Speeding to agility
“We need to make our company agile as quickly as possible,” is one of the statements I frequently hear from clients in first meetings. My usual answer is: “You’ll need time for that.” This reply is often considered contradictory to agility and met with surprise or even irritation.
What might sound like a contradiction at first, really makes a lot of sense: Being willing to invest the time and energy to scrutinize the prevailing conditions and the current state of your organization is the foundation for your agile transformation process. How is your environment developing? Where do you want your company to go? What is your vision of the future? Who are your most important stakeholders? What are your biggest pain points? Which strengths can you build on? Which existing attitudes and assumptions are helpful? Which ones are limiting you? Why do consider an agile approach useful in the first place?
More time. More success.
These are some of the questions you’ll have to answer before making a decision about which management approaches need to be changed when, by whom and how. Doing so requires time as well as the courage to adopt new perspectives and to be open for new experiences.
Farsightedness is paramount for identifying current and future challenges. Agile transformation is no “on the fly” job that can quickly be delegated down the chain of command. The good news is that investing time will provide you with valuable insights for your next steps.
Curing the management disease
You might object and say: “I’d love to, but I just don’t have the time.” If so, it’s time to examine how you handle your time. You may be suffering from the “management disease”. By the way, our lack of time isn’t a new phenomenon. It was aptly described by John Steinbeck in the 1950s as an epidemic caused by the clock and transmitted by schedules.
The only remedy is to declutter your schedule. This will take you directly into your agile transformation: Where do you put your focus? How do you prioritize your tasks? Which of your activities create true value? What can you eliminate? What can you organize differently? Take the time to answer these questions to create extra space. If you’d like to go one step further, professionalize your meetings to keep this time killer in check.
Time to start!
Let’s assume you've taken the time to initiate your agile transformation. The foundation is set. You’ve got a clear vision and direction. Now all that’s left to do is to implement the whole thing, define new roles, set up self-organized teams, change processes, clarify interfaces and interdependencies, introduce new methods, build skills, sprinkle on a few OKRs, transform managers into agile leaders and quickly change the mindset of everyone involved. All of that “on the fly” with ongoing operations. This may sound sarcastic, but unfortunately this is what reality frequently looks like.
Juggling and struggling
The underlying euphemistic slogan is: transform while perform. In practice, I frequently encounter organizations with employees that are drained and overworked. They are trying to juggle their business-as-usual while working on becoming agile.
Employees are busily compiling piles of time-intensive imports and adhering to slow, multi-level decision-making processes while trying to promote self-organization in teams and attending agility workshops.
Cynicism and time traps
It is understandable that some workshop participants exhibit a certain degree of cynicism when they juxtapose the newly acquired principles of self-organization with their jobs. But even if participants are highly motivated, they might just be called by their bosses to immediately leave the workshop for an emergency. Urgent everyday matters tend to have priority. There is no time for new things.
The list of time killers, time traps and simultaneities is endless. And as businesses have not yet invented beaming and cloning, we simply need to take into account the dimensions of time and space for agile transformations.
Change takes time
Change takes time. Time to assess what is no longer needed. Time to discover new ways. Time to communicate. Time to learn and practice new things. Time for exchange, feedback and reflection. This is why agile initiatives slow things down at first. It’s a critical point of time. If management becomes impatient, employees are often asked to take care of these change processes on top of and outside their daily business. This causes the above- mentioned draining effect or leads to resistance, with employees refusing to invest additional time for changes.
Management subsequently concludes: Agile transformation processes are useless or even counterproductive and need to be discarded. Ergo, the agile transformation process failed due to time constraints.
A guideline with 7 agile values
How can you avoid the agile transformation time trap? There’s a simple rule: no more simultaneity and “parallel processing”! Make your agile transformation process agile in itself. And please don’t bite off more than you can chew. “Less and different” is a good guiding principle. Use the following agile value guideline as a reference:
- We consider agility an important prerequisite for the future success of ourcompany.
- This is why we are truly willing to transform.
- We realize that such a transformation requires time and resources, and we will allocate them accordingly.
- We foster an environment for a free and open exchange of opinions and views in our company.
- This gives us a broader perspective and helps us understand where we need to take action.
- We create transparency at all levels, thus shortening complicated communication channels.
- We possess the courage to make new experiences.
- We take decisions within an appropriate amount of time.
- We avoid time-intensive backup tactics that create an air of security.
- We set clear priorities in agile transformation.
- We focus on those activities that generate the most value for our customers.
- We are ready to drop other activities.
- We avoid complex project structures.
- We seek simple and lean solutions with the biggest possible benefit.
- We strive for minimal effort and maximum outcome.
- We understand the relevance of trust in a business context.
- We realize that trust has a clear impact on speed and costs.
- We create the conditions for a transformation climate based on trust.
- We understand that change happens at varying degrees of speed.
- We create time, space and possibilities for learning and trying.
- We respect that agile transformation is an ongoing process without a clearly marked finish line.
Journey to agile happiness
If you seriously want to or simply have to become agile, consider the time factor! Remember John Steinbeck who said that we lose most of our time trying to gain time. Leave the time traps behind and steer toward agile happy hour to celebrate your first agile transformation successes.