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

Vimal Pillai // May 12, 2021


You are here

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. This is the second part of this exploration on those problems. If you haven’t yet, we recommend starting with Avoiding Chaos Part 1. Beyond this set of articles, there are a lot of lessons learned being shared in this series and we encourage you to explore the other experiences.

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

Business Agility – Keeping focus on the right things 

Business Agility – Been there, Done that… 


Key 7: Change is hard and scary - Continued

As we discussed in part 1 of this key, change is made up of multiple parts, and we want to dig into those parts in greater detail. Below is a refresher of the areas we see as critical to a transformation.



Internally we often discuss the differences between growing your skills, acquired learning, and growing your world view, adaptive learning. Each of these has value to an organization, but often have significantly different costs and approaches to achieving. The path to shifting a mindset has many landmines on it, because ultimately, we are trying to change the meaning making system so that snap decisions and emotional reactions are in line with the direction and methods of the organization. This is a stumbling block that many companies trip over in the path to agility. A top down mandate for agility can turn into bureaucracy without attention to shifting mindset.  

We had a client that previously had a bad experience with agile adoption, such a bad experience that the word scrum was culturally banned. People would cringe when they heard someone say “scrum”. We dug into this, and it found that it was largely based on agile being mis-used. The values and principles of agility hadn’t been internalized, so seemingly little changes had huge impacts. Things like the team meeting weekly rather than daily, or not having documentation because they were “agile”. These show an underlying misunderstanding of agile and are symptoms of the mindset not keeping pace with the roll out of agility across the organization. 

There is no guaranteed solution to shifting mindsets. We have found that feedback and reflection on a regular basis helps to move the leadership group, and by moving the leadership we can pull the organization. Expanding that process of reflection and adjustment to the rest of the organization helps to move the mindset piece by piece. This is a slow process, but without it the foundation of business transformation is not solid. That lack of foundation shows up slowly but builds and compounds over time. If you feel this is something you are running into, it is never too late to put in place the feedback and reflection practices to turn it around. 


Culture is built similarly to how business agility is grown over time through little learnings and changes. We (those that want change) must earn the right to give advice to those we want to change. We also need to create the environment of trust, respect, and safety. Those are hard to build and can easily fall apart at the first hit of hypocrisy. If we strive for teams to be willing to fail, then we cannot punish all those that fail. If we strive for teams respecting each other, then we need to model that respect in all our interactions. If we strive for collaboration over individualism, then we need to structure the rewards and recognitions of the system to match that goal.  

These all sound like great ideals that don’t survive in the business world, and that is often true when the culture is counter to these values. Part of our role in change management is to help the organization come to maturity and evolve to a more valuable set of values and mindsets. Now for everyone reading this and thinking “GREAT, let’s go!”, We want to share a word of caution. We can build these piece by piece, team by team, and division by division with deliberate effort. That effort will be part of a great, hard, and lengthy process. It will not have the organization “arrive” where you are envisioning. The organization will grow with contradiction, with false-starts, and with conflict. The calling of a guide, coach, consultant in this is to hold the immediate problem in the context of the big picture on a regular basis. It also means resisting the urge to fall into the day to day politics. It means resisting the urge to “just solve it for them” so that they can learn the lessons you learned. When the change is will lead and well managed, the outcomes are amazing! 


How do we measure the maturity of such subjective topics? Rather subjectively, and with a framework to help it be more consistently applied. We use the Improving maturity model to guide this approach.


Something to notice is that the prescriptiveness and guidance starts off as significant and lightens as maturity grows. Think of this in the same way that support lessens as balance and technique increases when you learn to ride a bike.


The team is the focus of individual teams that are growing into agile maturity. This starts with layers of training, coaching, consulting, guidance, and so much more. As this continues to grow it also varies and becomes more self-organized.


 The business has learned for years how to interact with teams in certain ways. Those ways start to cause issues when the teams processes change. The grow of maturity in the business will come to find new ways to maximize value and workflow to the teams. This growth starts at the product owner typically but broadens out to portfolio management and even into financial planning, procurement, and more.


As more teams grow to adopt agile practices and pursue maturity, the need for consistency grows as well. If you have 1 agile team, then you have perfect consistency across teams. That model of consistency fails quickly, and we have to evaluate the need to consistency and applying learning across teams. This sharing of information, best practices, and guidance is what we summarize as program.


              All agile transformations we have experienced looked to the leaders for guidance on how they are changing. Leaders that don’t see the value, embody the principles, and communicate the reasoning of the transformation will create roadblocks and limit the effectiveness of change. One of our favorite moments is the realization from leadership that things could be significantly better for everyone down this path. We were working with a leadership team where the president of a division and all her direct reports where discussion agile adoption in their division. One of the Senior Vice President got very excited and said, “We HAVE to get our teams to do this”, and the President replied, “We need to do this first, and they will follow”. That is the moment that their team decided to commit, and over the following year that company saw over $2 billion in new revenue and $500 million in reduced costs.


              As we plan for change and work with people to adjust mindset and change the culture, communication is king. Typically, we see communication of what is changing as it changes but communicating the why and how before the change is going into place will significantly impact the success of the change. This will be harder. People will raise concerns, rail against the change, and push back. A well-managed communication plan and meeting with people will help avoid many issues. This will likely include stages of communication, different group sizes, different mediums for the message, and a level of repetition that many would see as too much. If we reach 15% with each message, then the same message needs delivered at least 7 times. That would get to 95% of people. For a moment imagine communicating the same message 7 times, repeating yourself 6 times, and the trying to keep a positive internal emotional state. After the 2nd or 3rd time most people get frustrated and start abbreviating the message. This lessens the impact of the later communications and is one of the reasons that good organization change management is often centered on communication strategies. This is just as important for the positive outcomes from the changes as it is for the change itself. This builds a groundswell of support for perpetuating that change.

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.


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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