Part one: the triumphs
In this two-part series, we're going behind the agile consultancy curtain, taking a closer look at what it takes to make transformation strategies happen. Our expert guide is Tina Behers, VP Enterprise Agility.
With over 20 years of experience leading large-scale organisational change and improvement initiatives, Tina is an industry veteran who knows more than a thing or two about what good agile transformation looks like – and the robust strategy required to make it happen.
But before we admire some real-world success stories, it's worth reminding ourselves what an ideal agile transformation strategy looks like.
The ultimate agile transformation strategy
'Your strategy has to include your corporate goals, your growth plan, and the products you're putting out in the marketplace,' explains Tina. 'It should also include what you need to support all of the above – your value streams, how you align your people to processes; the systems you need to support those processes; and the tools you need to get the work done, track the work, and know what's going on.'
So how should this play out in reality?
Here are some great examples of successful agile transformation strategies in action.
Start with an executive strategy workshop
We start every engagement with an executive strategy workshop. This brings your leaders together to ensure they are thinking about enterprise agility with the same mindset and to help them understand they must be willing to support the changes that follow.
'In one example, we brought in 25 core leaders from across the company,' explains Tina. 'Some of these people had worked together for 20 years and had never met face to face. We sat everyone in a room for a week, training them on the chosen framework and what they needed to do as leaders to support that. We also set expectations for the chosen tool from a reporting-management-oversight-planning perspective. We then defined and set the strategy for how the transformation would start and roll-out across the company.'
Get buy-in from leadership
Engagement and involvement from everyone in the business is critical and crucially important for leaders and management at every level. ‘Having those 25 core leaders in the room, all from different levels and parts of the business, was vital to the transformation’s success,’ says Tina.
‘They knew their culture and what hurdles would need to be overcome. An agile consultant coming in the door is not going to know your corporate structure and culture. They might say that you need to do certain things, but if they’re not a good fit with your culture, they’re not the right things for you.’
Communicate what you're doing
Communicating the overall goal of your agile transformation to everyone in the organisation is as important as the strategy itself. But you shouldn't stop there. One client wanted to do quarterly updates to let their staff know how the transformation was progressing. We increased that frequency to monthly.
'So every month there was an agile progress report sent out,' explains Tina. 'It said: "Here are things we're doing, here's how it's going, here are some of the challenges we've faced, and here's what we're doing to overcome those." It also asked employees if they had any input and included a link to share their thoughts.
'So everybody got a voice, a seat at the table. Just simply telling your people: "We're doing this agile thing, and here's what it means to you," is a start, but it's not enough. If employees know and understand why you're doing this transformation, they're far more likely to buy into it and provide input from their perspective – information you might not know about. That could be the one "magic spice in the sauce" that changes everything.'
"If employees know and understand why you're doing this transformation, they're far more likely to buy into it and provide input from their perspective – information you might not know about. That could be the one "magic spice in the sauce" that changes everything."
Run a pilot project
Unless the organisation is very small, it's always best to pilot your ideas with one team first. In one hugely successful engagement, leadership offered teams that supported a particular value stream to volunteer as the pilot group for agile transformation.
'Everybody on the tech side wanted to be part of it,' says Tina. 'So we interviewed them to find out why they wanted to do it, what changes they were willing to make, and how they would support the transformation moving forward.' This pilot group then became the ambassadors and in-house support for the next group, passing on their knowledge.
People have to be willing to change their behaviours and adapt how they work, but to do this; they need the knowledge and skills to work differently – with new processes and tools.
Taking the time to train everyone is an important stage that can't be skipped. And don't assume knowledge. Just because someone's familiar with a term or a process doesn't mean they understand it in a way that aligns with the strategy moving forward.
'At one organisation, we ran training for everybody about the framework they would be using, making sure the team-level folks understood the difference between Scrum, Kanban, and just slapping stickies on a wall and calling it agile.'
It starts with strategy
Get more insights on what it means to be an agile enterprise, what your agile transformation strategy needs to include, and how to implement one. Download our eBook The five pillars of agile transformation strategy: the starting block for achieving enterprise agility.
Once you're skilled up, don't take your foot off the gas. Start putting this thinking into action by improving the way you work. For example, in one organisation, after the first Solution Train of 700 people was launched, we put a new lean portfolio management (LPM) review cycle and process into place to cut the time and money spent on these meetings.
'Rather than having every project and portfolio manager in the company spend 20 to 30 hours a week just updating Powerpoint slides, our new tools provided full transparency from top to bottom. So instead of a three-hour meeting with 2-3 hours of prep per project that cost upwards of £325,000 for the just people in the room, they needed just 45 minutes, with less than 20 minutes of input per project.'
Tailor your tools
When it comes to technology, it's not just about choosing the right tool. Success means setting it up to suit your business. In the case of one client using Jira Align and the SAFe framework, they were struggling to get visibility. They had 167 portfolios set up, some of which had just one programme with a single team of three people. 'That's not what a portfolio is,' says Tina.
'Using their 10-K [a comprehensive financial report filed annually by public companies in the US], I could identify their business portfolios and value streams for each. I then realigned their tools around that. It took about three months – there was a lot of data – but in the end, they were astounded by the visibility they now had at their fingertips. They could now see how far along they were with all the initiatives, where projects would meet dates and where they would miss critical regulatory-mandated dates.
'There's no such thing as plug-and-play when it comes to portfolio management, and anyone who says otherwise is lying to you. It's all about aligning the strategic goals of the company and the strategic portfolios executing those to make the tool work for you. You're never going to get real transparency until you do that.'
The job of true business agility is never done. Don't rest on your laurels. Look for other ways your company can benefit from enterprise-level agility. How about inputting a corporate governance committee? This could oversee everything from process and tool changes to how you will review outputs from team retrospectives, planning sessions, and overall velocity.
And think about your approach to HR. We put an HR agile plan in place for one client to determine how they would evolve their roles, compensations, and promotion strategies to be more agile.
Learn from your consultant
'Some agile consultants have been at the same company for years', says Tina, 'but that's not how we like to operate. Our goal is to teach our customers how to fish on their own. When they need new bait, they can call us. But if I'm still full-time consulting with you as a client at the three-year mark, I feel I have not done my job well.'
'In one of our most successful transformations, our involvement was just over two years to get two very large strategic portfolios launched. And the client continues to evolve their agile practices to this day.' In other words, they are fishing on their own and landing some pretty big fish along the way.
"Unless companies start looking at the organisation in terms of people, processes, and tools they use, a true transformation cannot take place."
Tina, we have a problem
While it would be wonderful if all transformations followed such a smooth path, in reality, things often go awry. In part two, Tina dives into the weeds, looking at the common missteps organisations make when they're trying to get their agile transformation to take off. Start reading part two now.
Avoid the trials and tribulations
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