From Good to Great: Don’t Copy, Find Your Own Way

Agile become part of our lives and you can see some sort of “Agile” in every other company, but still, many companies are failing to be Agile and understand the mindset. Ron Jeffries talks about “Dark Scrum” for years and I see more and more frustrated people around than ever. So why are the companies failing?

The most appealing way how to fail is to copy someone. When it worked somewhere else, why shall we take a hard time trying to invent it ourselves when we can just apply it. It usually starts with a big push from the top and has often wrong expectation from such a change. Being Agile is going to be hard, you might not see the results right away, and renaming a few roles and departments would not be enough.

Instead, you need to start from the bottom, get the experience from the teams, learn on the way through your own failures, do experiments, have the courage to do things differently. At some time, when you got used to this way of working at the team level and can imagine what needs to change in the business, systems architecture, culture, and organizational design, you might need to get ready to the next step – scaling.

Which to tell you the truth shall be called ‘descaling’ instead as in order to work, you need to turn the organization around and build it around the cross-functional teams who can actually deliver value end to end. Be business value driven, customer-centric. Hold on, yes, you need to understand what the business value actually is and think about the organizational purpose which is matching that value at the same time. Why are you here as an organization, and what would happen if you disappear from the market tomorrow? Would someone miss you? Are your employees living that purpose?

Having the evolutionary purpose is an enabler for Agile culture to finally settle down and stick. Only then, when you have a higher purpose, you can talk about truly being Agile and forming the Agile organization. How many ideal organizations I’ve seen? None. How many companies I’ve seen, being on this Agile journey? Hopefully enough to demonstrate that we can make it. Give us the light at the end of the tunnel that we can actually turn the organization around and make it a better place to be. Make work fun again. It’s not about being ideal, Agile is about inspecting and adapting, learning from experiments, learning from failures. So instead of looking for some ideal organizations to copy, how about if we start with ourselves, get the courage to do things differently. Be brave. Be Agile.

Deadlines in Scrum

One of the topics most of the project managers and traditional organizations at the beginning of their Agile transformation journey are struggling are deadlines. How can we do Scrum and commit ourselves to the date when we don’t know the scope? Let’s make this clear. Scrum is purpose driven, not functionality driven. What does that mean? It’s not about delivery, it’s about achieving the certain outcome. And that’s a game changer. Instead of fixing the whole scope at the beginning, we spend the time to understand the purpose. Form a vision. What do we want to achieve? For whom? Where is the value? How are we going to change the world once it’s done? What makes it different?

Purpose driven

Once you have enough mutual understanding of the business value and the vision, you are ready to continue. So, we agreed that in long-term, you need to achieve this, what about mid-term? What is the most important to achieve now? Where is the biggest risk we need to mitigate by feedback? What impact do we need to get? Once you have this release agreed, you are ready to start Sprints. Again, Sprint is not about precise functionality delivery, but achieving certain impact, deliver value and learn from that. Therefore, there is a Sprint Goal – a small vision for a Sprint, answering a question what do we need to achieve in the short-term.

Finally, none of those deliveries can actually fail. Of course, you can learn that your business idea was wrong or the value was not where you would expect it. That’s why we use Scrum, to test our hypothesis. But the nice thing is, that neither Sprint nor release can actually fail the delivery if you prioritize well because 80% business value is hidden it 20% of the functionality. If you prioritize the value, you always achieve the goals.

So next time when your customer ask when it’s going to be done, you can invite him in the conversation about the value, vision, release charters, and Sprint Goals. Don’t ask what they want, ask what they need and why. Only then you are both going to be successful with Agile.

Using tribes, squads, and gilds is not Agile by itself

Many Czech corporations are now starting their Agile journey, at least they say so. Despite fancy labels, they don’t have any desire to change so, unfortunately, you can only expect some ‘fake Agile & Scrum’ and no real outcomes nor fun. How do you recognize them? Most of them got inspired by so-called “Spotify model” (which was never supposed to be any model to follow anyway) or got it second-hand from Dutch ING. Both were just a case-studies how they work at the given time. Both case-studies have one thing in common – both organizations went through a significant change in their values, approaches, and culture. Those who only follow what they shared usually don’t get such a culture and don’t pay any attention to the mindset change either. Just re-structure departments to tribes, squads, and guilds, it’s cool, so it must be the right Agile. But unfortunately using cool labels is not enough to be successful so such organizations who blindly followed what the others wrote about in the case-studies are failing miserably in a few months.Agile Transformation

One example from a huge corporation who applied ‘Spotify model’ – after a year of implementing it, they end up in such a mess that they had to throw away a year of the development and start from scratch again. Quite painful. And expensive. They faced the same issues as the most of such corporations. Not enough of collaboration, culture, and mindset. After all, they didn’t really want any change. They just want to mark it ‘done’. We implemented Agile, we are cool. The similar business model like SAFe (apply new process and terminology, you don’t have to change the mindset or your way of working), just in this case we don’t use any ‘trains’ which if you thought about it are out of fashion for years now, but a modern terminology of tribes, squads and guilds. Nonetheless, the result is similar. Unfortunately. One huge American corporation recently started their 13thAgile transformation. How fascinating. The rumors say that this time they are going to make it. It seems they finally understand that Agile transformation is a journey. It’s not about new terminology, it’s not about tools, practices or processes. It’s a different way of working, a different mindset. So even if it looks like a disaster right now, don’t cry :)… another five attempts and you make it as well. You just need to be patient and wait for the right moment. After all, it’s not that hard. Just stop pretending the change is not needed, and start the real transformation. Change your mindset. Change the way you work.

Any change starts small, with a sense of urgency. Only when you have a strong enough strategic reason, you will change. Remember that Agile is not your goal, it’s only the best way how to achieve your goals in the nowadays constantly changing complex world.

Is Agile for us?

It seems to be a very common question. In general, if you are willing to change yourself, yes. There is no bigger enemy than yourself. There is no environment, size or business restrictions. Any company can change if they find a strong enough reason for a change. However, there are few questions which can help you to identify if you are ready or not.

Agile is not for us if…

  • We are looking for “magic” that helps us deliver everything faster.
  • We want to allocate individuals on tasks based on their specialization.
  • We focus on a buyer-supplier relationship and customer acceptance.
  • We focus on specification, requirements, and change requests.
  • We optimize for local efficiency (individuals, component, technology).
  • We just want to be “modern” and copy some terminology (tribes, squads, etc.).

Agile is for us if…

  • We are ready to build real self-organizing stable teams.
  • We are ready to form real cross-functional teams.
  • We are ready to build a partnership with customers and looking for feedback.
  • We are ready to focus on fast value delivery in a working product.
  • We are ready to optimize for adaptiveness, flexibility and change responsiveness.
  • We are ready to change our way of working to achieve some strategic goals and sustain the current complex world.

The first list is grounded in a misunderstanding of what the Agile and Scrum is about and leads to “Dark Scrum”. The second implies a significant change of your approach, values, the way of work, simply the change of mindset. It’s up to you 🙂

The hot topic of the next few years will be leadership

Modern world brings not only the different way of developing software called Agile but also changes in the organizational structure and leadership. You see it more and more often. People at the classes are asking why their managers are not there to hear the message. But very often they are, and they are ready to change the entire organization and their leadership style.

ShuThe ‘Shu’ level of Agile transformation is focused on practices and individuals or teams. How can we start? As a result, we create small isolated islands of Agility where we get to experience and learn more about what does it mean to be Agile. Sometimes companies are looking for shortcuts. But you can’t skip this level. It’s your foundation. If you make it solid, you are more likely going to be successful with Agile at the organizational level. At this level, you might see some improvements, but can’t achieve greater efficiency across the whole organization.

HaThe ‘Ha’ level of Agile Transformation is when you start Scaling phase. This is where the Business Agility starts to take place. That’s where the different leadership starts to be critically needed as you have to grow the different structure and mindset. The key focus is shifting towards how to develop leaders and how senior employees are growing within a company. As the right culture is getting its place, people are coming with innovative creative ideas which can make a difference in the company results. This situation is currently the biggest challenge we are facing now as an industry and its topic of many discussions. Together with Scaling frameworks (like LeSS – Large Scale Scrum) which address the organizational design, we talk about different Agile management practices, Agile HR, Agile in marketing, Agile in finance. Companies that understand this can create an environment that is more efficient, productive, and more successful than anything we have ever achieved with classical management methods.

RiFinally, the ‘Ri’ level of Agile transformation starts when the Business Agility is the normal way you operate your business. We have individual Agile leaders in the organization, and people take over initiatives. This is a time for another organizational shift. At this stage, we have a true Agile executive team, focusing on long-term strategy and Agile Board of Directors focusing on the purpose and vision both working as teams collaborating together. Both truly living Agile values.

Latest State of Scrum Survey

The new State of Scrum Survey is out today. Together with some expected statistics, it brought also few interesting points and surprisingly also short success-stories from different industries for example application of Agile at psychological medicine center, Singapore’s Government Technology Agency, and Target.

Let’s have a look at Scrum from an executive perspective – executives value the most delivering value to the customer, flexibility, responsiveness, quality, transparency, schedule deadlines, visibility, and team engagement and satisfaction. Data shows that 85% people believe that Scrum improves the quality of life.

What do you need to consider adopting Scrum? Active senior management and support, alignment with strategic and financial goals of the company, participation of experienced trainers and coaches, and a clear set of business goals to be achieved. Not anything surprising for Agilists, but could be quite eye-opening to companies who see Scrum as only set of practices, roles, and meetings. But Scrum is more than that, right. It changes the whole organizations so it’s not surprising that over 50% of people identified that the biggest obstacle to adopt and scale Scrum is the organizational design and culture.

Finally, 81% respondents agree that certification improves practice, and 91% of organizations offer their employees some form of training. Certified ScrumMaster CSM is the most popular certification, selected by 84% of respondents, Certified Scrum Product Owner CSPO is the second most popular one, selected by 33% of respondents. Unfortunately, the Certified Agile Leadership CAL is not that known yet, but it’s growing 🙂 . So, don’t spend much time to find other certifications. Go for the real value 🙂

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.

Scrum Transformation Journey

As one of the CSTs – Certified Scrum Trainers – I’ve got a unique opportunity to travel around the world during the last two years and teach Scrum at a variety of businesses, organizational environments, and very different cultures. I must admit that Scrum is awesome as it is universal. You can apply it to software, hardware, marketing, HR, executive teams and be rapidly successful, significantly better, change the way of work and become the best of the greatest. The flip side of the coin is, that despite the easy way how Scrum is defined, there are still companies, teams and individuals completely failing to understand what Scrum is and therefore failing to implement it.

I draw this picture to illustrate that becoming Scrum is a journey. You can’t just do Scrum, you have to embrace it. You have to become Scrum yourself first. It’s often not that straightforward as we’ve been got used to the traditional processes throughout the history, but at the same time, this is the very best strength of Scrum. Once you master it, it becomes the part of your life. It’s not just a process, it is a way of living.

Scrum Transformation

 

Technical Scrum

First, let me say explicitly that “Technical Scrum” is not Scrum. It only pretends to be Scrum. It’s a camouflage. However, it might be the necessary first step in certain organizations to move to the real Scrum. How do you recognize Technical Scrum? People “do” Scrum. They are looking for ways how to remain the same as they used to be. They are eager to get checklists of practices which need to be done, in order to do proper Scrum. Therefore Technical Scrum is all about estimations techniques, burn-downs, measuring velocity. The very important metric would be individual utilization, so they usually insist on time task estimates, capacity calculations, and time-sheets to be filled. They have identified new roles, but in reality, they just renamed the traditional roles and didn’t change the behavior. Scrum meetings are usually long and felt redundant. Managers use Scrum to micromanage.  The overall team focus is on “how”. The team is not any team but a group of individuals working on similar items. The individual accountability matters. They are looking how to split responsibilities instead of how to collaborate to achieve the goal. Product Backlog is usually a to-do list where most things have to be done.

Scrum Mindset

In the real Scrum, your team understands the mindset and they are “living” Scrum. They take it as the way how to focus on customers, how to innovate, how to collaborate. The estimates, efficiency, and utilization become quite unimportant, as they focus on delivering value to the customer and overall long term results. The first step here is usually “Team Scrum” where the development team becomes a real self-organized and cross-functional team which works together. The team creation process produces a huge trust internally among the team members but also externally to the organization. It’s the first tiny ‘snowball’ which afterward starts the whole transformation and creates forces to change how we run our business and how the organization itself is structured.

The “Organizational Scrum” builds on top of the values we experienced at team level – openness, transparency, and trust which leads the organization to be more business driven, flexible, and open to innovations. The business slowly starts to be picking up and the organization has to follow the rest. At this time, the snowball is big enough to attract the rest of the organization. At that time, you are truly Agile.

Such transformation can take years. It’s not uncommon that companies are falling back and restarting the whole initiative again. It’s hard. To succeed you need a good reason for change and courage. Eventually, every company has to change as the word is getting more complex and fast. The same way as industry revolution changed the way we were hundred years ago, the complexity of our current life is changing us now. To succeed in a long term, we have to be more flexible and dynamic – more Agile.