Talk: The rise and fall of an agile transformation

This talk will be given in London at Aginext.io 2019 on 22 March 2019.


The rise and fall of an agile transformation

And the green shoots of recovery

A bittersweet true story

It was going so well. The CEO had recognised business agility as critically relevant to the organisation. A FTSE 100 organisation that’s served its customers for 150 years. A firm whose market share is now threatened by cheaper competition, technology upstarts and market forces.

The CEO had appointed a powerful Director of Transformation to battle against the corporate bear. The transformation programme had assembled 10 courageous lieutenants to build, test and learn how to create opportunities amounting to several £100m.

The delivery teams were proving business agility was possible outside the confines of IT. They were autonomous, had leadership protection and delivered value within weeks. They were mavericks, and they were winning….

Yet, within 12-months the embryonic transformation programme was engulfed by the slower corporation. The CEO had bigger fish to fry. The leadership team went their separate ways. The transformation principles become no more than wistful memories and words printed on a rolled-up abandoned poster.

Yet, like a phoenix rising from the ashes, there are early signs of revival….

Come to this talk to hear this true story of a plucky band of agile transformation pioneers attempting the impossible of moving an organisation across the chasm.

You’ll get lessons and advice from a transformation coach that was in the thick of it.

S.I.L.L.Y Organisations

S is for Structure

With its functional silos, the structure of our organisations is not effective in creating an environment for shared intent, cross-functional collaboration and synchronisation.

Create small, colocated, full-time, cross-disciplined, self-managing, long-lasting teams that continuously deliver value directly to our organisations’ customers and clients.

I is for Incentives

We often incentivise, reward and recognise individuals and departments with little regard to whether they’ve worked alongside others to ensure value is delivered end-to-end.

Instead, we should evaluate performance holistically and with peer feedback for learning and development. We should reward shared success against the competition.

L is for Leadership

As leaders, we are often schooled in, and then perpetuate ways of working that are a legacy of 19th-century manufacturing and 20th-century cost-driven centralisation. This may be appropriate for managing from a distance and at scale.

However, it’s not fit-for-purpose for most 21st-century business endeavours where organisations need to become value-driven and sense & respond to market conditions. As leaders, we should know teams need to be devolved, yet have a more involved leadership that coaches and aligns teams.

L is for Losing Time

Too often organisations lose 80% of their time trying to deliver what is in reality only 20% of the value.

Instead, our organisations should be spending, at most, 20% of their time determining whether there’s potential to realise 80% of the value. Test assumptions, challenge convictions, and course-correct before spending 20% of the time and budget.

If, despite best efforts, the value cannot be realised, pull the plug on the work without delay, regroup, reflect and set off in a new direction.

Embody the principles of Action before Perfection and Delivering Value Early and Often

Y is for Yesterday

In a fast-changing world, yesterday’s success is no guarantee for future success.

Check out Barry O’Reilly book Unlearn.

S, I, L, L and Y spells SILLY.

Each point represents the often unquestioned reality of many of our organisations. It hampers Business Agility – the ability of an organisation to continuously sense and respond to its environment in order to fulfil its mission.

We need to be bold, ask challenging questions and co-discover ways to create organisations that support our colleagues to deliver value to customers, clients and civil society.

Email or call me to discuss.
dean@latchana.co.uk
+447801 953 120

The three measures for team effectiveness. However…

I suggest there are only three measures leaders should examine when considering a team’s effectiveness. However, read to the end to understand the dangers of measuring team effectiveness.

  1. The team’s track record of delivering outcomes that addresses user/client/stakeholder needs. This is the ultimate arbiter of team effectiveness. Emphasis: Building the right thing
  2. The typical time it takes for the team to start working towards an outcome, to the point the outcome has been achieved. In other words the cycle-time.  Emphasis: Building the thing fast
  3. Particularly if it’s a software team, their level of tech debt. This allows leaders to understand the team’s ability to deliver further business outcomes. Emphasis: Building the thing right

Considering any more measurements will run the risk that leaders get blinded by proxy information, and risks them misjudging the team.

Of course, the team are at liberty to consider other information. However, this should just be for the team to interpret and make use of.

Even these three measures could lead to misjudgement. Therefore I suggest leaders should be coached in how to interpret this information, and be cautioned in how it could be misinterpreted.

Trading-off the emphasises

There’s a trade-off between the emphasises of building the right outcome, building it fast, and building the thing right. Leaders should work closely with the team to ensure these trade-offs are appropriately balanced.

The balance should reflect the current and future state of product/service/process development.

However…..

…..conversations and co-creation are better than managing by measurements

Consider what Einstein is attributed to have said:

Not everything that can be counted counts and not everything that counts can be counted

If leaders only use measurements to judge a team’s effectiveness, there’s a temptation to manage the team indirectly. There’s also a dangerous possibility of misjudging the team.

Ideally, the leadership team should create a structure and set of processes which allows them to have meaningful conversations with the team. Leaders should involve themselves with the team to co-create and co-discover the best outcomes for their customers/clients/stakeholders.

Such an environment will outcompete any alternative where the leaders manage indirectly, provide little direct support and manage by measurements alone.

If measurements are being considered, leaders and the team should discuss and agree on the intention behind for measurements. It’s likely unintended behaviours and incentives will emerge, so with the team, measurements and its impact should be reviewed periodically.

When it an outcome achieved?

Agendashift’s Definitions of Done helps teams focus, and gain support from their leaders, to deliver genuine business outcomes.

An outcome is not achieved if it’s at a stage before users/clients/stakeholders are demonstrably benefiting from it.

Further reading and thanks

Feedback is welcome.

A letter to a future client

Recently a potential client approached me about starting an engagement following some agile training I provided to their leadership team.

Although they’re very keen to get me on board, I wanted to check whether they were ready to work with me to uncover and deliver profound change to the organisation; change that is likely to make many leaders uncomfortable and sceptical.

Here’s what I wrote to them. I’ve anonymised identifying details.

From: Dean Latchana

Sent: 19 October 2018 11:26

To: xxx

Subject: Thoughts on joining [company]

Hi xxx,

Thank you for the offer for me to join [company].

In order for me to truly help the organisation, and know if I’d be a good fit, I’d like to understand the potential appetite for fairly profound organisational change.

It’s likely we’d need to review and change some fundamental expectations of how [company] is structured, how colleagues work together and how they’re led.

As we explored during the training, regardless of business ‘silos’, we need to consider creating more cross-functional small teams who sit together, potentially alongside their clients.

Regarding the clients, we may need to put more focus on collaboration, co-discover and joint experimentation to drive toward shared outcomes, and therefore put less emphasis on expected pre-defined deliverables.

We should also examine and change the traditional role of leaders. Changing them from defining pre-determined deliverables in a top-down manner. We probably need to coach leaders to embrace uncertainty in terms of how [company] competes, serves its clients and in terms of the natural uncertainty of innovation. Leadership probably need to switch to a governance structure which supports empowered delivery teams who continuously pivot or terminate initiatives as insight is gathered.

We need to consider how budgets are set. In a complex business environment, budgets probably shouldn’t be set on a 12-month cycle with pre-defined targets and resource allocations. To increase agility, innovation and competitiveness, we need to consider delivery teams having access to the “bank” where initiatives are frequently reviewed and financed on the strength of their latest insights and ROI.

We need to work with HR and Recruitment to ensure we have the right colleagues who have the right mindset to not only refine BAU operations, but also develop a mindset of exploration where there’s an appetite for ambiguity and delivering business outcomes at pace.

We probably need to visualise existing work at a portfolio level. An enterprise portfolio view will help us decide where to put emphasis, and quickly terminate any ongoing initiatives which aren’t delivering value now or in the future. At the portfolio level, we should consider creating a balanced scorecard that monitors existing ROI and potential ROI.

There’s plenty more we can explore and I’m saying all this without understanding [company] in great detail. However, what I’ve said gives a flavour of what we may need to change in order for [company] to operate effectively, serve its clients and compete.

Do you think my role will have the c-suite support for us to seriously consider these profound changes?

No doubt there’ll be hesitancy and some scepticism, however tactics are available for the leadership team to learn and adjust these new ways of working.

Best,
Dean

Starting an Engagement

In this article I’ll explain my current approach to starting an engagement or initiative with the leadership team.

This approach will ensure the initiative gets off and continues on the right footing. It’s been inspired by Collis’ and Rukstad’s approach to articulating a strategy.

Let’s start with establishing and agreeing the initiative’s intent, what outcomes it’s trying to achieve, and the rules of engagement. Created collectively during a kick-off workshop, each of the following should have a statement written in a few clear sentences; the balanced scorecard will need something a little more elaborate.

Mission

Why the initiative exists. What’s the underlying motivation of the initiative; what’s its contribution to the wider organisation and whom it’s ultimately serving.

Values

Establish what the engagement team will believe in, and how it will behave. This team is a partnership of the key stakeholders/leaders and the consultants/coaches.

The values govern how the team behave (“doing the right thing”), not necessarily what the team should do (“the right thing to do”).

Vision

What we want the initiative to deliver. It could be an indeterminate future goal.

Strategy

What’s our game plan. Identify a number of coherent approaches that the team have reasonable confidence in. From these create an ordered backlog.

Ensure they’re SMART objectives. Know that certain approaches may fail, so ensure a plurality of strategies, and a flexible mindset.

To ensure understanding and alignment, use tools such as Karl Scotland’s Backbriefing A3.

Balanced Scorecard

Monitor and judge which approaches are working against success criteria.

To help with visibility and alignment, ensure the statements and balanced scorecard are shared across the organisation and with the relevant suppliers & partners.

Throughout the engagement judge buy-in and motivation, especially their appetite for uncertainty and the need to potentially change some established expectations. Establish how much genuine leadership commitment exists, especially when it comes to making some tough trade-offs.

The kick-off should be the start of an ongoing review to see if the initiative is on track; to check whether to continue with the current set of approaches or pivot with another set.

Importantly, if despite best efforts, the initiative isn’t providing value, exercise the option to end it early. There’s no point spending time and money flogging a dead horse.

I’m available if you’d like someone experienced to facilitate this as part of an engagement’s kick-off and to periodically review progress.

References