Last evening, I had a lively discussion with my friend Paul on the state of agility in his organization, a midsize company of about 6000 employees. He mentioned that agile is the flavor of the year in his organization and that their executive Samuel had set a goal “We shall be agile by the end of this fiscal year!” He further mentioned that Samuel had directed all his reportees to comply and put Melissa in charge of the transformation
Melissa was Paul’s manager and – guess what – in their last one-on-one discussion, she tasked Paul with this responsibility. So, the responsibility of agile transformation had been delegated to Paul.
My next question to Paul was on his action plan. Paul mentioned that he had been given a good budget. So, he had reached out to the best vendor in the market to come in and ensure that “We shall be agile by the end of this fiscal year!”
Clearly, Paul and his organization had not heard of the Law of Conservation of Agility, which states that:
Agility can neither be delegated nor be outsourced; it can only be cultivated by self and instilled, ingrained by leadership, within and outside.
Let’s try understanding the implications of delegation and outsourcing of Agility. I love to explain this through the LIDO Quadrant.
1. DI —The Quadrant of FRUSTRATION
This is where Paul’s organization started. Leaders have heard the buzzword “agile” and wish they could use the adjective for their organization. There is no effort in place to change things from the top. Agile is considered as a thing for IT and more specifically software development portion of the entire value stream. Leaders expect the people to adopt agile practices. Leaders believe that agile is a shiny cloak that can be worn over the same old dirty clothes without any effort of cleansing the clothes and the body that clads the cloak.
Organizations in this quadrant have a bunch of employees with fancy certifications who are expected to help transform people into agile beings. Employees in such organizations end up taking the same instructions as before from the leadership by standing up instead of sitting down(through Daily Stand Ups). Concepts of continuous prioritization at the portfolio; framing and evaluating the hypothesis behind portfolio initiatives; funding value streams as opposed to projects remain alien concepts.
The empowerment and transparency tenets of Agile are conveniently overlooked. Employees continue to work on fixed scope and delivery date mechanisms but are expected to provide status updates daily.
This is the quadrant of demotivation and frustration where employees feel micromanaged in the garb of Agility. The most likely comment that you may hear from organizations in this quadrant is “Agile doesn’t work!”
2. LO — The Quadrant of INSECURITY
This quadrant is a mixed bag. Leaders understand the basic but outsource the transformation completely to outside consultants. Outside consultants can be wonderful agents to educate an organization and kick start the process of transformation. However, familiarity and respect for the organization’s culture is very important and is the critical missing piece here.
An internal Agile Centre of Excellence can vastly mitigate the cultural shock. Purists may agree that you cannot do “part time” agile. At the same time, agility is not a cookie cutter that can be applied to any organization. The focus needs to be on values and principles of agility and not on mechanics of Agility like how to use an agile project management tool or how to settle the debate on a user story being five story points or three. An internal Centre of Excellence with the right coaches can be a great recipe for success as it helps people soak in these concepts.
Organizations in this quadrant may see initial signs of success due to “compliance” but it ultimately wears off as the outsider vs insider debate catches on. Employees tend to have a sense of insecurity as they are often expected to change their way of working based on the view of people who do not have a complete stake in their success. The most likely comment that you may hear from organizations in this quadrant is “Do we really need agile?”
3. DO — The Quadrant of INDIFFERENCE
This is the quadrant that Paul’s organization landed in after starting with DI, the quadrant of frustration. Organizations with large wallets often end up in this because they think that agility can be bought. Statements of Work with outside vendors are created with the expectation that they bring the magic potion that can transform the organization. There is a lack of sincere attempt by the leadership to imbibe and practise the basics.
This quadrant gives you the myth of agility. Leaders feel they are agile because they have invested in the best vendor and the vendors provide vanity metrics to show the organization is now agile. Everyone is happy and the organization claims victory. The myth “we are agile” has engulfed the organization.
Organizations in this quadrant end up going nowhere. Agility, which talks about taking a product view as opposed to project-centric view, itself ends up being a project! And once the project ends, things are back to the old ways. The most likely comment that you may hear from organizations in this quadrant is “Who cares!”
4. LI —The Quadrant of RELENTLESS IMPROVEMENT
This is the quadrant where leaders inspire the organization to agile maturity through their actions and practices. Leaders understand the values and principles of agility and catalyze the mindset transformation of their organizations. They do so by empowering in-house change agents and leaders. These change agents are mindful of the culture of the organization and have a good understanding of the precise areas to focus.
People feel happy about the change as they see every level of the organization living those values. They get the feeling that “we are all together in this.” They understand that it is not a directive but a transformation. This is the quadrant of relentless improvement.
Organizations in this quadrant are likely to be on the path to relentless improvement through continuous learning with the help of small experiments and sticking to the ones that are helpful; all the while remaining grounded to the values and principles of agile.
The most likely comment that you may hear from organizations in this quadrant is “Agile makes sense!”
Which quadrant is your organization in? A lot of organizations start with DO or DI. The really successful ones make it to LI, the quadrant of relentless improvement. Paul’s organization may take some time to reach there. Lean Agile leadership can help them get there eventually!