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Changing to Agile Ways of Working – What’s Working?

Changing to Agile Ways of Working – What’s Working?
May 09, 2019

Change is changing

Change is the one true constant and organizational change management is no different. In the march into the digital era, we are left with but a few realities – constantly evolving customer and user demands along with an accelerated time to delivery. As a career change management specialist, I’ve had the opportunity to witness this transformation first hand. I also had the chance to be a part of this change, working in some of the most dynamic companies in the world, in one of the fastest-changing industries – technology.

Agile is the product of learning and refining good practices.

During this time, the industry has been encountering not only changes in technology but also the methodologies that support the development and production of software. And over this time various techniques and approaches have emerged to ensure that the deployment of technology makes the lives of users easy and simple. Yesterday it was lean, the day before it was Six Sigma or Quality Circles, and today it’s Agile – an approach that has transformed the technology industry in a fundamental way – from speed to outcomes to the ways of working.

The agile model has had a significant impact on the tech world. This benefit has spilled over into business where the adoption and exploitation of technology is a competitive advantage. Technology has always led businesses by enhancing customer experience, innovating and developing new products, disrupting old patterns of operating and introducing them to the market faster than the competition. And while this change has proven beneficial, the change over from traditional project models like the waterfall or SDLC framework to an Agile model has meant that OCM has had the chance to join the Agile party and change the way it operates. Through this ongoing transition, OCM is enabling embedding Agile ways of working and helping write the success story of digital-age enterprises.

How the Agile model has changed OCM

The facet of Agile that has really engaged me, as a change practitioner, has been the chance to understand what makes the Agile model so successful from an organizational change management perspective and how we can learn from it. Agile is in stark contrast to the traditional waterfall method of design, plan, develop, test, and release using a fixed process with fixed timelines and predefined deliverables. Each of these steps would be sequential and incremental leading to the ultimate stage when the project would be ‘signed-off’ and deployed and then reused with minimal changes.

Historically, this process took six months to a few years to complete and was based on a step-wise approach that required regular gate reviews before progressing to the next step. The constant stop-start and sign-off steps have always been tedious and time consuming. It did not guarantee that the product delivered at the end of the project is what is still needed despite the effort and resources that it has consumed.

Digital technologies have disrupted this slow progression of projects and changed the focus to value for customers. In this quest to focus on customers, products are developed and deployed at byte speed. Agile, as an approach, has changed the way that businesses and, by implication, people innovate, develop, and improve products, even if they are prototypes and referred to as minimal viable products. Speed has become the value prized by customers. In turn, the Agile approach has helped developers rapidly create customer-centric products driven by constant and incremental feedback and usage.

Agile, as an associated approach, has changed the way that businesses and, by implication, people innovate, develop and improve products, even if they are prototypes and referred to as minimal viable products.

Creating ‘minimal viable products’ in a sprint of two weeks is a world away from deploying a ‘global template’ in a few years. An agile approach promotes speed, intense interaction, and collaboration that is far removed from the siloed work streams associated with waterfall. In this new environment, solutions are designed at a high level with limited access to details ahead of time, requiring teams to adjust their expectations, workflows, and behaviors as these details become clear – to always be ready to adapt to the dynamic world we live in.

Agile approach promotes speed, intense interaction, and collaboration that is far removed from the siloed work streams with waterfall.

Consequently, Agile has created a scenario where OCM has had to respond to these changes and adapt its focus and ways of working as well. OCM is becoming more agile and responsive. It is now able to adapt and adjust based on the inputs of product owners and customers by using the new ceremonies and practices of Agile - sprints, stand-ups, scrums, refinements, demos, retros, and so on. Change has changed to become more relevant.

However, it has been interesting to reflect on the success factors that Agile has built into its ways of working. It is a poignant realization that the underlying dynamics and principles that lead to successful change do not change – even if the approach changes. After all, Agile is also the product of learning and refining good practices.

An Agile approach that works

There are several key elements in Agile that resonate strongly with any change practitioner. They include:

  1. Leadership, the primary contributor to success. It continues to set the transformation agenda and level of ambition for the organization by demanding value faster. In the context of Agile, leadership is transparent and open. It fundamentally drives Agile ways of working across the organization with consistent and visible support. Leadership also sets an example by being trained in Agile, using Agile coaches in meetings, and creating roles responsible for coaching teams to adopt new ways of working.
  2. Confidence in oneself and one’s ability to succeed in changing conditions builds change momentum. The investment in the training of literally thousands of employees and aligning the organization to a unified philosophy and ways of working is critical - be it SAFe, Spotify, DAD, LeSS, or any of the brands of Agile that are being adapted and adopted across the industry. All this helps to build skills and create more capable users that are likely to change and adapt faster to the changing environment.
  3. Building and then sustaining momentum is a challenge in all change programs. Agile is structured based on small teams that share common traits like working together in close proximity, reinforcing good practices on a daily basis, being rewarded for collaboration, and taking incremental steps towards achieving a product or an outcome. The size of teams (usually less than 12) and co-location of team members are factors that foster trust, collaboration, motivation, and collegiality. All these contribute to increased employee satisfaction, improved performance, faster delivery, and ultimately greater value.
  4. Reinforcing new ways of working – what we refer to as ‘embedding change’ – is derived from Agile rituals and ceremonies like standups, retrospectives, and refinement sessions. These ceremonies reward and reinforce changes to the ways of working, build momentum, and give rise to a critical mass that will create sustainable change going forward.
  5. Agile coaches and scrum masters also serve to reinforce and reward success. They shape behaviors that facilitate common ways of working and the discipline required for teams across the organization to work in an aligned manner. They are the linking pins in the Agile implementation program – what we often refer to as – the change champions.

Learning from Agile

Every organization will have its own journey with Agile that is unique and specific to its industry and domain. However, there are four key tips I can offer to anyone who wishes to make the most of their Agile experience and embed Agile ways of working:

  1. Start small: Develop your approach over iterations that build on the lessons of the previous approach and actions.
  2. Keep learning: Accept failure and use the experience to learn and adapt.
  3. Reinforce behaviors and ceremonies that contribute to embedding new ways of working.
  4. And most importantly, celebrate the success of your ventures with the whole organization.

Change Going Forward

The principles and people-centric values that underpin OCM and its practices remain relevant and applicable even in these disruptive times and will continue to do so going forward. The key ingredients to successful change remain relevant – you still need leadership that can create a compelling vision of the future, a sense of urgency, and build support for this vision. You still need to invest in employees and provide them with the skills that they need to capably and confidently work to deliver this shared vision. And you still need support from management and coaches who can model new ways of working, reward success, and never give up on improving performance.

Change is the only constant – that is where we started this blog. It’s interesting to think that, although we do not know exactly what the next ‘big thing’ will be, the key building blocks to manage change are known. We can confirm that OCM with its skills, including coaching, training, communications, organization design, and adoption, is not only relevant but also a force that drives sustainable change and embedding skills in the organization to manage change more effectively.