I recently watched a webinar from the Scrum Alliance: Top 10 Secrets of Agile Transformation. It was delivered by Michael Sahota, founder of the Toronto Agile community. In it, Sahota shared the 10 secrets he follows when helping create a successful Agile transformation, based on his experience as a Scrum Alliance Certified Enterprise Coach℠.
He started the webinar by saying that people usually complain that they don’t get the results they are hoping for from an Agile transformation. This is because most of the time, when trying to make an Agile transformation, an organization focuses on perfecting the agile practices, but not the Agile mindset/culture. And that’s where the first secret comes from:
Navigation Secret #1: Clarify Purpose by asking “Why?”
We must start by asking why the agile initiative. When we ask this question, the usual answers have nothing to do with agile, but more with the quality of the product or with team collaboration. If we try doing agile without clarifying that purpose, we will fail. We will focus on perfecting agile, instead of working towards the actual organizational goals.
Which brings us to the second secret:
Navigation Secret #2: Focus on Organizational Goals (Drop “Agile”)
This one my come as a shock, but the second secret for an agile transformation is to drop “Agile”. We should always keep in mind that Agile is not the goal, so we need to drop the agile initiative and instead define a different initiative based on the organizational goals.
“Now that we agree what is important, we can see that Agile is not a goal. We are not seeking to do Agile or Be Agile. Of course we will likely use Agile to help us achieve organizational goals.” Michael Sahota, Organizational Growth Guide
After dropping “Agile”, Sahota then suggests we drop “transformation”:
Navigation Secret #3: Growth! (Drop “Transformation”)
The word “transformation” sounds painful, and as humans we like to avoid any kind of pain. It also implies that there’s an endpoint. On the other hand, “growth” is continuous, it happens all the time, all around us, and we know that it is good for us. So we need to change the language, and instead talk about growth; there will be a lot less resistance and we will be encouraged to be in a state of learning and growing.
Of course, in order to grow, we need to be aware of the global context:
Navigation Secret #4: Increase Awareness of Global Context
Sahota proposes that we increase awareness on 3 main things:
People’s talents are being wasted.
Return on assets is falling.
Millennials demand change.
They (the new workforce) want companies that are more flexible.
And then ask ourselves: How well is our organization set up now to thrive in the future?
In order to thrive in the future, an Agile enterprise must be resilient and anti-fragile, and should have a growth mindset. For that, it’s also necessary that we increase the awareness of the organization’s current state.
Navigation Secret #5: Increase Awareness of Organizational Context
It’s never easy telling a leader that their organization is failing, that’s why Sahota advises we do it with humility and compassion. Instead of telling them how bad things are and scolding them, we need to show them the severity of the problem and discuss on how we can improve it. We need to start having those critical conversations so we can define how we can fix it long term. This is a crucial step that requires time, but increasing this awareness will help us with the following secret:
Navigation Secret #6: Clarify focus of Initiative
It’s important that as an organization we clarify where our focus should be, where most of our energy should be focused:
- Is it tactical? “How do we work?”
- Is it strategic? “What do we want to achieve?”
- Is it cultural? “Who do we want to be?”
Sahota recommends starting with a cultural focus. In his experience, most organizations understand this, but they still focus most of their energy on either tactics or strategy. But this needs to change; in order to achieve lasting growth, a cultural focus is essential. Which is way, everyone in the organization should have a shared understanding of what culture is.
Navigation Secret #7: Build a Shared Understanding of What Culture Is
In the diagram below, Sahota tries to explain what culture is. There are two main components for an organization’s culture: its consciousness and its structure.
Its structure includes everything related to the organizational structure: is there are hierarchy? How does it look like? What are the roles, processes? How do people get paid? Who makes the decisions? Do we have a feedback system?
Its consciousness is more about the people. What is the organizational purpose? Are people valued as human beings? Do they feel safe and trusted? The identity, values, beliefs, and behaviors of each individual, collectively defines what the consciousness is.
With this diagram, Sahota literally shows us that consciousness is on top of structure, or in the words of the Agile manifesto: we must value individuals and interactions over processes and tools.
So during our change initiative, we should ask ourselves: Are we growing consciousness together with evolving structures?
This step (or secret) works as starting point for the next one. Having a shared understanding of the culture, helps start the conversation with the leader(s) about what we should do about the culture for a lasting growth.
Navigation Secret #8: Clarify Leader’s Role in Growth
Sahota points out that the leader is the limit for how far agile will go. Leaders usually understand that the operational system needs to change in order to have a nimble, flexible organization. They also understand that this means changes in leadership behaviors. But they usually fall into the trap of wanting other people to have agile training, and forgetting that they are the ones responsible for creating the system of the future.
But as a leader, remember the oxygen mask announcement in airplanes: put your own mask before assisting others. In other words, help yourself before helping others. Ask yourself, how I’m contributing to the system and the way it is?
Navigation Secret #9: Honor Leader’s Freedom to Choose
When discussing the Leader’s role, you need to let them choose. Let go of what you want and expect. Ask them whether they want to go back to how things were, or if they are willing see how far the truth really goes, see how they are showing as leaders, and how that’s preventing to get where they want.
Listen to them instead of imposing your expectations. According to Sahota, this is how the magic happens.
Navigation Secret #10: Growth can happen anywhere. (YOU Are the Limit)
The last secret might sound a little cliché, but “Be the change that you want to see in the world” Ghandi.
Change can happen anywhere. Start with yourself, grow yourself and everything else will follow.