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Business Agility - Avoiding Chaos: Standards, Operations, and Guidance

Vimal Pillai // May 5, 2021

Agile

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We are continuing the article series to explore successful agile adoptions, and this week we are talking about the problems that transformations experience as they grow. These are typically once the first areas have seen success, and the organization starts a larger rollout. If you are at a different point on the journey or are curious about the other lessons, please take a look at the other articles in the series.

Business Agility – Getting Started  

Business Agility – What was step 2 again? 

Business Agility – Measuring and investing in growth 

Business Agility – Avoiding Chaos: Standards, Operations, and Guidance <- You are here ( part 2 here)

Business Agility – Keeping focus on the right things 

Business Agility – Been there, Done that… 

 

Key 6: Invest in growth, not just training

Not all growth comes from training, not all training is created equally, and not all training is delivered equally. As obvious as this sounds, it is a common misconception when we talk about agile transformation. The marketplace for training is crowded with groups shouting at the top of their twitter feeds why they are the best. How can we tell if they are effective? How can we know which group to use and what approach to follow? At Improving we have chosen to partner with groups like ProKanban and Scrum.org partially because of their content, but also because of how they measure each of the parties involved. When looking at training, it is important to realize and accept that you don’t care about the training course or the instructor themselves. The core of what we are looking for is change and growth. We want the training to be the spark to a much larger set of changes in behavior and knowledge. Often the measures used are around the activities rather than the results. We see many organizations that reduce training and growth facilitation to student and course counts. Those are easier to measure, and it is understandable to fall back on those measures.  

When we look to effectively measure the outcomes from training, we must look at the impact on multiple different measures from the previous key “Stay Empirical”. Are the teams growing in motivation to change, soft skills and collaboration, reducing work complexity, or product owner engagement? Each of these outcomes is a value add for training, as it can accelerate the path to value for the team transformation. When we start to measure toward the outcomes in addition to the activity measurements, we can draw conclusions and experiments for more effective paths. Is a training course enough for a new product owner, or is having a mentor more effective? What if we did both? We have found that combination approaches that include multiple learning modes and methods have the best effect, however the combination that is most effect heavily varies organization to organization. To facilitate a deeper conversation, we often explore the below list of training and learning support. 

Formal training is highly effective for immersion of theory and introduction of new concepts. The contrived environment creates a safety to question social and organizational norms and share stories of pain and struggle that can shape transformations. Short burst courses (1-3 days), if effectively delivered and good content, have high levels of content retention and give a baseline knowledge to be able to start into further learning. 

Consulting is often an active approach where the consultant is participating in the process while also growing others around them to eventually remove reliance on the consultant. This mindset beyond the short term, while being actively involved helps to avoid short term pitfalls that cause long term problems. The team can also leverage the previous experience of the consultant in similar situations, and you will often find effective consultants telling stories to inform decisions.  

Just in time training is great for filling in specific skillset gaps or addressing broadly experienced gaps for the team. These typically take the form of 60-90 minutes sessions that cover a very focused topic. Often these are scheduled due to the observations of coaches or consultants working with multiple teams to reinforce a specific area of knowledge or solve a specific pain. 

Coaching is a natural evolution of consulting because it is more observe and adjust. Once the active participation in the process is no longer needed every day from the consultant approach, they transition to coaching. Observing the team and giving feedback as needed to elevate decision making and awareness of the team. Most of this feedback is delivered privately so that growth can come in the safety of the coaching relationship. 

Advisor is the penultimate state for learning on a team. They are operating mostly autonomous and have a fall back for advice and input. The advisor in this case is reinforcing learning with exploration, previous experience, and advising on paths to consider. This expanded view can bring new options to the table that are beyond the teams’ experience but is far less prescriptive than the consulting of early adoption.  

Mentor is where great Agile coaches end up with each team. They are the person who helps to facilitate growth and continues to push each person to explore new ideas. This is a more passive approach that is heavily question centric. In all but the most extreme situations the mentor stage doesn’t include advice giving. 

Most organizations look at a subset of these learning models and consider it sufficient. When each gets removed or ignored, the gaps that it was meant to close are presented to the remaining models. This causes compounding pain due to the lingering gaps left by the lack of a comprehensive approach to growth for the teams. When each of these learning support and training models is layered and leverage during a transformation, we see significant growth and accelerated results. Those are typically the highly successful programs that are talked about for years, like BP’s agility journey or American Airlines agility transformation. 

Key 7: Change is hard and scary

Each part of the organization is going to experience change differently, progress to maturity at a different speed, and face similar but distinct challenges. These differences show up along a similar path, but alter the journey in significant ways. This is one of the major complexities we see in large scale agile transformation. There is a natural pull to have standards, playbooks, implementation templates, and other tools to make change more efficient. Unfortunately, we are changing people and mindsets and success is often found by striving for effectiveness first. Efficiency and optimization is valuable, but secondary to effective change. There have been hundreds upon hundreds of books, articles, and white papers written on effective organizational change management. We are not going to add some groundbreaking new revelation to that body of work. We will however be stressing its importance. We will be diving into multiple areas, so need to broaden our perspective a bit as a reference point. When we strive for organizational change toward a more agile way of working, we want to make change in multiple areas.

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There is a lot of efficiency to be gained by focusing on the practices, and those are most easily measured. We will for a time be looking at the more subjective side of agile transformation. These apply equally as well on the individual and group levels.

To Be Continued -

Given the depth of this topic, we will be digging further into this next week!

If you are currently working agile, just starting the journey, or evaluating a move to agile ways of working, we would encourage you to read through this series. If you have specific questions, please reach out and we will strive to help with a no cost consultation.

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If you are looking to connect on a broader set of topics and connect with other community members and leaders, as well as hearing from industry leading experts, take a look at Improving Edge and register for a great set of thought leaders in many areas.

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