“This is really is an innovative approach, but I’m afraid we can’t consider it. It’s never been done before.”

It is easier to build your organization to fit a certain model of a vision when you are in control of your organizational grows and you own the process. It is way easier when the organization is new and fresh, but what can you do with already established ones?

I’m talking about the organizations that many of us used to call: enterprise, legacy, corporate, etc… There is a lot of negativity attached to these names and, in many cases, rightfully so, but, I’m trying to make a point, that it should not have to. There are ways to improve even the “lost ones” if the management is recognizing that they are loosing on the market due to the lack of agility (see Is being agile essential to your company success?). If the management is looking to challenge the current state of affairs – nothing is lost and it is possible to recover. The path may be challenging, thorny and hard, but you may succeed.

If the management is drinking a Kool-Aid – your path is much harder. You have to fight the up-hill battles all the time, hide your intentions and prove that your approach is better than the existing process. It should not be disruptive but exemplary. This topic requires a separate discussion and we’ll get to it in the future.

Today I’d like to have a discussion about the companies when the management is on board, but looking for ways to pivot the whole organization into the new direction: direction to the organizational agility.

The process that I’ve observed over and over again in such organizations looks very similar to this:

  1. A top manager decides to make his organization Agile
  2. They read a bunch of articles and invite an Agile consulting company
  3. Agile consultants observe the current behaviors, create maps, graphs and reports
  4. Train people on some Agile methodology (usually Scrum) and leave
  5. The company buys a bunch of Agile tools (some backlog management systems)
  6. The people are told that now they are Agile
  7. After a couple of months – everything goes back the way it was before step #1

Bottom line – a lot of money and effort spent with a zero result at best, but, in many cases, chaos is inflicted, uncertainty and confusion rule the teams, people frustrated, scared and start leaving the company in flocks.

What many of the people miss is that you can’t buy your way into Agility. You have to grow into it. You have to change people mind sets and make them excited about it. You have to fight the rigid minds and challenge the status quo. You have to break all the assumptions and challenge their right to existence one by one.

I’m sure everyone heard about Sun Tzu, The Art of War. There you can find an amazing amount of wisdom:

The supreme art of war is to subdue the enemy without fighting.
― Sun Tzu, The Art of War

I’d like to convince you not to think about this process as a war. Who are you fighting with? You are fighting with your organization, people mindset and opinions – in simple words: yourself. So be careful not to kill yourself in the process.

Think about this as an evolutionary step, an improvement: a path to enlightenment.

Changing people minds is a very hard process. You can’t do it in one day and by ordering people to change. In many cases, even when people are eager to change, they don’t know how, so they fall back into the known and working (broken old) process. Hence you need (and have to) start slow and evolve. Identify the biggest bottleneck, a failure, a broken process, and concentrate on improving it. Make it better, a little tiny bit better – evolve it.

For some organizations the evolutionary step is not good enough because it’s too slow. They take some revolutionary steps – they commonly decide to follow the new process or adopt a new and better way of doing something and stick to it until it becomes natural. For the rest of the organizations this may be a very disruptive way – they may not be ready for revolution. So you need to start with something, but you HAVE to start. Be careful of analysis – paralysis. Just start. Identify the first step and start.

Identify your stakeholders too, your champions, evangelists and supporters. Think of making this process as public and as transparent as possible for the whole company.

Be warned! You have to expect a pushback from different parts of your organization and a lot of skepticism – don’t let it drag you down. Keep your head and bushy tail up – it is easy to win them over as soon as they start seeing the results, but it’ll take some time, persuasion and celebration of your wins.
Pick the teams that are more open to the idea and start with them. Celebrate their success and let them speak for you. Believe me, if you’ll let them, they’ll be bragging about their improvements on every corner.
Meanwhile you have to start the campaign of information, education and raising awareness. Don’t forget to pay your attention to teams morale. Ensure this as much as possible that the message is unified and this is “the company mission” to make the change.

  • Be Open and Honest about the Goals
  • Convey the Going-Forward Strategy and Vision
  • Celebrate Successes – spread as much good news as you can
  • Keep Communications Flowing
  • Make People Comfortable to Try New things
  • Comfort with Failure – Make it safe to fail
  • Fail Quick, Often and in Different ways
  • Find what works for your teams and organization best

Credit for cartoon: San Tzu strategy in business