We learned in the last blog article: Agile is not about doing things differently. It is about enabling people to look differently at their work, who then decide to change their way of working. In the end, everybody in an Agile organization can make themselves better decisions based on their context. Whereas in traditional organizations, single hierarchical nodes control decisions, in agile organizations, we make decisions on every node. An Agile Coach can support here to enable this decentralization.
It requires an organizational paradigm shift for organizations to achieve that. From the top to bottom (and vice versa), people need to change the way they think about work and need to be confident with the uncertainties this shift might bring. Often, this is introduced with a massive change management program (called Agile Transformation). Most of them follow an archaic waterfall approach with the goal to become Agile.
The new change management project is already off to a bad start, if it is handled as an own change management project. Organizations face challenges such as increased market competition, war of talent, digitization, generational shifts, and it’s impact on the workforce or others. Their focus is (and should be) on the creation and delivery of value to matter in this increasingly complex environment. We often talk to company leaders telling us, that they are too busy to become Agile.
And here is already the problem: Agile is not self-service. We should not embrace Agile just to become Agile. Again, because it is important: The goal of your Agile transformation should not be to become Agile.
The goal of an Agile transformation project should always be around why the organization exists. It could be to overcome the challenges we described above. It could be to create a better product or deliver a better service. Organizations should always focus on becoming better in what they are doing. Don’t focus on becoming Agile; focus on becoming better and/or overcome your challenges. The Agile values and principles are then designed to help you to achieve that better and smoother.
The Scrum Framework introduced within their accountabilities / roles a clear separation of the What and How. A Product Owner is responsible on what is done and the Developers / Team is responsible on how it is done. As there is often a conflict between the What and How, the third role of a Scrum Master supports the smooth and productive collaboration between the different areas of interest.
To decentralize decision-making, very often the former single node of control (the Manager) needs to let go of the How and focus more on the What. They then need to empower the team to decide on How to do things. The same as in a Scrum Team, there are potential conflicts between Management and Teams. This is, where the Agile Coach jumps in and supports the collaboration between the different roles to make the What and How smoother.
The effect of Agile Coaches on the transformation is dependent on their involvement into the project. Too often, Agile Coaches are focusing on implementing a certain way of working (e.g. SAFe or Scrum) and are therefore focusing on the how. As mentioned in the prior article, they are prescribing teams, what they have to do as it is described in their framework.
Agile Coaches should have the skills and knowledge in Agile, Systems and Organizational Dynamics that they can train, consult, facilitate, mentor and coach the organization on embracing the Agile mindset. They might be not a specialist in the What of the organization, but they should have access over a wide variety of different tools and practices to choose from. (If you are interested in learning more on the foundations and basics of Agile Coaching, check out our Academy).
As mentioned before, creating more agile structures requires a massive paradigm shift. Too often, the different challenges are overpowering the will of the people to change. It is hard to improve, when everyone is firefighting on the different challenges of the organization. The role of the Agile Coaches therefore is to keep the big picture on the change. It is not about prescribing on how to work differently. It is about enabling people to understand their context better, so they would change their way of work to be more effective. In the end, the goal is not to become Agile; it is about solving the issues, e.g. the firefighting. You can use an Agile mindset and base your decisions within the firefighting on the 4 values and 12 principles even before you started an “Agile transformation”.
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