What is Business Agility? In a time where it seems that every company wants to adopt Agile, there’s also the dark side of Agile: the belief that it only affects “people in the IT department”. That could not be further from the truth.
In this episode, we have Evan Leybourn sharing what Business Agility is about, and why it matters for your organization.
Diana and I were kicking around a few topics for this episode, and we ended up selecting “Agile and Leadership, friends or foes?” The idea is to talk about how Agile and Leadership play together (or not)
In this episode, we talk with Diana Larsen and Jutta Eckstein about what problems Leaders try to fix with Agile, what challenges they have when they try to adopt Agile, and we will do this with the focus on the Scrum Master role, and what they can do by working with the leaders of the organizations they work within.
Let’s start by defining some of the major challenges we see happening out there.
The 3 biggest challenges on how Agile plays (or not) with Leadership
Some of the challenges we mention in this episode are not new. You are probably familiar with many of them. We talk about how Agile requires us to think about leadership as a distributed responsibility that team members need to take on, which is itself a major challenge for Scrum Masters as they help their teams understand what that means in practice.
We also discuss how important it is to understand that leadership is not simply a “role”, but also something we need to earn, including Scrum Masters.
Finally, we talk about the important role that leaders play for the teams they work with. Specifically in setting the direction that helps the teams adopt quicker processes like Hypothesis-Driven-Development, for example.
How Scrum Masters can cope with these challenges
We then discuss how Scrum Masters can understand, and learn to cope with these challenges. Not surprisingly, Agile Retrospectives come up as a critical tool for Scrum Masters to use when working with teams and their leaders.
Regarding collaboration with leaders, we discuss how Scrum Masters can help teams focus on the right goals, which need to be defined in cooperation with leaders in the organization.
But there’s a second tool we discuss that complements perfectly the work we do with the retrospectives and helps the teams and leaders understand where they can contribute the most: visualization as a way to establish a shared context.
Do Scrum Masters really need to protect the team from their leaders?
Stop me if you have heard this one before. Way back when I was taught that Scrum Masters need to protect the team from interference. Although it made sense to me at the time, with the passing of time, and after collecting more than a decade of experience, I have come to value a different approach.
In this segment, we talk about the need (or not) to protect the team from Leadership interference.
The goal, of course, is to generate a real collaboration between the team and the leaders in the organization.
The key resources on leadership and Scrum by Diana Larsen, Jutta Eckstein and Vasco Duarte
Given that leadership, and the collaboration between teams and leaders is a critical topic for Scrum Masters, we discuss some of the resources (books, podcasts, articles) we’ve found useful and informative on how to tackle that collaboration.
The financial processes of companies can defeat their own efforts to become more agile. It’s simply impossible for an organization to be adaptable if their project processes require all projects to be specified up-front and funded months ahead of their starting date.
Tackling the financial process changes in our organizations is one of the make-or-break aspects of helping organizations become Agile and adaptable.
In this episode, we talk about Lean and Agile Financial Planning (PDF article download), an approach that tries to adopt Agile and Lean thinking in the funding and financial processes of an organization.
The reason why Lean and Agile Financial planning is a core aspect of Agile transformation in enterprises
Innovation is a topic that gets a lot of attention. There are innovation processes, specific creative games for teams to work with to seek innovative ideas. There’s the Lean Startup movement that tries to codify innovation-friendly processes, and there’s also the UX community pushing the argument that we need more innovation in software companies.
You’ve probably heard the same argument at work. We need to be more innovative to be competitive. Great! But how?
In this episode, we explore how leaders can set up their organizations for innovation. Ryan Jacoby helps us explore the how of that critical question: how can we be more innovative?
The first action you, and your organization need to take
Ryan describes an approach that aims to focus on the team and organization on the customer needs. His approach is simple and immediately actionable. First start by jotting down in plain language and from the point-of-view of the user/customer: what problems are you trying to solve for that customer? Select the top 3.
The other dimension of innovation is your organization’s goals. Define what it means to meaningfully grow the impact of the organization over 6 to 18 months. This growth could be in the number of customers, revenue growth, profit, etc.
Now you have the start of a growth strategy that is centered on customer needs and also directly linked to the company’s/organization’s growth. Next, we talk about innovation in practice.
The 7 responsibilities of an innovation leader
When it comes to putting innovation in practice, Ryan argues that there are 7 areas to take into account.
Define progress for your organization, in other words: what is the impact you seek and the growth in that impact factor
Set an innovation agenda by prioritizing the innovation problems to solve, user and customer groups you want to serve, nature type of innovation to pursue.
Create support teams that build the product
Cultivate the ingredients for success for innovation
Giving great feedback to teams: prepare and setup the feedback moments so that teams can learn quickly.
Reward progress (as defined in #1)
Ryan explains how he came to value these 7 responsibilities of an innovation leader by telling us his own story when he was responsible to help the New York Times grow their impact through innovative solutions.
Ryan’s book: lessons learned about each of the 7 responsibilities of an innovation leader
Ryan Jacoby, is the founder of MACHINE, a strategy, and innovation company that helps its clients Think Big and Act Small.
MACHINE clients over the years have included people responsible for growth and innovation at The New York Times, Marriott, Viacom, Etsy, Google, Nike, The Washington Post, Feeding America, Fresh Direct, NBC Universal, and The Knight Foundation.
Prior to founding MACHINE, Ryan led teams and relationships at the design and innovation firm IDEO. He was a founding member and location head of the IDEO New York office and built the Business Design discipline at the firm.
Ryan is also the author of the book named “Making Progress” with Sense and Respond press. A book he describes as “a tactical guide for you, the person charged with leading innovation”
Agile is about adapting to change. Change is a reality, we can’t avoid it. How we react to change is what will make or break our product development efforts.
For us to be Agile and adaptable, however, we must be able to change direction quickly. Adjust the deliverables after we collect market/customer feedback. Many teams I’ve worked with were doing exactly the opposite!
Teams often get stuck in the “this story can’t be broken down any further” anti-pattern. They push themselves to deliver enormous User Stories, and therefore end up having to do a lot of upfront planning and estimation (both are needed when the work items are very large).
If teams were able to slice work down to very small increments – say, one day or less – then they would not need to spend so much time planning and estimating. They might even be able to adapt during a Sprint, instead of waiting for the end of the Sprint.