Getting Married, Acting Single – Agile Adoption Without Organizational Change

I’m warning you, this is a long one…
Getting Married, Acting Single - Agile Adoption Without Organizational Change
PMs rewarded to put their project first.

I just had yet another meeting with executives in the middle of an agile adoption who felt their project managers were fighting for their individual PM projects (and PM’s were compensated to do so), but the execs knew that the individual projects weren’t equally important.

Worse for their strategy, the PM’s pushed for immediate requests and customization for their customers and projects that certainly took the focus off of the core product, but likely was making their product worse due to all the hard-to-maintain short-sighted changes being baked into their product.
How do you solve that? Let’s step back for a moment…
I’ve experienced a startling pace of change of my mindset and views over this last year. I’m pausing here to step outside of myself and reflect on it. Care to join me?
The question I’m rolling around on my fingers is, “Why am I, someone who’s been training and coaching for six or seven years suddenly becoming:
  – more dogmatic as to what agile adoption truly means,
  – more passionate about what must be done to succeed and
  – leaning into whole new areas beyond the basics so much more than before?
If you were to graph my personal agile data points: books purchased, conversations, class content, company offerings, etc., there is definitely a hockey stick phenomena occurring.
I realized that there are a lot of important things that I did not realize how significant they were. For me, significance is: actual impact and change with individuals, teams and organizations. There are lots of ideas out there, and always a steady stream of new ones. This is truly a space that has many, many  thinkers. That’s part of what I love about it. But, you do have to sift through the ideas to see if any given idea is really worth investing in and applying. I, too, was one of those guys throwing out new ideas that might be fascinating but have no real legitimate story to tell of impact or lasting results (just check out my Narrative Coaching talk from years ago – I love the topic and space but haven’t done anything with it really).
Part of the reason I share this is because the loop has closed for me on some significant points in time as a coach.

That Was Then

Years ago, I sat in front of a class at Yahoo! and held up one of the big Craig Larman & Bas Vodde Scaling Agile books (1,000 pages between the two) and said, “I think there is great stuff here for agile adoption, but the challenge is to read it, understand it, summarize it, and sell it to get influencers on board with the change.” I was contrasting the Large Scale Scrum design approach with the simplicity of the Big Picture of SAFe. I later sat in a room with Tobias Mayer, a great mentor and friend, and Yahoo! Agile Coach Ed Kraay, one of the sharpest (and nicest) guys out there and had a powerful argument/discussion of SAFe vs. full self-organized adoption (per LeSS, though Tobias wasn’t advocating a particular framework or approach).

This Is Now

Now, after attending Craig’s Large Scale Scrum training, reading his latest (and simplest) Large Scale Scrum book, and implementing it at a client with seven teams, I am convinced of its power.
When you see the Product Owner as the product owner (not a glorified business analyst assigned one per team), you get a product focus that I never got playing telephone of Team PO to some amalgam of program management/Release Train Engineer/PMO.
When you question any structures or roles in the organization that don’t directly create product value, you have the the opportunity to shift even more talent and resources towards value-creation or roles that support by improving the capability of the development system, simplifying the organizational structure, teaching problem solving skills (so that teams can pull work) and more. 
If you let the same roles and structures continue that existed before, you might see the problems that I’ve seen with companies undergoing agile adoption:
  • Confusion, since the role changed and approximately half the previous workload is gone for project managers and managers
  • Reverting to previous behavior, since managers weren’t trained as part of the agile roll-out
  • People defending their non-Scrum roles and positions and fighting the change (Maslow’s hierarchy of needs)
It would seem to be better to just meet the change required by agile adoption and reality head-on and provide guidance on where new opportunities to add value are. Bottom line: Are all the structures and roles in your org aligned to create value for the most important features and sprint backlog items within one to four week sprints?
So many times I’ve heard, “Scott, we can’t change the organization, so how do we fit Scrum underneath our current bureaucratic Sloth-like Game of Thrones political nightmare dressed as a clown on Halloween. Yeah, it’s that bad.”
Yet 80% of companies are or are planning on a major organizational change (per SHRM). And how many of us have been through re-orgs? Plenty. So maybe the question is, “So, if we have to change our organizational structure, how do we go about that?” It’s the art of the possible. But most of the time, I had been throwing re-org out as “not possible”, so then the Scrum implementation was hobbled at best, or disempowered and ineffective at worst, due to conflicting personal and departmental priorities.

Agile Adoption Requires Real Change

Back to my original problem statement with the Project Managers. The behavior followed the structure. If I’m a Project Manager, I look out for my projects. “Well, Scott,” you might ask, “then change the structure of the PMO!” Yeah, ok, sure, but…if I report to the Director of the PMO, wouldn’t you expect me to look out for the PMO?? I’m not about to publicly volunteer deviating from what my manager wants and expects. That could well be a CLM (Career-Limiting Move). And executives, the only ones who truly have the power to just “change the org” don’t have good guidance on what and how to change the structures, so they ask…who? Those involved – the experts (in this case, the PMO). Sounds like an endless loop…
All that the executives know is that something isn’t working and needs to change. It’s like the new wife who was expecting some difference in the relationship with her new husband. You can check the box that you’re married, but if you still behave as singles, as roommates, then you’re missing out.
We agilists could be the tipping point to real, foundational change in the company (not just the teams) if we are honest and open about the level of change and commitment that Agile Adoption/Scrum asks.
And in these cases, it’s helpful if the Agile Coach (you do have one, right?) reports to the CEO so that they are peers and can give honest and open peer-level feedback with the PMO, Product Management, and Development groups. More on that later – this is already too long… 🙂

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