How Could Leaders Fast-track Agile Transformation?

Agile transformation today is more than a buzz word, it is happening everywhere. But do we understand what it means to be agile? When you type in the word ‘Agile’ and look for synonyms, you will find Nimble, Supple and Responsive. Agile is also defined as the “ability to move and think quickly and effortlessly’. The main reason most software development organizations agree to adopt to Agile is to produce working, quality software in short, fast increments also known as continuous delivery. And for this to happen, teams need to learn to accept and implement fast, changing requirements.

It is a great idea but without the below considerations, it is not likely to happen.

  •  A Supportive Leadership & Organizational Structure
  • An Alignment with HR Policies & Supporting Organization
  • A Customized Product Organization
  • A Shift in Culture & Mindset
  • Outcomes over Output

While I am not here to talk about all of them. I am here to talk a little on “a shift in culture and mindset’ and the role that leaders play in empowering their teams.

I like what Selena Delesie says, “My advice is to stop emphasizing the Agile Transformation process frameworks and start focusing on the company culture and mindsets.”

In my 18+ years of professional experience, one of the reasons for failure of many innovations has been organizations that doubt the success from meaningful conversations but believe in a culture of order taking, and Agile Transformation is no exception. Leaders and managers play a huge part in the success of agile transformations. Leaders more often than not, fail to understand that when they decide to work in an agile environment, one has to let go off the hierarchical way of working and shift their focus to building self-organizing, highly empowered teams.

Leaders need to understand the implication of their roles in transformation as change agents, as catalysts. I know it’s not easy, But by simply telling teams to do what they want them to do because they feel that’s the best solution doesn’t help. There is a great need for autonomy, a culture of risk taking to learn something new, a psychologically safe environment to call out issues, try something new and fail without the fear, and encouragement to pro-active engagement in finding solutions to ‘to-be’ problems. I love what Linda Rising says “Listen, really listen to people who disagree with you in order to fight confirmation bias.”

Agile transformations mandate a true shift in mindset, with a positive intent to enable high performing organizations. One has to let go of ‘command and control’ leadership and be truly ‘agile’ in adapting to new ways of working. Now ‘New ways of working’ means different things for different people. In my opinion, it is not following a new process, or saying we are doing agile. New ways of working puts more focus on people, listening to their needs and creating an environment that helps them grow. Asking ‘why’ and focusing on the long term purpose that benefits your organization and not being short sighted is a basic need. Blake Mycoskie / Founder and Chief Shoe Giver, TOMS rightly says “The greatest competitive advantage is to allow your employees to be part of something. Something bigger than what you’re doing.”

Now, here is what you can do to make it happen –

  • Know that people are people and not resources. Be human-centric in your approach.
  • Over communicate your vision and strategy and give them that sense of purpose to align themselves to the organizational goals.
  • Create an environment of trust and transparency and don’t micromanage them with deliveries. Carefully craft governance though. Hold them accountable for each other. Most importantly as leaders, model the behavior.
  • Be an authentic leader who walks the talk and puts his team first before himself and his agenda. You will be surprised to see the team will do that too.
  • When team members come to you with a problem, listen to them! Know that they are breaking their barriers of their comfort zone reaching out to you. Truly listen with an intent to be present to the problem at hand.
  • When they come to you with an idea, give them your undivided attention, time and the environment to take risks, to fail if they would, let them experiment until they learnt something. Be open to newer ideas and approaches. You may not go ahead with the idea but listen and tell them WHY you are not going ahead.
  • Encourage them to develop themselves and support them to contribute to anything they care about at work or outside. Let them know you truly value them. Recognize their efforts ad contributions the way they like it.

Now, are you an agile leader who can fast-track your organization’s transformation?

A “culture of order takers” —> “culture of meaningful conversations”. This line is from a book named ‘Effective Agile’ by Sanjay Kumar. Reading this line inspired me to write this article. So Thank You Sanjay.

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