How (fr)agile is your organisation really?

Ruby Kolesky
Ruby Kolesky | December 01, 2020
Agile
How (fr)agile is your organisation really?

If you are reading this, you are likely either considering switching to an Agile operating model, or you are already in the process of transforming. If you're doing it right, well, then the transformation never ends.

Regardless of whether you are considering or transforming, the Agile journey is one that can reap untold rewards. It is the veritable holy grail of productivity after all.

You might even picture scenes of jubilant tribe leads dancing, being cheered on by Agile coaches, with squads chanting in awe around the many autonomous fires of innovation they managed to build consistently in short periods of time - all the while reflecting on how to build even bigger fires next time. And, best of all, the organisations' revenue has sky rocketed, simultaneously delivering masses of value to your beloved customers...

Oh wait, no. Reality check. That almost never happens.

The journey to Agile can be so fragile that you run the risk of actually seeing a decrease in productivity, and therefore even less value delivered to your customers than before.

Particularly true if you are a large organisation. Whether you have a few hundred employees or tens of thousands of employees. Unless you started out agile, most likely you'd feel inclined to stick with the safety of the well-known bureaucracy that you already understand and can somewhat control. And, understandably so.

So, let's consider: how (fr)agile is your organisation really? What are the factors involved? And what can do you to reduce the risk of falling into Camp Fragile-not-really-Agile.

You will be forgiven for believing the likely factors involved are: the organisational structure; the processes and rituals, or even the technology & environment. Sure, those are some of the key pillars of agile. They are now also well understood, and there are many experienced transformation consulting firms that know how to get this right. So, if you work with them, you are likely to have a decent structure and process in place to launch and continuously refine from.

In reality the biggest factor that remains a challenge, both at the outset and ongoing, is the adoption of an agile mindset. I'm talking at an individual level, across the entire organisation.

So, lets perform a quick (fr)agility check shall we?

How many of these statements are true of everyone in your organisation?

  1. People in your organisation take a collaborative approach to solving problems.
  2. People in your organisation feel empathy for each other and your customers.
  3. Your people are all singularly focused on delivering value to your customers.
  4. People in your organisation are comfortable adapting to continuous changes.
  5. People are often making improvements to do better out of their own accord.
  6. People are regularly self-identifying what has worked well for them and what has not.

If you confidently answered True to all six questions, then you are likely feeling just like that scene I described above. If, however, you are part of the vast majority of organisations, then these questions are likely to make you feel a little uncomfortable - you don't actually know the answer. But, you strongly suspect it's mostly false.

Why? Because, you know that this just isn't the way your culture is geared. The mindset of your organisation, therefore, isn't truly agile. It's fragile.

Agile requires a change in the mindset of each individual of your organisation. That is not a small task. That's a huge cultural shift.

So, what can you do to help the individuals in your organisation adopt and maintain a healthy agile mindset? This is the million dollar question. Get this right, and you'll be the stars of that scene above for real.

Large organisations need a solid foundation that supports each individual to continuously shift and maintain their mindset.

I once worked at a large organisation that transformed from waterfall to agile. It was bloody hard. It blew our minds a little. Despite our best efforts, it was clear people didn't feel agile. I came up with the phrase: "The red tape police." At times it felt like the rituals and processes overtook us, and there was little time to actually get stuff done. Find yourself a few levels up in the organisation and it was often a total mystery what was going on, what was being produced, and how people were genuinely feeling about it. We ended up restructuring many times, and well, being one of the pioneers of that change isn't one of my best memories. But, oh! The lessons I've learned!

So, what went wrong? Well, we just didn't get it. There was no thought put into individual mindset, let alone encouraging it. It didn't even occur to us. So, individuals continued to focus on procedural correctness, unsurprisingly like the bureaucrats we were all accustomed to being.

What we did was focus 100% of our energy into understanding the practice and structure. So, even though we put agile in place correctly on a structural and process level - it just wasn't effective.

Now, what if there was a way to automatically and regularly help individuals in squads to:

1. Find ways to identify and seize opportunities

2. Be open & curious

3. Embrace critical thinking - as in acting not reacting

4. Be humble and reflect

5. Report with transparency

Well, this could really help enable squad members work together to earnestly improve over time. If this was done in an open forum amongst squad members, then this could further support the open conversations that are meant to occur at rituals like retrospectives and post-mortems. Everyone would naturally have more empathy, and be able to more easily support one another. Even agile coaches would have more data to support them in their arduous role of keeping agile healthy.

Instead there is often a sense that squad members avoid openly considering the consequences of their individual actions for fear of judgement, or even retribution. Too much time is spent stroking egos over valuing outcomes. And, there is often of a culture of playing with the numbers and rebelling against measurement and growth.

So, exactly how could you put a foundation like this into place?

This is what Joyous is built for.

We ask individuals in large agile organisations one question a week, covering the entire spectrum of Agile topics.

All squad members are asked the same question at the same time across the entire organisation.

agile question structure
The categories and topics covered when discussing Agile in Joyous.

What does this do for your organisation?

  • This gives the organisation an agile index informing the likely performance level at any given time.
  • Within squads, people can see the responses of other members in their squads, and can take part in conversations with each other around these important topics, which include mindset (similar to the questions I asked you above), but also all the other facets of agile.
  • The organisation can gain insights from detailed theme analysis across the Joyous squad conversations, informing action and bigger refinements across the organisation.
  • Above all, asking these questions of individuals on a regular basis helps individuals to self-identify, self-organise and continuously improve. Without relying on prompts from another agile stakeholder to drive this mindset.

Remember, if you nail the agile mindset for every individual in your organisation, productivity will improve as a direct result!

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