Posts tagged enterprise agility
Organisational Change Through Experiments

First up, a huge thanks to Mike Pollard for the inspiration on this one. This all started with a meeting invite from Mike to set up some experiments in organisational change. We all know that organisational change is hard. Organisations tend to resist change so doing any sort of substantial change is a lot of work, and also prone to failure as organisations slip quietly back into their old way of doing things. Since real agile success relies somewhat on changing some pretty fundamental things in the organisation, this has always been a pretty major limiting factor in agile adoptions - success relies on change and is limited by how much change we can introduce. Change is hard which limits the amount of success we can have.

Mike's idea was quite simple - rather than try to change the whole organisation, why not set up some small experiments instead? That gives the organisation a low risk way to see what works and what doesn't. Once we have some successful experiments we should have some good, hard data to back us up when we push for a wider rollout.

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Agile - Risk Reduction Not Speed Improvement

Faster, Better, Cheaper. That's the way agile is usually sold. Faster delivery, with better quality and lower cost. That's the pitch I hear over and over from people trying to get organisations on board with agile. It's an attractive pitch too. Who wouldn't want something faster, better and cheaper? The only problem with the pitch is that it's not really true. Not initially anyway. Agility will eventually get an organisation delivering faster, better and cheaper but, at least initially, it will be slower and more expensive (it will usually be better quality though). It may well stay slower and more expensive for a long time if the organisation has to overcome a lot of legacy (not just code but culture and processes as well).

So when the organisation goes to measure its new agile initiative and finds that it's not getting what it was sold, questions get asked. And well they should. The first is usually "Why?", to which the standard answer is "cultural change is hard....", the next is usually "When?", to which the answer is usually a shrug and some more about how hard cultural change is. This is often the point where the senior leaders that were really keen on agile, suddenly stop being keen on agile and organisational support vanishes. Given the length of time it takes a big organisation to get to faster, better, cheaper with agile, we really do ourselves no favours by using that as our selling point. What we need is something we can have an immediate (or at least relatively quick) impact on, that is also going to have a positive impact on the business. Fortunately it exists - risk. Agility should be sold as a means of reducing risk.

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Fully Alligned

Over the last few weeks we have been looking at the various organisational alignment patterns - top down, bottom up, etc. In each of those, the way to move forward once you have hit the limits of that particular pattern was always to extend alignment vertically and horizontally to other parts of the organisation. I made mention of a wondrous state that could be achieved where the whole organisation shares the same goals and is working together towards a common goal. Welcome to the Fully Aligned pattern.

This is the end goal for any enterprise agile adoption. This is the pattern that will really let you grow agile within the organisation and firmly embed it into the culture. This isn't just a desirable end state though. In my experience this is a necessary end state if agile is to thrive and become part of the organisational culture. Without full alignment, agile tends to wither away to a sort of agile-ish (or fragile) set of practices that are followed without really understanding why and more importantly without really delivering real business benefit. If agile is to deliver real benefits at the enterprise level, you need to achieve alignment.

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Business Lead

Last time we looked at one horizontal alignment direction - IT lead; today we'll look at the other - Business lead. This is much less common than IT lead. Agile has its origins in software development and the IT side of an organisation is usually much more aware of agile and agility as a concept than the business side so it is natural that the drive for agile would come from there. Business lead does happen though. The problem is that when it's business driving agility, it's either because the business is really advanced and is actively seeking out ways to transform itself (great but not likely) or they have issues with their IT department and have heard of this thing called Agile which apparently makes IT departments deliver stuff.

Yes, if the push is from business, it's usually because there are delivery issues and someone in business has seen agile and sees it as a way to make the IT guys deliver faster, or better, or cheaper, or some combination of all three. Even when business is asking for agile, it is still (most of the time) seen very much as an IT thing. The brief is usually "go make our IT teams agile". Of course the IT teams just love business folks telling them how to write software don't they? If your business is in the "really advanced and looking for ways to transform itself" category then it's likely your IT department is as well and your life just got a whole lot easier. But that's a different pattern.

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Horizontal Alignment

So far we have looked at the vertical component of organisational alignment - which level of the business is pushing for change. Today we will look at the other dimension. Most businesses are split vertically into different layers of management and also horizontally into different operational units. Every enterprise does this a bit differently but in most of them the main split is usually between "business" and "IT".

Business groups connect directly with customers and come up with new products and features. IT groups tend to sit in the background and do... geek stuff. Now, those who have been doing agile for a while will know that one of the things agile does is to break down this artificial split and align IT teams directly with the business. For an organisation right at the start of its agile journey though, you are more likely to see this structure than not. When planning the transformation, one of the keys is finding where

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Organisational Alignment - Middle Out

We have been looking at organisational alignment patterns over the last few posts. We have covered the two common ones - bottom up and top down. Today I'll look at a far less common one - Middle Out. As the name implies, this pattern occurs when change is being pushed by the middle of the organisation - middle management.

Actually uncommon is an understatement, middle out is so rare that I have never seen it in the wild. It's still worth looking at though, as winning over middle management is key to the success of the top down and bottom up patterns we looked at previously. By looking at why middle out is so uncommon, it can help us to understand what prevents change from occurring at this level in large organisations, and to see what we can do to change that. What we are talking about here is the phenomenon of the frozen middle.

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Organisational Alignment - Top Down

Last time we looked at the bottom up pattern. Today we'll look at its inverse - the top down pattern. In this case, the top levels of the organisation want agile but the levels below them are resisting (again, if they aren't... great, but that's a different pattern). This can be a tricky pattern as senior execs may want agile but often don't know much about what it is and what it means for their organisation. With most agile adoptions, you need to spend a lot of time educating your detractors, with this pattern you may need to spend as much time educating your supporters as well.

They probably see agile as a delivery methodology and expect it to be implemented that way. They don't see it as a major cultural change at all levels (including theirs). Tread carefully. Don't lose them. It's very easy to go in too hard, making it seem like too big a change too quickly. Senior managers got where they are by successfully managing risk. They tend to be quite risk averse. They will want to see a strategy that manages organisational risk during the transition.

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Organisational Alignment - Bottom Up

Today I'll start looking at organisational alignment patterns. The first thing I should do is explain what the heck I mean by that. In this context, organisational alignment is which parts of the organisation are supporting an agile adoption. This is a really key thing to know because where the support for agile is coming from will seriously affect how agile can be introduced, how far it can go before it meets resistance, the type of resistance it can meet and so on. Having worked as a coach in a number of companies, I have found that organisations tend to align around agile in a number of fairly standard ways. I call these standard ways alignment patterns. There are two dimensions to an alignment pattern - vertical (which layers of the business are aligned) and horizontal (which parts of the business are aligned).

If you can pick which alignment pattern you are dealing with, that gives you some insight into the sorts of issues you will experience when managing an agile transition. Knowing your alignment pattern lets you pick the right adoption pattern to get the best success. Essentially, different alignment patterns work well with certain adoption patterns while blocking others. Pick the adoption pattern that matches your alignment pattern and things will go smoother than picking one that is incompatible. Or if you want to use a particular adoption pattern but it's incompatible with the current alignment pattern, then you may need to change the organisational alignment before proceeding. Anyway. I'll talk more about this mixing of patterns later. First I'll start by describing the basic alignment patterns, starting with the most common - the bottom up pattern.

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Organisational Change With Beer

I do a lot of coaching at large companies. Big, monolithic, and often very conservative organisations. Organisations like that are very difficult to change. They have become big and successful by being conservative and risk averse. There is a lot of resistance and inertia. They may recognise the need to change. They may recognise the benefits of change. Actually making that change though, means taking risks and they just can’t quite take that step. They will fiddle around at the edges and do some cosmetic stuff, but actually changing into an organisation that embraces innovation and risk is just a step too far.

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