here about one-one coaching. Great Agile Leaders use coaching as a spice to address the complexity at the system level and coach the organization as a whole. Great Agile Leaders are not born this way but constantly develop those competencies and skills. This concept is part of my Agile Leadership program where I help leaders to understand the complexity of nowadays organizations and be successful in their roles. Looking forward to seeing you at some of my Agile Leadership workshops.