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How to use Agile to scale rapidly in an uncertain world




Until recent times, we have been living in a world where survival is possible with an OK culture, OK performance, OK improvement. Since the great depression and the second world war, we have not seen the dramatic changes and uncertainty we are now seeing. The military term VUCA (volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity) is becoming part of our general vocabulary.


It is not all doom and gloom. Even during the great depression and second world war, the great organisations achieved terrific things for their country and themselves. We see the same occur now, and the great companies are achieving amazing things for themselves, their people and the planet. How are they doing it?


They have developed cultures of accelerating continuous improvement and innovation at all levels of their organisations, focusing on front line autonomy and servant leadership. They are connected, nimble organisations, and they can adapt quickly to customer feedback, insights from the market, and political situations.................... they're Agile.


The answer is simple, roll out Agile, and everything will be apples! Unfortunately, it is not that simple (Over 50% of Agile Transformations fail), yet it is not hard. There are four steps an organisation can take to create a successful Agile transformation.


  1. Create a pilot group of Agile/Scrum excellence.

  2. Leverage and multiply greatness taking an I do, We do, You do approach.

  3. Scale the program to provide alignment and support between and around the initial and future teams.

  4. Continuously improve your leadership skills at leading Excellence where it counts.


 

Step 1: Create a pilot group of Agile/Scrum excellence.


Whenever you are trying to create anything new, you have very little chance when starting from an imperfect baseline. The saying goes an inch wide and a mile deep rather than a mile wide and an inch deep. Start with a pilot group of team members who opt-in. These may become your future Agile Practice, a team of people who support other teams to develop their capabilities. The concept I hope to get across from step 1 is to focus on creating greatness in one or two groups formed with committed, engaged people. Agile works; it is proven. Give your organisation the best chance possible to start from a strong base internally to your organisation. I will not go into how Scrum or Agile works in this article; that information is readily available. Check out the latest Scrum Guide online developed by Jeff Sutherland and Ken Schwaber to find out how.




 


Step 2: Leverage and multiply greatness taking an I do, We do, You do approach.


You have a fantastic Agile team or two delivering excellent work. The Agile teams are accelerating the amount of improvement/innovation released; their culture and quality are improving. Autonomously the Agile teams are achieving great things. It is time to help others the same way brain surgeon’s train. I (the brain surgeon) do the operation, and you watch and become aware. Eventually, we do the surgery together, and I gradually hand over more and more responsibility. The time will come when you (the apprentice) do the surgery alone, with a check-in review system backing you to help you reflect and continuously improve.


If you have done step 1 well, you will have a team of brain surgeons (metaphorically speaking) to help you go out and spread the great work. The I do, We do, You do approach to trade learning is ancient. A young tribe member watches his elders from a distance. At an age, they are brought into the inner circle of the elders to start practising customs. Over time they become one of the elders and begin teaching the next generation. Why fight evolution, this approach works, and it avoids poor Agile/Scrum entering your organisation. It provides you with a solid foundation to scale.



 

Step 3: Scale the program to provide alignment and support between and around the initial and future teams.


You have strong Agile/Scrum practice spreading throughout your organisation; you now need the mechanism to help interdependent teams coordinate. The organisation needs to sustain focus strategically and adapt as needed, not become a chaotic mix of Agile teams creating independently. You need to help the front-line Agile team overcome impediments they can't handle themselves to keep moving forward and accelerating. We now need to scale the program and create the mechanism to coordinate interdependent teams, sustain focus strategically and overcome impediments. There are two parts to this puzzle:


  1. Sustain strategic direction and adapt as needed.

  2. Coordinate and overcome challenges.


The first part - sustain strategic focus and adapt as needed requires leadership support to set and adjust strategic direction while at the same time help teams prioritise their backlog of work. In Scrum@Scale this is called the Executive Meta Scrum. A meeting where the executive and key stakeholders can review strategy and the backlog of work teams are focused on and provide feedback to help teams prioritise and adapt if needed to a changing environment.


The second part, Coordinate and overcome challenges, requires a team of teams and a scaled scrum above interdependent front line teams to help coordinate work execution and overcome impediments. The keywords in this section are interdependent, coordinate work and impediments. Small Agile teams (typically 5-7 people) who are interdependent, rely on each other to produce work and improve for customers need a coordinating scrum team. In Scrum@scale the right person goes to this scaled meeting to help coordinate project/improvement achievement and overcome current impediments. Again front line teams can't overcome every challenge they face; some need a team with the right people present, with the right power to eliminate the impediment. The executive of an organisation need to be in this flow of team meetings as some barriers may be significant enough, challenging enough that the executive is required to remove them or at least back and support their removal. Again, I will not go into the minute detail of how to run Scrum@Scale in this article; the information is freely available; check out the Scrum@Scale guide by Jeff Sutherland and Ken Schwaber if you wish to delve in.



 

Step 4: Continuously improve your leadership skills at leading Excellence where it counts.


Agile will highlight poor leadership and outstanding leadership rapidly. Here are some poor leadership behaviours which will be highlighted like crazy when you deploy Agile:

  1. Arrogance

  2. Disrespect

  3. Micromanagement

  4. Know it all

  5. Dominance

  6. Leading from their office


What will show up with these leadership behaviours? Agile teams that are not accelerating. Teams that are discouraged and frustrated due to their leadership creating more impediments than they are removing for the team.


Here are some great leadership behaviours which will amplify an Agile journey.

  1. Humility

  2. Respect

  3. Determination

  4. Strategic acumen

  5. Constant learner

  6. Coaching and mentoring

  7. Leading from the front







What will show up with these leadership behaviours? Agile teams that are accelerating. Engaged teams with a bit of sweat showing on their brow because they own their goals and want to achieve them as a team. You will see teams that are focused yet open to adapting based on learnings from customers and executives. You will see team members who are constant learners working to improve themselves as much as the team. You will see leadership spending time with front line teams regularly, focusing on listening, looking, and learning to evaluate what they learnt from the team and taking action to adapt based on this.


What environment would you want to work in? It seems so easy, but it takes constant improvement and development to achieve it as a leader. Constant leadership reflection, learning and adaptation is required. To achieve this, leaders need to work and improve as a team. Approaches like peer to peer reviews and mentoring. One on one coaching and development. Training, go look see events at other companies etc. Excellence isn't achieved instantly, it takes a lot of hard work and constant improvement. Agile/Scrum creates this environment and culture within an organisation. To achieve greatness, it requires this within the leadership of an organisation also.


In the world we are in now, with the future we face, OK will not work. The excellent organisations will survive and thrive the others will make way for them. This article provides insights into how an organisation can transform to become truly Agile to achieve great things. It seems like such an easy journey - 4 steps.......................it is not, however easy. The knowledge is freely available; Jeff, Ken and others have provided the knowledge in an open-source approach. Call on people to help as you need it, build your support network and work through the steps. Good luck in creating a better future for yourself, your organisation, others and the planet!


 

What Next?

Listen to podcast 27: Agile Sales with Brad Jeavons.



Connect with Brad:

Brad is proud to support many Australian businesses. You can find him on LinkedIn here. If you’d like to speak to him about how he can help your business, call him on 0402 448 445, or email bjeavons@iqi.com.au. Our website is www.bradjeavons.com


Written by Brad Jeavons


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