Accelerating the Transition from 'Walking' to 'Running'

by Evelyn Tian
Image of an agile leader accelerating business agility by practicing Scrum

In the first of our series taking a deeper look at The Business Agility Report: Special Edition by Scrum Alliance, newly elected Scrum Alliance board member Evelyn Tian shares insights into business agility maturity and the move toward value-based agile transformation.

Scrum Alliance board member Evelyn Tian is a Certified Enterprise Coach (CEC), Certified Agile Leadership Educator, Certified Scrum Trainer (CST), and Path to CSP Educator with a decade of experience working in the agile community.

Back in 2012, I headed a group of internal agile coaches at Ericsson and supported different organizations on their agile transformation journey using our own internal coaching capabilities. We worked with 33 product organizations, each with, on average, a few hundred to several thousand people. Many management teams were curious to know what stage they were at in their agile journey, and they wanted to have an assessment that was more quantitative than qualitative. 

 

While reading the Business Agility Report 2020, I was quite happy to see the increased level of business agility maturity measured by using the Pre-Crawl to Fly scale, which is reminiscent of a tool I have been using since 2012 to satisfy different management teams’ needs and to trigger further improvement efforts. We aggregated data into a chart, to present the snapshot view of where some assessed organizations were at currently in order to encourage the internal reflection and increase leadership team awareness. It proved to be very powerful, and I have continued updating this chart over the years, from the angle of an internal agile coach and also after I founded my own coaching and consulting company. 

First, let me start with a big disclaimer about this article. Over my close to three decades of work experience, I have spent most of my professional experience working in and with large corporations, so the data collected is primarily from large organizations (the entire company has over 10,000 employees, and/or the product organization has over 1,000 employees).

 

 

What prompts great reflections and discussions is the dimension of “How-long-since-started”, tracking the number of years into the transformation journey, which is not limited to an “agile transformation”. Most organizations are embracing agile values and principles by working with Scrum, Kanban or XP frameworks.

In the biggest green bubbles, there are organizations that might have arrived at optimizing but relapsed back to basics working, or from running to walking. You might have studied GE’s FastWorks projects, and my experience has been similar. There are, unfortunately, relapses due to changes of leadership, organization restructure, and/or refocuses due to market situation and organization strategy.

Related: Best Buy Canada Case Makes an Agile Transformation

Why Your Organization Is Stuck in the Basics of Business Agility

The wishful thinking that simply “implementing Scrum” can help bring about organizational agility. 

Some organizations have been working with Scrum for years, and with a helicopter view, everything looks good. I keynoted at Agile Alliance XP 2019, titled “Agile, Mushroom and Tibet.” The “Mushroom” covers this part: Without a clear strategy of why, what and how, all of a sudden, there are so many teams using whiteboards, practising Scrum events, sorting things in Jira, but many teams are just doing it. 

Some organizations run Scrum process. With the Project Management Office wearing the hats of agile coaches, the Scrum process has been beautifully executed, but unfortunately lacks the key essences of continuous improvements and value-based thinking.

The pain of making true organizational change is so huge and bitter that some companies try to offer a magical remedy.

Many ideas sound fantastic, but with some deeper thought, they generate uncertainty, fear, and/or confusion. For instance, aligning the organization’s structure toward business outcomes sounds truly great, though the implementation can be painful. How your status, responsibility, territory, ranks, and privileges which were built over the years becomes uncertain, at risk, or negatively impacted, and this is perceived as a threat and pulls you away from moving forward.

And you start to look for something less painful, with less bitterness. You hear about branded magic remedies, which lay out for you on a single sheet of paper what seems at first to be a simple formula for success. You take a quick glance at it, and suddenly your uncertainty, fear and/or confusion gets reduced and even naturalized. However, these magic remedies, like candies, bring in extra unwanted weights and consequences. It is just like gaining and losing weight - it is so easy to snack on sweets, but is so difficult to remove the unwanted weight afterward. So the original goal of improvement is revisioned into a new implementation of a framework--one that, despite its shiny promises, likely will not give you the results that you need.

Related: 4 Ways To Ease The Transition From Waterfall To Agile

Looking at the Glass Half-Full

I love to discover positive aspects of situations - imagine that we are positive and optimistic about the situation: What can be some improvement opportunities to accelerate the transition from “Walking” to “Running”? What can be done to help break the “basics working” plateau and move on to “optimizing”?

Now, if we have a pair of glasses with value-based lenses, full of curiosity and positivity, what can we see? 

We see everybody focuses on value: value-based strategy, value-based thinking, and value-based agile coaching. 

We see leadership teams and the entire organization being supported by agile coaches, and agile coaches balance their skills among teaching, mentoring, coaching, facilitating, and consulting. 

We also see agile coaches actively assess the current context and decide what playgrounds they will work in. They may work with Scrum teams, product owner, technical practice, product-related (such as product strategy and business models), leadership team, organization structure, culture, processes, strategies, and/or continuous improvements. We see them actively grow their domain competency to best support the organization balancing the 5 skills as shown above.

Agile Coaching Prerequisites for Successful Agile Transformation

  • Agile coaches should know what competencies to grow and how they can assess the entire system and organization they are working with. 

    • I have so far had the privilege to work with agile coaches from 68 countries through various programs. Before we started the program, many had their primary focuses on getting Scrum events up and running only. 

  • Organizations should build the awareness of the right agile coaching competencies and utilize the agile coaching capabilities to support the organization’s value-based strategy. 

    • Doing a search on agile coach job posting is like looking through a kaleidoscope: colourful but confusing. Different companies have their own tailored version of descriptions based on their perception. 

    • If you are a hiring manager, before you spend the time and efforts to hire an agile coach, reflect on what you are trying to achieve short term and long term. You want to have an agile coach to help you achieve your business-related goals, and working with Scrum or being agile is one of them.

This is why I continuously advocate value-based strategy and value-based agile coaching. I have been speaking about it, and I will be keynoting at a couple of Agile Tour conferences later this year about value-based concepts.

To accelerate the transition from ‘Walking” to “Running”, to get out of the long plateau of “basics working”, here are some tips: 

Tips for Accelerating Your Agile Transformation 

  • If you are in a leadership role, move toward value-based strategy and utilize your agile coaching capabilities to gain greater value.

    • Constantly reflect on your strategy, which should be value-based, and make great use of the agile coaching capabilities you have in our organization. This will help achieve alignment in the organization and gain a greater return of investment for the transformation efforts.

    • Value can be defined quite differently across different industries, and the exercise of discussing what value is at the leadership team level is a step forward. Then the visualization of the value stream can help reveal the system and serve as guidance for continuous improvements.

  • If you are an agile coach, move towards value-based agile coaching. 

    • Continue building the skills to allow the flexibility to use the right skills depending on the context

    • Continue growing knowledge and experience

    • Continue assessing the system you are coaching with value-based assessments and decision making, to bring the most value to the organization. 

  • If you are holding any other roles, actively apply value-based thinking.

    • You will help create a new experience for everybody around you, which will in term contribute greatly to the mindset change for others around you. 

With a move toward value-based strategy, you will start to experience greater business agility, shorten the years of “Walking,” or in other words, break the plateau of “Walking” to finally arrive at “Running,” and have even more fun transforming the world of work!

Related: Texas Mutual Chooses Self-Disruption to Stay Ahead

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