Focusing Large Scale Agile Transformation

With all the hype surrounding the new ways of working (though calling them ‘new’ is dubious at best), you can still find some dinosaur playing the old game. Fixed scope software projects, infrastructure changes, provisioning of new services – all done the old way: loaded with project managers fighting over ‘resources,’ massive multitasking, and complete obscurity of accountability. Yeah, it still happens. I find it amazing that companies with core parts working like this are still afloat. 

The moment they notice their momentum is not limitless, the new begins. Sooner or later, large businesses realize that change is necessary. Then the transformation begins. I will not go into specific frameworks or approaches (though you can see my view on the best Agile framework in existence), but areas of focus.

As an agile coach, who should you work with the most?

The typical answer is obvious – put your effort on teams. After all, there can be hundreds of them. Even a large team of seasoned coaches will need quite a while to equip them with minimal viable agility, not to mention doing it right. Though it’s hard to expect an agile coach with any work ethic whatsoever to stop at the bare essentials, they will be pressured just to get it done. According to the plan. On time. Waterfalling Agile transformation will never get old.

Not to mention that focusing on teams will not yield the best results. Just think about it – as per the Agile onion idea, it’s not really about Scrum, Kanban, or (God forbid) Jira. These are just a means to an end, nothing but tools. Sure, you can train two hundred teams in Scrum, but unless you have very assertive and mature Scrum Masters with a mandate to do something useful, nothing will change. No increase in effectiveness. No shortening time to market. No twice the software in half the time.

For sure, though, your organization will become leaner. Your best people, those of the highest market value, will get frustrated with false promises and transformational tornadoes and quit. If that’s what you’re after – way to go!

Back to business – if transformation is not about the way teams work, what is it about? It’s the mythical mindset, which means what you should aim at is a cultural change, not process and tools one. And who shapes the culture? Everyone above the teams in the pyramid. Line managers, their managers, group managers, directors, executives. Culture radiates down from the top and is almost impossible to change bottom-up – and every attempt to do so will inevitably raise the bar of frustration on all sides.

Where should you focus your transformational effort first? All the management impacting teams (it will usually go higher than you expect). They should be the first to realize that multitasking is often a waste of time and money. They should measure their lead times and actively work on shortening them. They should do daily meetings and hold retrospectives. They should have transparent backlogs. Otherwise, they will be rightly perceived as fake, pushing yet another brilliant idea to their teams.

Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe.

Abraham Lincoln, weirdly relevant

The best thing is that investing some time to work on management first will shorten the duration of the whole transformation. The culture and environment for teams to become Agile will already be there – no disappointments, no surprises, no frustration. I can’t think of a reason not to do it – and if you can, comment here (or PM me here).

Okay, there may be one reason – if you don’t want to transform. 

That’s always an option: comfortable, safe, short-lived.

Best Books On Leadership

I am an avid reader. From quantum physics, via business, to sport psychology – and beyond, if I get my grasp on a book, I’m on it. And the further I go, the more often I’m disappointed. It’s actually hard to find a good book nowadays. And truly groundbreaking vaults of knowledge are extremely rare. With that in mind, I would like to share my top three books on leadership with you. While you mind find this selection trivial, they helped me reshape myself to provide a better service and better value to those that I work with.

“Leaders Eat Last” by Simon Sinek

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If you’re even remotely interested in leadership, you must’ve seen Simon on stage during his seemingly countless TED talks and interviews. It’s his second book, following spectacular success of “Start With Why” (which I also recommend, though for building a business). While you may argue it’s entry level, that’s one of it’s advantages. It’s deceptively easy to get so entangled in complex processes and models, that basics fade out from our view. Also, I love how Simon phrases his ideas – in an easy to follow and understand way. I envy this skill, as – clearly – I don’t possess it. Altogether, a great book covering the most crucial aspects of leadership, without all the corporate mumbo-jumbo.

“Turn The Ship Around!” by David Marquet

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An intriguing story of one nuclear submarine captain, who was almost forced to become humble and drop his know-it-all mindset. We all know these managers. It’s just impossible for team to convince them they’re wrong. Well, David was used to know every possible detail of warships he commanded. One day, just days before setting sails, he was stricken off balance by his superiors. He was to take over a different submarine – also, of other type. Having no chance to learn everything by heart, he caught himself failing several times – and making an unorthodox (and possibly illegal) decision to empower his crew. Within months, his submarine became the most efficient of US Navy vessels. The story, with all the findings and conclusions, makes one wonder – if it’s possible to achieve that on a military warship loaded with nuclear missiles, how hard could it be in corporate environment?

Yes, very. Unless you learn how to improvise, adapt, and overcome the obstacles. David’s book will give you a hand.

“Extreme Ownership” by Jocko Willink

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While previous two are light reads, this book is quite hardcore. Jocko was one of the commanding officers of US Navy SEAL team during heavy fighting in battle of Ramadi. His story goes far beyond what they teach you at business school. From brutal training, through dusty streets of Iraqi cities, to ruthless corporate environment, we learn what it takes to truly lead our men. It’s a story of extremely hard work, honest accountability, and discipline. I love three things about Jocko’s story. First, there’s no sugarcoating included. Leading is a hard work and this book is one of the very few places where it’s stated openly and repeatedly. Second, it’s truly practical, with examples that most of readers will relate to with ease. Third, the book gave us one of the most popular episodes of Tim Ferriss podcast (which I highly recommend) and extensive podcast series by Jocko Willink himself.

These three may not resonate with you the way they did for me, though they will expand your horizons and give you great tools to work on your business, your team, and yourself.

For unorthodox books on Agile, see this post.

Personality Trait to Enable Agility and Leadership

Just previous weekend, I had the opportunity to share my thoughts on “that whole Agile thing” on a conference in Cracow, the capital of Poland for majority of its known history. While explaining the Agile onion concept, origins of which I couldn’t find (though I would love to buy whoever thought it out a beer or two), I made a comment that the single personality trait that makes the actual agility possible was humility. Which, contrary to what you might think, is nothing about religion and is not, in any way, related to modesty. Especially the popular, false one. Coincidentally, I have a strong belief and evidence that humility also enables one to be the proper leader.

Isn’t that what we all want? Agility, leadership – widespread, across our workplaces? Now, that would make sense, wouldn’t it?
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