Getting change to happen is difficult. According to the Scrum Alliance, the agile transformation failure rate is higher than the success rate. One of the key reasons agile transformation efforts fail are due to ineffective leadership, which lead to byproducts of misalignment, miscommunication, and mismanagement. The root cause for ineffective leadership in an agile transformation is the inability for leaders to change and adapt quickly.
According to Warren Bennis, in Rethinking the Future, leaders need to continuously grow and adapt to a changing world.
“It’s like snakes. What do snakes do? They molt, they shed their outside skins in order to survive. But it’s not just that. It’s a matter of continuing to grow and transform, and it means that executives have to have extraordinary adaptability.”
This statement applies to every leader in the organization: change or perish as companies who fail to change often become extinct.
Another key area for inspiring transformation and change in others is to demonstrate concern for society and others before self. Study after study has shown that individuals are motivated to follow leaders who show a high concern for others and society before self. According to Greenleaf, the servant-leader is servant-first, an attitude that flows from a deep-rooted, natural inclination to serve. The conscious choice to lead comes after the desire to serve. Thus, Greenleaf distinguishes between those who would be “leader-first” and those who are “servant-first.” In fact, for Greenleaf, these two are extreme types that form the anchors of a leadership continuum. The defining difference between the two is the concern taken by the servant-first to make sure that others’ highest priority needs are being served.
Now to make things even more complicated and confusing, executives and board members are driven by results, and could care less about change or altruism. With all of this churn, it is not surprising how many agile transformation efforts fail.
So how do successful agile leaders transform organizations?
Research on successful agile transformation indicates that all members and levels of the organization need to adapt, align, and transform by following these patterns:
Create an inspiring vision of the future.
Leaders have a plethora of tools and techniques available to help with the ideation process in order to create innovative new products and services. Some companies and/or entire product or service lines have formed using “back of napkin in the bar” visualization approaches, while others use more complex tools and techniques. Here are a few tried and true activities that can be used to visualize strategy as well as product roadmaps.
- Use a set of strategic leadership tools that combine lean and agile techniques.
There are many tools that can be used for executive visioning including Hoshin Kanri, Balanced Scorecard, SWOT analysis, Porters Five Forces, PEST control, Competence Analysis and SWOT Analysis to analyze the current situation. Once the high level goals are set, a portfolio of product and service offerings can be created.
- Create product roadmaps.
Product development visioning tools can be used such as Ash Maurya’s Lean Canvas to create visioning for products and services. By using these visioning tools, a clear roadmap that can be used in product development to link ideas to tactical results by creating a set of minimal viable products, which include “just enough” features to be valuable to the customer.
Motivate and inspire others to lead with that vision
Understanding how individuals are motivated is important, and a good agile coach has an uncanny sixth sense on understanding and directing behavior. The first thing an agile coach needs to do is establish trust and credibility with the organization, from the C level suite to the team level.
Classical behavioral theories such as consumer behavior theory, expectation theory, and the theory of reasoned action attest that behavioral intentions are influenced by trust and credibility. In an excellent book titled “The Trusted Advisor”, the following useful formula was created that captures aspects of interactions:
Trustworthiness = Credibility + Reliability + Intimacy / Self Orientation
- Credibility relates to expertise. An essential element in trust is having faith that the person you place your trust in has the skills and knowledge to meet their commitments.
- Reliability relates to organizational skill to get the work done. Agile teams need to be confident they can depend on a person doing what they say in a timely fashion to a proper standard.
- Intimacy relates to the degree, which a person shows interest or cares for the needs of the other person. The previous mentioned concept of servant leadership ties nicely with this idea.
- Self-orientation seems to detract from trust since individuals are more cautious about people who seem to put their self-interest first.
When working with an agile team, take care to build credibility by establishing yourself as a trusted advisor because of your expertise. Demonstrate reliability by following through on commitments. Ensure you get time to know the team and their goals, and make them feel like you are there to support them.
- Manage delivery of the vision
- Lean Startup: Experiment by creating minimal viable products
In a favorite book of mine, “The Lean Startup“ by Eric Ries codifies the approach of creating and testing a minimal viable product. Ries describes a way of developing businesses by testing business models using minimum viable products, building on what works through repeated iterations of experiments, and pivoting quickly to try something else, if this doesn’t work out.
- Create task boards that track work
- Manage work using lean metrics
- Lead Time
- Create persona based small stories or tasks that capture customer value
- Iterate by breaking work into smaller timeboxed deliveries, known as sprints.
- Fail fast by using agile ceremonies such as daily standups to manage deliverables in an environment of openness and trust.
- Retrospect by ensuring that you learn and grow from key learnings from successes as well as failures.
In summary, a successful agile transformation consists of adaptation, alignment, and management across all levels of the organizations in a well-orchestrated, synchronous fashion in order to be effective. From the boardroom to the team room, an agile leader needs to be able to motivate individuals and change behaviors by establishing trust, which in turn establishes credibility. Thus, agile leaders are both snakes and saviors, continuously adapting while serving individuals and society before self.