Agile transformation: thinking of change, or change of thinking?

October 12, 2015

Have you ever asked your clients what quality means to them? If so, you have very probably been confronted with many more or less different answers depending on personal preferences and expectations of the given customer. There is no absolute quality. If a service or product meets expectations of a particular client, he considers it a service or product of a good quality. So we are clear on our mission – we aim to stay customer oriented and address client´s requirements in order to achieve maximum quality. The expectations of the client as well as the market situation are unfortunately no constant quantity and keep changing faster every day, often unpredictably. The logical consequence of this situation is the fact that the success of current enterprises depends on how flexibly these can react to changes and respond with new or modified products or services meeting client´s expectations as much as possible. This and other problems of software engineering have been addressed at the beginning of the 21st  century when the new software solution development approach has been established. This approach emphasizes importance of individuals and interaction between them, functional software, close cooperation with the customer as well as the ability to react to changes. Here we speak of agile approach. Although the word Agile and its particular implementations as Scrum or Kanban in Western Europe region are nowadays understood de facto as standard, the implementations in CEE region are mostly still in their early stages. IT and its integration in the company strategy is today not only of business specific importance, but also plays crucial role in each and every organization. That´s why many companies currently go through so called agile transformation in order to implement agile methodologies. The goal is clear – higher efficiency, satisfaction of customer and employees, better flexibility … but how to get there? First of all, agile transformation is an organizational change as any other. And as such requires clear vision, necessary soft and hard skills, motivation, sufficient resources and action plan. Despite having identified these key elements clearly, there is no recipe for the right transformation, as every company is unique having its own special vision and culture. The biggest challenge therefore is to choose the right way and approach leading towards changes in company´s thinking while considering given culture. Start doing things

We have “a strategic plan”. Is called “let’s do things”.

Herb Kelleher, Southwest Airlines

It is simple as that – to form a team of competent people, to create a concept, to implement it. But what about the reality? Reality is often so very distinct to sophisticated concept that has been created. It takes more than having great plan to implement changes – one needs to act. The culture of doing things is unfortunately still taboo for many big enterprises, although it belongs to basic characteristics of good company culture. It is always better to pursue smaller and not perfect plan as to keep rethinking perfect concept for months and never see it working. Think big, but start small – that’s also what Agile is about. Always stand up after fall

Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts.

Winston Churchill

If you´re achieving better results, you get a reward. If you fail to reach expected results, you get punished. Sugar and whip. Model that also nowadays persist in some organizations and practically kills any innovation or opportunity to pursue changes. If you seriously want to introduce agile methodologies, you have to admit that failure is a part of a life and that it is natural to regain strength and stand up again. You will be doing mistakes and you´ll do them constantly. But it has to stay your goal to stand up after you fell and learn from your mistakes by reducing their amount. If you accept failure as a part of a life and forward this idea also to your employees, you´ll open a door to new and revolutionary thoughts that may take your organization much further, than you´ve ever dared to think. Just remember, how many mistakes did you do until you reached your current position? Why shouldn´t your employees get the same chance? Living example

Be the change you wish to see in the world.

Mahatma Gandhi

The most of current successful businesses have at least one leader. A person with clear vision and ability to motivate others with own thoughts, authenticity and opinions, so that employees work as a team. This person must have no official title, nor position to become a leader. Agile transformation is a change of organization that desires leaders. No change can be pursued only by implementing process or defining methodology. In order to live the change and execute it, you need to have leaders in your organization that will manage it on all levels of the company and will be sources of motivation that every employee needs. Do not forget that you expect a lot from your employees. Do therefore expect a lot from yourself too – be living example and define people that will be examples for other employees. Authenticity and integrity are basic elements in order to gain trust of your employees. Resistance is a natural part of change, be prepared for it

If you want to make enemies, try to change something.

Woodrow Wilson

Not being able to fingerpoint, to blame someone for failure. Absolute transparency in where the company, project or even team member is effective. Constant pressure leading to improvement and persistence in doing things. These are high targets continuously taking you and your employees out of your comfortable zone. It is therefore logical that this process produces resistance. But it is important to be aware of this fact and to be prepared for it in the process of transformation. Great defence tools are clear vision, demonstrable real results from pilot projects and of course your leaders that embody given change and keep showing with their behaviour that the change we want to pursue brings its fruit. Not even the best methodology or process will bring expected results without consequent cooperation with your employees and consistent management within planned change. These are the missing links that make processes reflect in company culture and are in the end the real implementation of change. Being aware of this fact can be helpful not only for company management to make process and transformation progress expectations more realistic, but can also help you to focus on really important things. It obviously still is true that  “IT is people's business“

About the author: Jan Gregor