As Agile coaches, we can sometimes get caught up in the process of changing a company’s software development culture and we can forget the most important aspect of bringing about that change: the people. Without the people, there is no corporate culture and nothing to change.
In more than half the Agile transformations I have been called to facilitate over the years, the organization had either implemented an Agile method (like Scrum) and it was struggling to reap its benefits; or it had implemented the change and considered it a failure and just wanted to do it over again. In these situations, I consistently saw that a few key elements had been missed.
People Over Processes
This is the very first line of the Agile Manifesto: “Individuals and interactions over processes and tools.”
Under pressure and overwhelmed with the enormity of the situation, Agile Coaches sometimes inadvertently put more focus on processes and tools than the people involved in the change initiative.
Bringing about change in an organization is not about inserting Tab A into Slot B and rigidly following a step-by-step process. Sometimes, Step 5 comes first and you need to skip Step 1 and amalgamate Steps 2 through 4. It’s not following the process that counts. What counts is the outcome, regardless of how you get there.
In the past, I myself have sometimes overlooked the human element when implementing Agile change, but over the years I have learned from my mistakes and adapted my own personal process of implementing Agile change in organizations.
The first time I realized I had to focus more on people and less on processes, I was working with an organization trying to implement Scrum. I had three teams to manage:
- The Executive Team: consisting of the company’s high-level executives (including the sponsor of the change initiative) who were responsible for making the decisions;
- The Management Team: consisting of the company’s mid-range managers who were responsible for the day-to-day operations;
- The Scrum Team: consisting of the Scrum Master and Development Team who were responsible for learning, applying and implementing Scrum into the company.
As part of the change design and planning process, I introduced a light coaching plan designed specifically to help these three teams work together. Like a true Agilist, I had to inspect the plan regularly and correct the course when necessary. Being an Organizational Change Consultant, I apply a customized framework when navigating through an Agile transformation.
Designing my coaching plan, I asked the following question: “What would each of these three teams need to commit to working individually and collectively in order to navigate through this change?”
In this specific case, based on my interactions with each member, I mapped out the levels of participation, willingness, readiness, and capacity of each team and each individual within and across all three teams so they could help each other implement Scrum.
I asked myself:
- How should I coach the Executive Team members to ensure the change sponsor has the support of his colleagues who will not be directly involved with the process, but will be impacted by this change?
- What is my plan to mitigate potential challenges that might arise given what I observe as the sponsor updates his colleagues in the Executive Team?
- How is the sponsor’s message received amongst the Management Team members who report directly to the Executive Team on a daily basis?
Working with this company, I learned that having a formal (but not too formal) structure around the coaching I needed to provide as an Agile Coach helped me navigate the challenges involved in the personal interactions of all the people involved.
The Coaching Framework
To better manage the interactions between the various teams and their members, I suggest having a coaching framework that you are comfortable with. In this particular case, I used the elements of participation, willingness, readiness, and capacity, but you could switch these out or rearrange them to suit your own personal coaching style.
The main thing is that the coaching framework — however it is set up — should serve you in facilitating the different coaching aspects of the change you are managing.
For example, if your coaching is integrally informed, you could build a light All Levels All Quadrants (AQAL) dashboard for each individual, each team and all the teams as a whole. Just focus on one or two of the AQAL lenses you are most comfortable with, or if you are competent in all, use the ones that would benefit your transformation the most.
There’s no unique template you can use to make your Agile transformation a success. Your coaching plan, and every other part of your change design plan, has to be as unique as the organization you are helping. You are the most important conduit for transforming the organization you work with; more than any books, templates, processes, frameworks, or three-letter acronyms at the end of your title. Once you realize that, the true transformation can happen.
I hope you get a chance to apply this coaching strategy to any Agile transformation you are facilitating. You can reach out to me if I can be of any service to your change. To find out more about developing and using your own personal coaching framework for implementing Agile change, check out my one-day course called Beyond Project Management.