Part 1 of 5
Previously I wrote an article titled “Five Common Pitfall When Scaling Agile”. These pitfalls are:
- Not Having a Clear WHY
- Not Seeing This as Organizational Change
- Not Being Principles Based
- Not Keeping All Levels of the Organization Aligned
- Not Measuring What is Important to the Organization
This article is part one of five and will provide remedies to overcome the first common pitfall, “Not Having a Clear WHY”. The subsequent articles will provide remedies for each of the remaining pitfalls.
NOT HAVING A CLEAR WHY
When a vision and purpose are understood throughout the organization people are more likely to work towards company objectives. Without the vision and purpose broadly communicated, people may think they are working on what the organization deems important but instead is of lesser value or even counterproductive. One sign of this is when the purpose is to improve quality, but resources are working on how to deliver more quickly. A company/organization can easily misplace their efforts and not achieve their objectives by focusing on faster delivery instead of customer needs.
The key with this pitfall is twofold, clear communication and throughout the organization. We hear all the time that communication is a leading cause of project failures. The same applies to any change. There is a need to have a critical mass to support change. The larger the change the larger the mass. So, what are the signs and how can these be remedied?
People cannot clearly articulate what the value is to taking action that is consistent with a company’s objective. This would be stated as a goal or purpose that is measurable such as improving quality by x% or faster time to market by x days.
Different groups or teams have different understandings of the goal or purpose. DevOps thinks productivity, development thinks quality, or product management thinks speed. These are not mutually exclusive however the sign would be if the bigger picture is not seen and understood. This is about top to bottom communication.
The critical mass part is seen when there is not broad knowledge. Typically, scaling starts as grass roots within IT and is perceived as a technology thing and not supporting a business purpose. The communication comes from IT and no other areas of the business that are more than stakeholders, they need to be owners.
How to Overcome
Leadership, leadership, leadership. This is redundant for a reason. There are many levels needed to overcome this pitfall.
Leadership first needs to evaluate and sponsor agile scaling as a strategy for a business purpose. Clearly align to objectives such as improving time to market, employee performance or satisfaction, or product quality to name a few. Without this sponsorship scaling is all uphill. To overcome this leadership may need education as to the business values to scaling agile. At one company this was achieved by bringing in outside resources that have “done this before” to provide what this means to the organization. This required achieving a common purpose to take on this work and include it in a company’s strategy. To help achieve expected results, this should be across the organization and not just in the technology group.
The next step is to communicate the vision across the organization. Taking this vision to a roadmap with why it is important to the company as a whole and to everyone individually. Each area should be able to state the vision and know their part in achieving it. To know what the benefits. Include branding the strategy, internal communications such as town halls, road shows, posters, and newsletters to support a clear vision.
Lastly, leadership needs to provide the governance to support the purpose. Setting up those guardrails but still empowering decentralized decisions. Continually ask at what lowest level can this decision be made and still move towards the WHY. This is to avoid command-and-control that can stifle adopting agile behavior and disenfranchise people. Embrace the tenet of failing fast by recognizing this means correcting course to avoid a larger failure. Communicate why a metric is important and how to use it to improve versus reprimand. These practices are about having an agile mindset.
These remedies to overcome this pitfall sound simple but are not easy. This goes beyond the “tone from the top”. They need to translate into performance goals that align to execution of an agile strategy. My experience has been in, and consulting with companies, that have started agile from grass roots. All have stalled scaling agile until there was a vision and purpose sponsored by leadership. This took establishing a leadership committee that was across the enterprise. This conclusion is consistent with the experiences from my colleagues. Some anecdotal and some that have been grounded Make sure you understand, along with others, the WHY. Avoid any limiting beliefs and engage. The clear WHY communicated by leadership was a pivotal moment in these agile journeys. This article touches upon the organizational change management needed which is my next article in this series.