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.”

Agile Transformation Metrics

It’s very common that people ask me how they shall measure the success of their Agile transformation. It’s a hard question because there is no meaningful metrics unless you know why you decided to start the agile transformation at the first place at all. Agile is not your goal, it’s just a way how to achieve some of your more strategic goals i.e. address complexity better, be more change responsive, shorten time to market, be more flexible, … And once you know why you are starting your agile journey, then those reasons are exactly the metrics you are going to measure at the organizational level. All are business-oriented and value-driven  (outcome), so there is no velocity, no story points as those are focusing on output.

Team Measures

If you want to have a fast culture check on how far you have moved towards the agile mindset, you may look into how many experiments the teams are running, what are their actions from the retrospectives, and how they help them to deliver more value, how likely your teams take failure as learning vs. blaming opportunity, how close are they to customers, and how they collaborate vs. work individually or in silos. As a follow-up, you can have a look to your positions (are they rather broad supporting cross-functional teams than detail task-oriented), recruiting (are we hiring for approach and personality over the hard skills), performance review (team-oriented based on peer feedback over the individual), goals and objectives (team-based focused on purpose and outcome over tactical and individual KPIs focused on output), … and I can continue.

Looking to technical practices, you can check how your software teams implemented Extreme Programming practices i.e. Continuous Integration (even one-minute old code is old code), TDD – Test Driven Development (and overall attest automation), if they use pair programming or mob-programming to collaborate, having strong Definition of Done, focusing on one story at a time, and are ready for Continuous Delivery.

All over Agile is about team collaboration, customer-centered value-driven way of working, and short feedback loops. The rest are just practices, processes, and tools which might support your journey or not. The most important is not what exactly you are measuring, but what you are going to change based on that metric. If the metrics is helping you to improve and change your way of working, it’s a good metric. Measuring something just so you have it, or so you can draw a chart is a waste of your time.

Scaling Success

Companies are not scaling Agile or Scrum, they are scaling success. At our agile journey, we were often wondering how to start, what practices, tools, and processes shall we use. What I learned on my journey is that we don’t need another method. None of these are silver bullets anyway. They are all great for the beginning to change the way you work and to change the mindset. But the most important part of your journey is success. Can you share a success story? Using your own language, describing how your own environment changed, showing the impact the different ways of working created? If yes, people start picking up and trying to achieve a similar impact. The most successful agile transformations I’ve seen started exactly like it. With a small team experimenting with practices, and sharing the impact with others and depending on the starting point, sharing the various different success stories, i.e. 5 times less bugs reported by customers, 3 times more value delivered by the given time (which is not the same as more functionality but quite the opposite), significantly faster time to market, higher motivation and engagement score, more innovations which result in higher customer satisfaction, … the impact varies depending on the environment. For us a few years back it was higher flexibility, faster learning, and higher customer satisfaction.

Sharing success is not anything new in change management. It’s one of the Eight steps for successful change by John Kotter which for some reason are still not widely known in an agile community, so I thought I remind you about them here:

  1. Create a sense of urgency – Unless you know why you are changing the way you work (to be more agile, Scrum, or Kanban), then don’t do it. Neither Agile, Scrum, or Kanban is your goal. They are just ‘walking sticks’ helping you on your journey to success. You need to have a higher purpose defined which will be stronger than their individual goals and therefore unify people.
  2. Build a guiding coalition – You can never change the organization alone. You need to find supporters (agile enthusiasts in this case) who will create a team that will help you change the system. So, at the minimum two additional people who are true agile believers, as three are the smallest team possible. The rest will join you in seeing the results.
  3. Form a strategic vision & initiatives – Sometimes having a purpose is not enough as people don’t see a way how to get there and the whole change is too abstract. That’s a space where frameworks, methods, and practices are useful.
  4. Enlist a volunteer army – Finally, it’s a time to make it bigger. Make it a movement, not just another project. Get buy-in from larger crowds. Get them involved. Again, if you skip some of the previous steps, there is no way it’s going to scale.
  5. Enable action by removing barriers – Now, once you have the energy by your side, you need to help it and remove barriers (hierarchy, silos, detailed positions, individual KPIs, … ), otherwise, all the initial enthusiasm is gone before you realize it.
  6. Generate short-term wins – Show the success early and often, make it visible to everyone. Share stories talk about improvements, celebrate even small steps. Success is a strong engine for change. Accelerate, multiply success. Without it, any change will die.
  7. Sustain acceleration – You can celebrate, but you can’t stop pushing after the first win, being too satisfied with your progress. There is always a better way. Find another challenge, discover a better way of working until the vision of the new way of working defined by the original purpose becomes true.
  8. Institute change – Finally by creating connections between the new way of working and success you keep the change stick. It’s the final glue that prevents the environment from flowing back to the old way of working again.

Agile is a change, and without driving it as a change you can hardly be successful. So don’t forget the define how success looks like, celebrate it, and make it better over time.

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.

Do we need CEO in Agile Organization?

Agile at the organizational level changes everything. I wrote here already about Agile HR, Agile Board of Directors, and Agile at the Executive Team Level. Let’s have a look at the top of the organization. Should it remain the same? Or shall we go one step further and change it as well?

Searching for an “agile mindset CEO” is frankly a nightmare. Everyone who tried it can confirm that. There are not many CEOs with enough Agile experience yet in the world and those few who has it are not likely looking for a job as they are usually quite happy in their current organization. So, no matter which executive search firm you choose, or what you write to the position description, the search firms are no real help here. Unless you already spent effort up front on growing the talent internally, you need huge luck to get someone who understands agile more than a basic theory. No matter how desperate you are searching for a CEO, this is still just a small obstacle, not the real reason for a structural change.

The real need for top-level change starts when most of the organization is having an agile mindset. The Agile transformation is about being agile. How many times you’ve heard this request: “How about if our management give us more support on your Agile journey?”, “How about if our executive team is Agile and don’t just push it to us?”, “How about if they practice the same way we work as well?”Would that make it a difference? Maybe. So why don’t we go one more step ahead and change from the top and become a role model for the entire organization? As the organization has changed and Agile is not solely the domain of the IT anymore, but the business agility got into every department, the need for a change at the top level is inevitable. Why do we need a CEO in the first place? Just because that’s how organizations always been? Shouldn’t we ‘eat our own lunch’ and change the way we work entirely? Shouldn’t we apply the same principles the team do? Sounds simple, right.

And as usually it is simple to understand, hard to do as it needs courage. Courage to say “We are going to be different.” We will have Organizational ScrumMaster and Organizational Product Owner instead of a CEO because it will be closer to the way we work at this organization, fits our values, and last but not least we believe it will help us to be more flexible and adaptive at the organizational level. And that’s worth of trying.

The Organizational ScrumMaster would be focusing on the right culture, mindset and structure, so we become high-performing innovative organizations which embraced agility, and Organizational Product Owner would be focusing externally to the business, vision a purpose to we know where are we heading and why and are value driven. Both roles need to respect each other and be open with each other, the same way as it is in a single Scrum team, as together they will be part of the Organizational Leadership Team, and the network structure of self-organizational teams. There are two roles in Scrum by a reason instead of one. When you ask people if they would suggest to combine them, no one feels it is a good idea. And at the top organizational level, we would still do it? The similar reasons are valid at this level as well. When you think about it, it fits the way we work much better, then a single CEO – supports the right organizational mindset, transparency, and collaboration, it is consistent with who we are.

From a legal perspective, it is perfectly possible, and it’s not that much work either. You might need to change the bylaws a little, but there is no reason why you can’t do it. From a hiring perspective, it’s much simpler, as you are not looking for that ‘superhero’ personality who would be great with both internal and external sides. Try it. As I said already, all you need is courage. And that’s one of the Scrum values anyway. Experiment, and from that stage inspect and adapt. Now, do I believe that this SM-CEO or PO-CEO will eventually make themselves out of job? No, I don’t. It’s the same as the team level. Even if the team is self-organized and knows the business well, there is still work for ScrumMaster and Product Owner. Similarly, at the organizational level, there is still a need for Organizational ScrumMaster and Organizational Product Owner even when the network of collaborative teams got self-organized, business value-driven, and customer-centric. The Organizational ScrumMaster and Organizational Product Owner would use Leader – Leader style to build other leaders around them, and if they are successful, the organization will become purpose driven where leadership will be emergent and structure liquid. The same way as it is in the Scrum team, the Organizational ScrumMaster and Organizational Product Owner will move from those who explain, tell and share, to those who coach, facilitate, and keep the system spinning. And that’s what is the Agile Leadership about.

Difference between manager and leader

Leader and manager, what is the difference? Is there any? People are often mixing these terms up so let’s make it more clear.

Leader- LeaderFirstly, managers shall be leaders. That’s where the confusion is most likely coming from. But leaders are not just managers, leader is not a position, anyone can be a leader. In an Agile organization where hierarchy is becoming less important, we take more focus on leadership than management. There is no authority given to a leader. They gain it by their actions and behaviors and by their service to the people around them. Leaders could be anywhere in your organization and their power grows by respect of others. Managers, on the other hand, are often associated with decision making, and certain power which must be given to them.

Leaders are key to any Agile organization. The more leadership is in the organization, the more likely the mindset will change and the Agile transformation will become successful.

“Leaders need to change first. The organization will follow. “

Don’t wait for anyone, you are the leader you can change today. Agile is not about practices, rules, or processes. Agile is about the different way of thinking, different way of approaching things, different mindset. And it’s all in your hands. You are the leader.

Emerging Trends in Agile

The world is changing in cycles, fashion goes in cycles, and the same is true for Agile. What was trendy yesterday, is not today and it can change surprisingly fast 🙂 So let’s have a look what are the new trends in Agile and what the Agile community is talking about:

Agile Leadership and Agile Organization

Agile OrganisationAgile is not just a set of practices how to write a good software, but it’s more and more used in every part of the organization. The traditional leadership (leader-follower model) is no longer acceptable in Agile environments. In the previous years, almost everybody focused on teams and how to adopt Agile, Scrum, and Kanban to the teams. But if we want to be successful at the organizational level, this is not enough. We need to push boundaries and help the whole organization to change. Hand in hand with that, we need to grow Agile leaders and support Agile leadership which is the critical key to the organizational success with Agile.

Agile out of IT

As it was already mentioned, for real success, it’s important to change the whole organization into Agile. The common practice is to change IT department and leave it as isolated island inside the traditional organization. But this is just the beginning. The company has to follow the same culture and the same style of the working, so you hear more and more about Agile in HR and talent management, Agile finances, Agile marketing etc.

Business Agility

Finally, there is a term of Business Agility which brings back the real value of Agile. Agile was never meant to be development process of your IT. It was supposed to be business value driven. It should bring the startup mindset back to the organizations, and look at the delivery from a business perspective.  Prioritize, deliver value in short cycles, get feedback, measure impact. This is the real Agile mindset.

If you are in Agile or do you plan to try and implement it focus on these topics because without it Agile become only an empty skeleton of practices and processes. Agile is organizational change, it changes the mindset, culture, leadership, and business focus. If you take it as such change, you are going to be successful with Agile.

Undone Organization

Agile and Scrum transformation is not any easy and it takes time. For a big organization, such time can easily be counted in years. During those years you would be dealing with so-called undone organization. Scrum itself only knows three roles – ScrumMaster, Product Owner, and Development Team. That’s all we need to deliver value to the customer. The other roles are ultimately not needed.

However, at the beginning of our journey, the undone organization might be bigger than the Scrum part of our organization. As our Definition of Done is extending, the teams are getting more and more cross-functional, we are able to embrace those people and make them part of the team. The more the team extends its cross-functionality, the closer we get to the production quality and real-time feedback.

For example Architect and UX people are often at the beginning of the Scrum journey outside of the team but as the team is getting better and learn, teams are able to take it over and make it part of the Definition of Done and separate Architect and UX roles disappear and people move into teams. At first, it sounds unrealistic but in some time this is exactly what needs to happen in order to optimize for fast value delivery and feedback.

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.

Traditional metrics are dead, let’s kill KPIs

Most of the people, when you ask them, admit that KPIs are not any useful at their organizations. They don’t motivate, they don’t change people’s behavior to any better way. In the best case KPIs are usually a formal metric, in the worst case a way how to punish people. In modern organizations, which are built on top of collaboration and teams, the need for individual metrics disappeared. So what can you do instead?

If you have a bit of courage, you may try this: ask all team members to distribute for example 100$. They can give it to any team member, but can’t keep it for themselves. In a very short time, you get a very honest feedback. If you ask people to give Kudos or appreciations together with that, it’s awesome. Problem of bonus distribution solved. There are companies which distribute the bonuses not only within one team, but across the whole organization. To the receptionist, CEO, sales, developer. Your choice. We make it very transparent, so the system will correct any weird behavior as exchanging bonus money within two people. In general this is more theoretical question. I haven’t seen it happen but it comes out anytime we talk about it with managers. I guess it indicates lack of trust.

Another way how to do it when your organization is more Agile is to give every month people some money to their bonus account, you can keep them of give some to the others. Each month the random person from your company rolls a dice and if there is a six, the money is yours and we start to build another jackpot. When it’s any other number, they just continue in moving money as appreciation. As no one knows when the money is going to be paid, they don’t game it.

Finally, I have to admit that I don’t believe in any money bonuses. They are not going to help with real motivation and the risk of side effect is higher than possible outcome. So I would kill not only individual KPIs but bonuses as well. You can achieve better motivation by giving people autonomy, responsibility and clear purpose. And you can help them grow with coaching. It takes more time and energy then do KPIs and bonuses, but it brings higher results.