By Valerie Senyk
I dutifully watch Scrum Alliance’s webinars whenever they offer something I want to learn about, so I recently attended Michael Sahota’s “Top Ten Secrets of Agile Transformation.”
Sahota is a bit of an Agile guru, and well-respected in the community. He founded the Toronto Agile Community, and can be seen at Scrum Alliance gatherings everywhere. He also facilitates a Certified Agile Leadership course. You can learn more about Sahota by going to his website www.agilitrix.com.
The webinar he conducted was fascinating, because by the time he went from #1 to #10, I realized his “secrets” were very simple, and that one could start with #10 and work backwards to #1 and learn the same things.
By simple I mean his points were clearly articulated and comprehensive.
Before enunciating his secrets Sahota started with the idea that “Culture is the #1 Challenge with Agile.” He asked, “What are we (agilists) doing to create resistance to a change of culture in an organization?” Mindset, he averred, is more important than the practice of Agile – by which he referenced creating safe and trusting relationships, engaging with others, promoting continuous learning, innovation and so on. On a continuum line with “practices” on one end and “mindset/culture” on the other, he urged practitioners to find a balance between the two.
And now for the count-up:
Secret #1 – Clarify the purpose of bringing in an Agile coach by asking “why?” Usually the answers have to do with improving the quality of a product and encouraging more collaboration.
Secret #2 – Focus on organizational goals (and drop the word “Agile”). If the goals are clear, as those articulated above, one can drop the Agile initiative and try another. Agile is not the goal, but focussing on doing and being Agile can set up the wrong expectations. You may say, “Of course we will likely use Agile to help us achieve the organization’s goals,” but remember that Agile cannot be the goal!
Secret #3 – Focus on growth (and drop “transformation”). The idea of transformation is that it is a painful process. It also implies an end point: one is transformed. The idea of growth is more natural, and transformation is really about creating healthy change and growth. It is ongoing.
Secret #4 – Increase awareness of the global context. Global trends mean that an organization must be growing to survive. A lot of organizations do not know how to read their engagement surveys, or don’t even have them. People’s talents are wasted when engagement is low, which leads to massive financial waste. Millennials demand change – will not seek to work in an organization that’s regressive or stagnant. An agile enterprise is resilient and anti-fragile. How well is an organization set up to thrive in the future?
Secret #5 – Increase awareness of organizational context – what’s happening in an organization? However, resist telling leaders that their organization is broken. Start with humility and compassion, and then show leaders that there is a lack of engagement by their members by reading the survey. It’s not about blame – have the leaders acknowledge this and say what they want to do about it. What difficult conversations are needed here? The coach must stand in the truth of what’s happening, listen and understand. Be real.
Secret #6 – Clarify the focus of the initiative. Is more time spent on tactical initiatives (as in, how do we work?), in strategic initiatives (what do we want to achieve?), or in cultural concerns (who do we want to be?)? Discuss what percentage of time is needed to spend on culture in order to have a bright future.
Secret #7 – Build a shared understanding of what culture is. Culture has to do with both consciousness (or energetic property) and structures. Consciousness includes identity, values, beliefs, and the unwritten rules and norms in an organization. It includes values such as safety, trust, people being valued… Structure (practices) and consciousness (culture) co-exist together and are inter-dependent. Refer to the Agile Manifesto: people over process. – focus on structures without consciousness cannot succeed.
Secret #8 – Clarify the leaders’ role in growing. The consciousness of the leadership is most important. New organizational behavior requires new leadership behavior. Growth requires leaders go first! How do we invite them to go first?
Secret #9 – Honour the leaders’ freedom to choose. Do they wish to work on something tactical? Cultural? A coach must let go of what he or she wants. We cannot coerce people into believing what we believe.
Secret #10 – Growth can happen anywhere.You, as an individual, are the limit for growth.
Sahota suggests creating a culture-bubble in which consciousness and safety can be grown. In this last point he quotes Gandhi: “Be the change that you want to see in the world.”
I am aware that in the 45 minutes of the webinar, Sahota went through each point relatively quickly. Each one in itself provides room for reflection. For me, the fact that the tenth “secret” puts the onus on each individual to grow is telling; if we change, we can help those around us in their transformation. But that requires extra-consciousness, I think, and humility. Overall, Sahota points to values and culture within and without as the key.