As we already know, organizations worldwide realize that they need to DO things differently. They create new processes and new workflows on how they should collaborate differently. They call those change management approaches Agile transformations.
Agile coaches constantly remind, that Agile is rather a mindset and not a process or just a framework. It shouldn’t be only about DOING our work. It should also be on how we THINK differently about work.
If we want to change the way we work, we need to change the way on how we think about work.
Agile and Scrum were born as team-based approaches. One individual team can self-organize, receive customer feedback and have all the power to inspect & adapt to improve the work output and outcome. But organizations rarely exist of only one team. Typically, they exist of a number of teams with different specialties and competences. They might even have different goals and missions.
Scaling Agile Frameworks were created exactly for the reason. To be able to deal with the realities in organizations, which go beyond an individual Agile team.
Scaling Agile frameworks do have flaws:
There are other approaches for implementing an Agile mindset in the organization. Niels Pflaeging & Silke Hermann use for example the Open Space Technology. But this approach does not show organizations, what the future might bring. It focuses on the process and the experimentation on doing things differently. It dances with complexity, instead of trying to control it. And only doing it will give you practices and tools to become Agile. There is no picture drawn on how an ideal implementation of the framework would look like. And this can be scary.
But I usually say: Facts are always from the past; never from the future. We do not know what the future brings. So, how does the picture on the SAFe website help us to be responsive to tomorrow’s challenges? How does the drawing of a complete future help us overcome the challenges, we do not even know about yet?
We at semdi already experienced several challenges for beginning an Agile transformation:
Change management approaches are too often about changing other people and organizations. We rarely think about the effect of change on us as leaders.
We already discussed in a past article the 7 principles we can follow on the leadership level. Instead of defining how the ideal future will look like and then work towards this, just start working in an Agile way. Look at working principles and see, what you can do in the next week to follow those principles more. Then review, reflect and improve. Improvement is exponential. The more you try to improve, the better and faster your improvement. And with the constant weekly feedback cycle, you can verify your assumptions. The Falsifiable Hypothesis will help you to design weekly experiments.
I recently read the book “Not to scale” from Jamer Hunter. He describes, how humans are overwhelmed with the sheer scale of things. The bigger the company, the harder to initiate change.
We often just look at challenges from our perspective and the context we are in. A CEO of a company will look at organizational change only from her reference point. Directors and C-Level always focus on the bigger picture. This is why organizations decide on scaling agile frameworks and impose them on people. It becomes the big picture of Agile at the organization.
But this is also why a lot of them fail. The individual context, or sometimes even only the team’s context, is missing. The question should not be, how do we as an organization make the teams work differently. The question should be, how can we make them think differently about their work? Then they will change the way they work.
Jamer Hunter uses the Video “Powers of Ten” as an example on how we can reframe the context on the change we want to bring.
Complexity and scale in organization is as exponential as the powers of ten. Only within 7 different scaling steps, the context of a small picnic in Chicago has turned into a picture of the whole world. Whereas the picture of the picnic is important for the context of the two participating in it, it is completely irrelevant for the entire world.
This can be transferred to a company. The context of the individual within an Agile transformation is entirely different from the context of a Group Board of Directors. Only because we are higher in the hierarchy does not mean, we can understand the context of each other level on the organization (see complex adaptive systems).
The role of an Agile transformation should be different from what we thought. Instead of supporting the change by facilitating (and often imposing) a new way of working onto others, it has to be around enabling the change mindset on each level of the organization. The challenge is not purely on alignment, it is also about sense-making. If we follow new principles (The aforementioned 7 principles, or the 12 Agile principles, or even the principles of SAFe), we need on each level of organization a sense-making mechanism within its own context.
Don’t look just at Scaling Agile frameworks. Frameworks mostly focus on today’s challenges, not on tomorrow’s. Instead, look at each different organizational level and context. Then enable the sense-making mechanism for these levels of contexts in their current conditions. For example, start with a weekly Retrospective and enable inspection & adaptation on each level and context. Don’t impose changes or frameworks upon them. But let them see on how they can make sense in their own environment. And then they are thinking differently about the work.
They still might decide to go with LeSS or SAFe or [email protected], but then it is their response to their context and challenges. More likely is, that they will pick their own tools and practices from all the different frameworks and then create what makes sense for themselves.
Stay tuned, in our next article, we will look at how we can use Jamer Hunter’s Scalar Framing technique for an organization to Scaling Agile.
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