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Agile Transformation is What the Boss Wants Or?
agile transformation

Agile Transformation is What the Boss Wants Or?

Samuel Loh an Agile Coach at Ekipa Consultancy shares his best insight on the What’s in it for me (WIIFM) when an Agile Transformation is underway. 

One thing about me, I hate being associated with ‘stupid work’.

Photo credits to Rahabikhan

At a previous company, I was coaching an organisation on bringing in elements of agility and better ways of working, when it became apparent during a workshop that many of the employees in the organisation didn’t care about why they needed to get better at agility. Rather than carry on with rolling out initiative after initiative for the agile transformation, I advised the transformation team to put a pause on those activities and take a hard look at how to get their other colleagues to care. 

In other words, we (the agile coaches and the core transformation members) should take a step back and inspect better how we could help their colleagues to give a sh*t about what we were trying to do, and why they should start contributing to the efforts.

I figured that at the end of the day, it’s back to the ‘What’s-in-it-for-me’ (WIIFM), or if you want to put it as one of the components of motivation according to Dan Pink, the ‘sense of purpose’ to be involved in becoming more agile. Put aside the benefits of becoming a learning organisation and all the advantages for companies embracing modern ways of working. The employees wanted to know ‘why should they care’ on a personal level. The idea being that by driving these arguments (WIIFM) home to those involved, or affected, by transformation initiatives would help make it a less stressful effort to helping people engage in learning new ways of working. 

Why should they care? Why should I care?

1. Focus on the continuous delivery of Value, not how it’s delivered

Most of the time, a top reason for transformations and related efforts in organisations trying to become agile, not being successful, is because the way to ‘become agile‘, as taught by whoever started the movement in that organisation, was usually very prescriptive. 

Employees’ behaviour and needs are changing through the generations, and nowadays people do not want to be told how to do something. Hence my guidance for that organisation was for them to set a clear expectation, and that expectation was that whatever team or department they come from, they should focus on continuous delivery of value. 

Value differs from team to team/department to department, it could be anything that is defined by customers and stakeholders that is created as a result of intentional effort, and delivered to end users through products and services that enable them to fulfil a need. Hence, as long as the employees remain focused on delivering value, it is up to them to decide how to approach their work.

The WIIFM takeaway for the employee

As long as there is a better way of delivering a certain piece of work, bosses should let team members experiment and be given autonomy in completing tasks. This reduces stress, potentially lightens employees’ load and prevents them feeling overwhelmed. Might also make some team members feel smart at solving things their own way.

How to make this happen?

As a leader, with the team I advocate using a working agreement to describe what’s accepted and what’s not within the team, and call out blockers and micromanagement practices, ‘my way or no way’ attitudes (if any). As a team having a shared understanding of what is value and what isn’t will bring focus to what activities are must do’s, versus should do’s. 

2. Being known for all the right reasons

Being able to be known for all the right reasons (come on’…who doesn’t like bragging rights?)

One of the desired outcomes of increased agility is better quality in terms of products or services which will make your customers happy. Fewer defects, better quality, more desirable features, increasing sales are all related to this aspect. Customers come back to you as a result of your amazing product or wonderful experience using your service.

I definitely want to be associated with being part of an award winning and leading organisation, for my customers and work with a team who are inspired and connected by this.

The WIIFM takeaway for the employee

More money, bonus, compensation? Why not? Not a problem when your customers adore you right? Also, how about having the chance to be part of a great employee experience?

How to make this happen? 

Always seek to maximise your team/department’s effectiveness. Identify the best agile frameworks, tools that improve effectiveness and keep improving how the team leverages these. More importantly, feel safe to call out blockers to efforts in promoting growth and openness within the team. – look at the agile principles and identify which ones might not be well understood as a team and might be hindering use of the agile frameworks and tools.

3. Not doing Stupid Work

Accelerating your time to market for your products and services (and not doing stupid work). 

With a test-and-learn approach, as opposed to a perfectionist mindset from the start, becoming more agile enables your company to make more money faster (and also “pull the plug” on failed bets). I know, some of you might say that not all products can be produced as a form of an MVP, especially if its foodstuff or perishable items. However, go look up concepts of Minimum Sustainable Product and the concept that an MVP at times is not a product, it’s more of a process. At the end of the day, it’s about coming up with products and services that are desirable by eliminating risky assumptions by identifying the most suitable experiment.

The WIIFM takeaway for the employee:

High likelihood for more celebrations than post-mortems for failed products or loss of market share. Opportunity to add successful launch of products to your portfolio and CV (think being more employable or fast tracked for promotion) and provide proof that you have experience in using agile methodologies to test and learn.

How to make this happen? 

For leaders, allow experimentation and focus on harvesting the learnings from both successes and failures. Make sure there is enough budget, support and resources to set the team up for success.

For team members, ensure they have the skills and support to do the role they have. There are a plethora of agile practices that can be leveraged to focus on doing the right work at the right time. Concepts such as hypothesis testing to understanding the customers experience and how this all works within an appropriate budget. Master agile practices and adopt the mindset (bla bla blah….but mind you, there definitely is value or intentional benefits of ‘doing’ the agile practices right). Just don’t go overboard or over-religious in the ‘doing’ part.

4. Safe to Say…

Ever felt that your decisions were sometimes actually better than the rest of your team mates? Well, sorry to break it to you, but most of the time, other team members have this same thinking. Yet, there are times when you don’t feel safe to speak up, and the other half of the time, you might be afraid to come across as being too dominant in discussions. And even when your decisions or choices are those that are taken by the team, will you be willing to take responsibility when the results turn out to be not as what was expected?

The WIIFM takeaway for employees

To save face, and to also ensure that everyone’s need to be valued and respected are equitably addressed, have everyone actively participating in upholding decisions via Agile practices and tools. Find ways to reduce any resentments and frustrations for you and for the team.

How to make this happen? 

Agree on a decision making mechanism for the team, (i.e. decision sliders) and also agree to have a growth mindset, coupled with a bias towards experimentation for decisions and exploring alternatives as a team. A lot of frustrations can be minimised when the team consciously promotes psychological safety within their working environment.

5. When it doesn’t feel right, experiment with sparks of creativity until it does

When the team or department is able to identify incorrect approaches faster, they will be able to get back on track with less opportunity cost and with minimal impact. This is important when teams are given the autonomy to think, create, innovate and propose new solutions. These sparks of creativity unleashed would need to be balanced by quick and timely course correction when necessary. (time boxing) This means that the team/department stands a higher chance of achieving set objectives, which results in better company performance and ultimately pleasing shareholders and other stakeholders.

The WIIFM takeaway for employees

Better chances of promotion, remuneration, and also feelings of pride and satisfaction in being part of a winning team is part of what’s in store for you, ultimately employees will learn to value being part of a continuously learning team.

How to make this happen? 

Be diligent in sourcing for customer feedback, and also be intentional in trying to improve your quality of work. Take heed of constructive opinions when having sprint reviews with stakeholders.

6. Agility enables opportunities during turbulent times to be identified and realised

When there is change in the environment your business is operating in, agility helps the organisation to be better prepared to respond to the change and embrace it, adapting to it while taking hold of opportunities that may emerge. There is a higher chance for the business to survive, continuing being relevant, and if they’re lucky, thrive in volatile and uncertain times. As a result, there may be fewer resignations, better staff morale and also reliability in terms of having a job for the employees.

The WIIFM takeaway for employees

Reduced chances of ending up being under-employed or unemployed, and most importantly, bosses care about this stuff. Imagine being part of a company who is constantly able to reinvent itself in the face of uncertainty and ambiguity. Team members who consistently deliver ‘value’ and are better aligned with management direction will be earmarked for better opportunities.

How to make this happen? 

Leadership, together with employees, all have to work together to ensure that value is delivered to the customer and is acknowledged by the customer in the form of continued business. There should be an emphasis on delivering value using a better, sooner, safer and happier way. Always drive inspection and experimentation with new ideas to bring the people, teams and the whole company to a higher level.

And as for those who volunteered to be part of the transformation core team (yes some companies are trying not to force people into being part of the change ambassadors), being involved in an Agile initiative allows them to acquire new skills and knowledge that enhance their value to the company and increases their chances for promotion. Hence, it’s not really just a one-way sacrifice of time and effort; it’s usually a win-win situation for them also, with additional knowledge gained via certification and also interaction with industry practitioners and coaches.

The wisest words and thoughts

The reality is that instilling a ‘sense of purpose’ in all employees in companies seeking to do a transformation might be more challenging than it looks. At the end of the day, human-beings have this basic need to ‘take care of themselves’ and also look after their own interests. The key here is to align individual employees’ personal interests as best as possible with company goals, i.e., employees’ personal needs will be better met/have a chance of being met when the company successfully progresses towards its desired end state. And the key to this is effective culture change, but that, as they say, is another story, or for another blog.

Samuel is a Solution-Focused Agile Coach at Ekipa Consultancy, based in Malaysia he works with clients in both Malaysia and Singapore.

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