A couple of months ago, I was speaking with the CEO of a startup in a networking event who seemed a bit tense, frustrated, and puzzled that Scrum was not delivering on its promises in his organization. In other words, he was disappointed of not seeing tangible improvements and questioning the relevancy of the Scrum adoption initiative in his company. I felt intensity arising in my own body, tuning into this conversation, and consciously chose to transmute that energy to being more present in the moment and listening more fully.

Being the CEO of a startup, he is wearing multiple hats. He has responsibilities in getting the expected results in time to meet investors’ expectations and receive more funding for the next phase. In addition, he is acting as the Product Owner for their current initiatives, which led him, his CTO, and the Lead Developer to attend a Scrum Master certification course a couple of months ago. Their intention was to expedite their throughput and develop code faster; and judging by his frustration, that training had not brought his team the expected outcome yet.

Meeting disappointment with an offer

I was fully tuned in to his perspective and what he was sharing, asserting (mostly) nonverbally that I was listening and following throughout the conversation. In searching for a meaningful segue to make a contribution, what came to my awareness was the transformational nature of a change at this magnitude, i.e. moving from a traditional software development lifecycle to introducing and adopting an Agile framework like Scrum in the midst of many other challenges a startup deals with. This reminded me of a famous quote from Peter Drucker who said “culture eats strategy for breakfast”.

I started offering support by first sharing Mr. Drucker’s quote with my executive friend, following by a series of offerings, which I’m sharing here in case you find it useful as you navigate through changes in your own teams or organizations. I would encourage anyone going through integrating and implementing Agile frameworks into their project management and software development lifecycle to realize that they are going through a change, and likely a transformational one. If you are undertaking a transformational change initiative, you do not have a past experience of going through such a change and related complexities and cannot say with any certainty when you are going to get there and how. You could be in an organization of 7 or 7000 staff, and the same would still hold true (albeit in different scales and magnitudes).

Discerning the situation as well as inquiring into intention and intended results

The first few things you would want to pay attention to in your organization are the overall culture as well as the willingness and attitude of employees toward the proposed change at all levels.

  • Why your organization needs this change?
  • Who’s initiating the change?
  • How engaged the change initiator is throughout the change lifecycle?
  • What are the tactical tasks necessary to move this change forward?
  • What are the plans and processes to follow?
  • How engaged individuals and teams are in this change?
  • What’s your organization’s capacity for this change given everything else that’s going on?
  • How much buy-in the change initiator has within the organization and amongst the board members?

The above collective questions could give you a preliminary assessment and sense of where you would need more support and what’s the likelihood of success to implement this change.

In the above case, the entire team has the best of intentions and still the desired results are not surfacing, resulting in more frustrations, disheartening attitude toward Scrum, and reverting back to the old ways of developing (i.e., inhabiting old—unsatisfactory—results). After some probing and exploration, asking a variation of questions (I highlighted above) to this CEO, it became clear that “the why”—the breakthrough result—he has in mind was not fully received and shared by others. A group conversation between the CEO, CTO, and lead developer, and mutually agreeing on a breakthrough result that is shared could be a step in unifying their message, and sending a clear intention to the rest of the team on why they are going through this change and how together they can achieve results and deliver on their promises. Uncertainty is part of going through a transformational change, however, that cannot be around the desired results and the message everyone hears from the change leaders.

In conclusion, I like to underscore the importance of staying in the moment when complexities arise as you are going through the implementation of a complex change such as the Scrum framework in your organization and paying close attention to your people’s behaviour as they navigate through those changes. How you handle each interaction, from a water cooler conversation to a sprint retrospective meeting, would be a window into how well this change is transforming you and your organization. Working together in the day-to-day interactions and doing enough of the small iterative changes coalesce into a culture transformation.

Open the window and slowly let the wind of the unknown take you to unchartered territory!

What are you able, ready, and willing to do now to improve your work?

atta emami

Participating in the world of business and IT since 1996, Atta brings a blended mixture of leadership presence, business strategy, and advanced technological expertise to create highly efficient Agile and Lean technological organizations. His core focus is on how to facilitate transformational change for organizations, teams, and individuals. To this end, he can share his multinational experience and multidisciplinary background in organizational change, project portfolio management, and IT operations acquired in organizations from both the private and public sectors as well as his background in transformational leadership and executive coaching.

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  1. malanglais@epicoaching.net'
    15/11/2016 at 20:44 — Reply

    Hi Atta,
    really good article. My two cents worth — It’s undeniable that sponsors have to bring clarity to their intention with the teams in regard to agile transformations. Though however good and plausible the transformation message it often does not compute with the developers that find themselves in a different reality – development vs strategic.
    I have found that an excellent technical coach that accompanies the teams in their transformation at a technical level, addressing elements such as POC, TDD, AUT, and other fun acronyms we geeks like to come up with, is invaluable.
    I believe that as transformation coaches we must harness perspectives at all spheres of the organization and serve them with what they need, i.e. speak ‘geek’ to ‘geeks’.

    • 15/11/2016 at 21:01 — Reply

      Thanks for sharing your perspective! I like how you framed harnessing perspectives at all spheres of an organization and serve them what they need. It inspires me to contemplate on better ways of serving orgs what they need, especially at times it’s still a subject to them (or part of the org).

  2. Barb
    21/07/2017 at 11:28 — Reply

    I love your list of questions. Could that list and the underlying conversations be the catalyst for a broader discussion group that meets regularly? I would love to explore this with you.

    • Atta
      17/10/2017 at 19:01 — Reply

      Absolutely, Barb!

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