Tag Archives: Organisational change

Agile Coach – charting the course of change


Eddy Obeng, Four Types of Change

Despite being a movie about transformation, there was of course no Agile Coach in the 1957 romantic comedy Desk Set. Spencer Tracy plays an efficiency expert and inventor of a reference computer about to be introduced to a New York TV network. Katharine Hepburn, at her sharp witted best, plays the network’s librarian, in charge of researching facts, and answering questions on all manner of topics. The movie, as you can imagine, is full of fiery exchange, as Tracy and Hepburn seem unable to set a joint course for change. Albeit without the atmosphere of a Hollywood classic, lack of clarity often characterises the starting point for an Agile Coach.

Eddie Obeng, the British organisational theorist, educator and author, provides a great way of understanding change. He describes four different states.

1. Paint by numbers change – where what and how are known

Where an organisation has high clarity on what it is that needs to change, and how to do this, Obeng describes this as paint by numbers. He is referring of course, to the type of art experience you buy in a newsagency, that shows you what picture you are going to paint, and directs you how to do it, using the numbers on the picture.

An organisation trying Agile for the first time, might start with a known what; such asa single pilot project, and a defined how, being the Agile way the team will work. It’s not necessarily a straightforward change, but because the what and how are known, organisations rarely engage an Agile Coach at this stage.

 2. Making a movie change – where how is known, but not what

No more so than today, does the world of Hollywood know how to make a movie. The part that is unknown each time a studio commissions a new movie, is the what.

With a pilot project modelling how Agile achieves collaboration and customer focused outcomes, an organisation could wonder what other applicability Agile has. What ways of working could be utilised beyond IT? What Agile practices could Leaders use to manage portfolio prioritisation? An Agile Coach can help disclose to an organisation the breadth of what, that can be achieved.

3. The quest – where what is known, but not how

The adoption of Agile often sits within the “quest” quadrant. Obeng here is referring to JFK’s well known speech of 1961 to commit funds to the space race:

“Recognizing the head start obtained by the Soviets with their large rocket engines, which gives them many months of lead-time, and recognizing the likelihood that they will exploit this lead for some time to come in still more impressive successes, we nevertheless are required to make new efforts of our own. For while we cannot guarantee that we shall one day be first, we can guarantee that any failure to make this effort will make us last.

I believe that this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to the earth.”

JFK magnificently articulated what he wanted to achieve, but openly expressed that the US did not have the how of sending man to the moon.

The last decade has proven the success of Agile, but there is still no one size fits all approach to how to implement it across an organisation. It takes a skilled Agile Coach to define the how, and keep testing it along the way!

4. Lost in the fog – where neither what nor how is known

The starting point of change is often when an organisation acknowledges it doesn’t know what to do to embed Agile working, or how  to do it. A great Agile Coach collaborates with stakeholders to define what Agile capability looks like. Once this vision is articulated, the Coach focuses on how to achieve this. Trained Agile Coaches are organisational change managers, expert in moving from lost in the fog to clarity.

The movie ends happily. Tracy and Hepburn sort out misunderstandings and of course fall in love. As in the movie, the course of Agile change can be choppy, but with a skilled skipper, perhaps less so.

The key indicator of successful Agile transformation

Beware of cows

Photo: enjosmith, Flikr

Is sustainably faster delivery of customer focused solutions the key measure of a successful Agile transformation?

It’s a great measure, but it is of course a lagging indicator and not a leading indicator. By this I mean that you can’t know if you have achieved faster time to market until you have achieved it.

What leading indicators (or factors that change before a system starts to follow a pattern) can you measure and influence to see success in Agile transformation?

Brad Swanson’s approach to measuring leading indicators that influence sustainably faster delivery of customer focused solutions is terrific. I’ve adapted it here and added more:

Alignment of organisational priorities with customer value

  • How frequently do stakeholders collaborate on prioritisation?
  • How effectively are they collaborating?
  • Is there a standard way to compare the business value of initiatives?
  • Are portfolio priorities highly visible?

Growth of Agile practices

  • How many people are trained in Agile?
  • How many people in teams are coached?
  • How many leaders are coached?
  • How many Agile practices are leaders using?

Alignment and support across the organisation

  • Is there senior leadership consensus on strategy?
  • How frequent are communications on vision and strategy?
  • Across what different forums is vision and strategy communicated?
  • Are short-term wins visibly celebrated?
  • How many hours is the Guiding Coalition working on activities?

Engaged happy people

  • When polled, do people feel things are getting better or worse?
  • Are there defined career paths for all roles?

Culture of continuous learning & improvement

  • What is the average frequency of team retrospectives?
  • When polled, do people feel safe to experiment and fail?
  • What is the number of experimental learnings celebrated?

Transparent empirical view of organisational improvement

  • Are metrics on organisational improvement visible to all?
  • Are results communicated?

Incremental delivery

  • How many projects are running concurrently?
  • What is the average number of concurrent projects per person?
  • How healthy are the program burn up charts?

So if you’re looking to tell the story of Agile transformation on a single slide, by all means map deployment frequency. The rest of the story is of course in measuring and influencing the above leading indicators of success.