Behind Every Great Transition…

“It is the set of sails, not the direction of the winds, that determines which way we will go.”

– Napoleon Hill

For those familiar with Agile, a lot is said about the importance of external and dedicated Agile coaching in reducing the time to transition. Without an Agile coach, transitions can take 2-3 times longer to succeed if at all. However, even with an Agile coach the high winds and rough waters found in organizations undergoing change can prove difficult to navigate without help and governance.

We were anxious to set sail to the new world. To help us navigate through the transition, we created an Agile Lean Transformation Team (ALTT). An internal team composed of key stakeholders and Agile advocates well versed with the internal politics and who possessed influence and the wherewithal to clear obstacles and make things happen.

ALTT Team Role

A cross-functional team of managers/leaders in an organization who are championing the adoption of “Agile” throughout the organization and are responsible for the long-term business success of Agile and Lean methods.

High-level Responsibilities

  • Provides a guiding vision of why change is urgently needed
  • Provides leadership-by-example by functioning as an Agile team
  • Organization level change implementation including removal of obstacles

Detailed Responsibilities

  • Maintains and grooms a backlog of tasks and interventions to clear obstacles and/or accelerate progress as the transformation process proceeds
  • Prioritizes and facilitates implementation of tasks and interventions that will move the Agile transition forward
  • Ensures the successful launch and ongoing improvement of how value is delivered by the Agile teams and team members

Finding enough interested people to join the ALTT was not a problem. We had the opposite problem. Everyone and their mother wanted to be part of the ALTT! No one wanted to be left behind in the wake of such a significant opportunity to influence change. This “Me too” approach was not going to work. Our solution was to carve out a small cross-functional “core” ALTT team of 6 leaving an “extended” ALTT team to include anyone else that was interested. Over time as people realized the time and effort commitment tied to ALTT membership – “You mean we actually have to do work?!”, its ranks (both core and extended) changed voluntarily in size and composition. Only the most passionate and committed remained. This form of natural selection albeit slow separated the wheat from the chaff.

Initial Key Focus Areas for the ALTT

  1. Organization wide education, training & communication
  2. Sourcing of our Agile coaches
  3. Launch & capacity of Agile delivery teams
  4. Engineering practices adoption and implementation
  5. Ongoing assessment & progress tracking

Being a member of the ALTT team wasn’t easy. We all wanted to contribute but with our existing line management responsibilities we were torn between chasing our day-to-day routine and influencing the future. Looking back on it now, siding with the future should have been the obvious choice but in the heat of the moment it wasn’t. We were mesmerized by the comfort of our routine.

We all tried to do our part by volunteering for tasks and reporting on progress at our twice weekly stand-ups. The stand-ups were held in clear view of the Agile delivery teams in an effort to lead-by-example. At first, our cycle velocity was abysmal. We were unable to finish the majority of our tasks. And the Agile delivery teams knew it as they led us by example.

  • We stumbled awkwardly in our self-organization and interactions, often hesitating between what we knew was right and what we knew our managers wanted. For example, we wanted to give the delivery teams more autonomy yet we knew this wouldn’t sit well with those managers stuck in the past.
  • We were guilty of chewing off more than we could swallow. Like patrons at an all-you-can-eat buffet, our eyes (and egos) were bigger than our stomachs.
  • In our haste to be self-organized, we failed to see the importance of letting go and clarifying the roles of Growth Faciliator (“Product Manager”) and Process Facilitator (“ScrumMaster”) – roles that would be key to throttling our hapless enthusiasm.

We needed to do something different. We started by formalizing our Growth and Process Facilitator roles giving them the responsibility and authority for task prioritization and tracking. As we made the tasks more goal-oriented, granular and specific, our velocity started to pick up. The Agile delivery teams took notice. They were benefitting from our progress as we looked over their heads to clear the path in front of them of obstacles. Obstacles that were often identified quickly by our Agile coaches. Obstacles such as dysfunctional team members and lack of engineering practices adherence.

Without the ALTT, the Agile coaches would’ve been powerless to act and the obstacles would have festered. With the ALTT at their side, the Agile coaches and delivery teams had a valued servant leader.

We were on course and feeling good.

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