Transparency, Iteration and Empowerment – The 3 principles behind agile tools

Transparency, Iteration and Empowerment – The 3 principles behind agile tools

The jungle of agile methods is so big that you can easily get lost in it. Some methods such as Scrum, Design thinking, OKR are better known and used more often. But here, too, companies experience that complete introduction of e.g. Scrum is associated with too much set of rules for some employee groups and therefore is impractical. To achieve quick wins, it would be helpful to know and apply the principles behind it.

So, we got down to work at MDI to filter out the principles behind the main agile methods. We came across 3 main principles: Transparency, iteration, and empowerment (TIE)

Behind each lie a few detail principles:

 

Transparency:

  • Visualization and if possible making it tangible
  • Simplicity and standardization in the method

 

Iteration:

  • Early and continuous delivery
  • Experimenting is more important than detailed planning
  • Frequent evaluation and incremental solution development
  • Short work cycles (time-boxed) and prototyping
  • Fail fast to succeed sooner
  • Lean management and continuous improvement

 

Empowerment:

  • Lateral leadership is more important than hierarchical guidance
  • intrinsic instead of extrinsic motivation
  • focus on the purpose
  • Multidisciplinary team focus instead of lone fighters
  • Interactivity

The 3 principles behind agile tools – empowerment, iteration & transparency can be a good starting point for successfully managing your way through the agile jungle

Many companies are agile in their corporate culture. The 3 Principles (TIE) are a good starting point to tie an agile leadership and corporate culture. As a check-in we can start with a position determination in which we ask ourselves as a person/ team/organization the following questions:

 

How transparent are we?

  • Can e.g. everyone in the company see the goals and goals achievement of everybody else including the CEO?
  • Is there clear visibility on which projects are currently being worked on and does everybody have the opportunity to provide input?
  • Do we have clear internal processes for structuring everyday business? (e.g. Kanban Board, Daily Stand-Ups, Meeting Structure, …)

 

How iterative do we proceed?

  • Do we first want a perfect solution before we show it to the customer or is the (internal or external) customer regularly involved in the development of the solution?
  • Do we make regular interim evaluations?
  • Are we open to adapting our solution to changing requirements during the process?

 

How much empowerment do we allow?

  • Is our leadership more based on convincing and commitment, or hierarchical authority?
  • Are our employees motivated by autonomy, mastery, and purpose (DRIVE)?
  • Are our teams organized in an interdisciplinary and autonomous way to work as efficiently as possible on a project?

 

In addition, we can use these main principles to make the training and development concept of a company fit for digital transformation. By e.g. evaluating if and how these principles are currently used in the

  • Competency Model
  • leadership and cooperation principles/rules of play
  • and possibly even in company values.

 

If e.g. an automobile producer defines himself by perfection and thus needs long innovation cycles, it will make sense to consider to what extent iteration should replace the delivery of perfect solutions.

Or if confidentiality plays a central role in the financial service, then it might make sense to create a culture of transparency in at least some areas, where e.g. MbO is replaced by OKR (insert link to past blog).

As a third example, let’s take a look at retail: Here, in many businesses, it is common for a small number of head office employees to define the processes and rules for many thousands of employees in the stores. A shift towards empowerment means at least interaction on eye-level and a much greater involvement of employees at the point of sale.

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Agile transformation – our experience at MDI

Agile transformation – our experience at MDI

The whole agile leadership idea is based on the observation, that accelerated change is the norm. What does that mean for change management? The classical concepts of Kübler-Ross (change curve) and Kotter (8 steps model) are still a good inspiration to describe what happens in change and what to do, but perhaps not sufficient to deal with agile transformation.

Agile transformation usually means that a whole company or business unit is becoming agile. Many companies are striving for that. There are 2 main approaches: Big bang and incremental.

Paypal is an example for a successful big bang transformation moving 510 cross-functional teams from waterfall to agile within less than a year. They moved from project-driven to product-line discipline in order to develop clear accountability and intense customer focus. Productivity and profitability rose significantly.

Most companies go for incremental, which can also work fine. It depends on how big is the urge for change and on the organizational interdependencies. If e.g. agile teams depend on waterfall teams and the delivery does not work smoothly, it might be better to change the approach in the whole business unit at the same time. Incremental is already an agile principle and it is better to start somewhere in the organization than to postpone to a future far away.

As I only want to write about things, that I have personal experience with, I want to share our own agile transformation story. I am the CEO of MDI – Management Development International. MDI provides leadership development solutions. In 2016 we have been invited to support the implementation of OKR (objectives and key results) in an international top brand company with approx. 300.000 employees. We decided to introduce OKR to our own company with about 40 employees and 150 freelance trainers first.

This was like a domino stone falling and generating a chain reaction. We decided to also implement a rolling budget, changed to a customer-centric team structure, adjusted our mission and vision statement and started to try out one agile method after the other. Some stayed one time experiences and others became routine and part of the company DNA.

After a while, we thought it would be helpful to have an overview of what we are doing in which areas, in order to develop in a balanced way. Being inspired by the Story map of HR Pioneers*, we visualized a “Change journey map”:

Agile transformation at MDI

This Change journey also helps to

  • become aware of the progress in the phases of agile transformation and motivates to continue
  • find the right balance between day to day business and investment in the agile transformation
  • decide what you want to try out once and what you want to make a routine.

We are aware, that there is a long way to go for us and that there will never be an end, as the digital evolution continues to speed up. But the Change journey overview helps to be in the frontline of digital disruption.

*Informatik aktuell Sept 2017, Hendericks

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The disruption surfer – how to respond to the waves of change

The disruption surfer – how to respond to the waves of change

The world we live and work in has become more and more fluid over the past few years. Changes are happening so fast that we can barely build on a solid ground. In the past, most companies worked like this: an industrial company, for example, built a factory that would work and exist for a few decades. Today, the most valuable companies, have – in comparison to the past – little-fixed assets. Current ideas, connecting resources, and a constant adoption became much more important. If we are looking for a metaphor for the modern leader, we should start with the underground. Nowadays, the underground of the modern leader would rather be water or air than a solid underground. Waves in the sea are a good metaphor for the waves of the disruption.

 

Waves instead of a solid ground

 

Often, these waves arise far away before they come to the coast, where their size is only predictable at short notice. Therefore, they can either be a threat or a great chance for the surfer. An experienced surfer observes the waves and chooses the right one for him. If the waves are not strong enough, you can’t really do a lot with it.

Waves of the disruption

Is the wave a threat or a great chance for the surfer? An experienced surfer observes the waves in the first place and chooses the right one for him afterwards.

 

As a leader in the digital transformation, you should definitely keep an eye on the approaching waves of change. Many companies are drowning because they ignore the changes, which are often coming from an unexpected side. If they do not ignore them, they often only recognize them when it is already too late. In the meanwhile, others could perceive the opportunities and the creative potential of the changes and are often surprised by the unexpected possibilities which suddenly arise.

 

The surfboard – a tool of agile leadership

 

Basically, a surfer only needs the right surfboard as a tool. The material entry barrier for this sport is very low. This applies to the digital economy as well. Many of today’s largest Silicon Valley companies were founded by students with little equity. As an agile leader, you have a variety of tools at your disposal. We’ve already worked out the most important key tools, you should have as an agile leader in a previous blog article.

Surfboard as a tool for disruption

As with the digital economy, the material entry barrier at surfing is very low – all you need is a surfboard, basically. Some of Silicon Valley’s top companies were founded with little equity as well.

Next to the tool-set, the associated skills want to be developed as well. A surfer’s main skill is the ability to balance on a moving surface which can only be achieved by a constant and balanced movement. This is cognitively difficult. As a surfer, you develop a sense of balance through a lot of practice. The same applies to an agile leader. The key to stay on track is the ability to react quickly and adequately to the many and rapid changes. Doing this by himself is quite difficult. Therefore he needs additional collaboration skills, such as creating transparency and visualizing things.

 

Attitude and skillset

 

Both, the surfer and the agile leader, are only able to gain mastery when tapping into creative potential.

Even more important as a tool-and skillset is the right mindset: the disruption surfer sees a change as an opportunity, acts with others at eye level and with much openness. Even if the disruption waves look threatening to many people in the first place, the disruption surfer says, with brightness in his eyes: “Wow, this wave I’ll take!”

Article by Mag. Gunther Fürstberger, CEO of MDI Management Development International.

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About the author

Anita Berger is MDI Managing Partner and accompanies organizations internationally and from all sectors as a consultant in organizational development, as a management trainer and coach, for many years already. She is an expert when it comes to engagement and motivation 3.0. As a certified trainer, she offers the Original Drive Workshop after Daniel H. Pink, which is also a module of the Agile Leadership certification course.

Being an agile leader – be mobile & motivate

 

For me, being an agile leader means to be flexible and to stay mobile. The conditions in companies, teams, and projects are changing so fast today that it is often not possible to act proactively – you have to react. As fast as possible. Agile leadership is about being mobile and staying mobile. Wherever possible, you should, of course, be able to plan and act proactively. But in my opinion, nowadays, it is more important to react quickly, constructively and productively. Another important skill is being able to adapt to different circumstances as a leader.

A successful leader also creates a set-up that allows employees to think in terms of ideas and solutions rather than problems. Employees must be able to think outside the box and constantly explore options and opportunities. Employees need a high degree of self-commitment and personal responsibility. The reason for this is that our fast-paced time is exhausting, certainly not always “easy-cheesy” and relaxing. In order to do so, a leader needs employees who understand the reason behind actions and projects. More importantly, they need to believe in it and go an extra mile to achieve the maximum performance from their own accord.

 

It’s all about purpose

 

In this context, the purpose plays a crucial role. Ideally, it is like this: There is a clearly formulated and strong corporate purpose the employees know about. They can reflect on this corporate purpose and establish an intersection between what is important to them and the purpose of the organization. With this interaction, they know how to contribute to the “bigger picture”.

Of course, there will be cases in which the company’s purpose is not tangible enough to define one’s own contribution as an employee. If this is the case, it takes a break on the organizational unit, which is relevant for each team member, followed by the comparison: How does that fit together? What is important to the person?

I think that there is still potential in many companies when it comes to defining the purpose. Especially regarding the correlation between one’s personal purpose and the purpose of the organization.

Finding Purpose

Many leaders are asking the same question: Why do I do what I am doing? How can I contribute?

 

If you would like to start working on this topic, start with questions like What does purpose actually mean for our company? How tangible is it and is there place and time for a real confrontation? Is it something that stands on a marketing folder or do I associate more with it as a leader, as a CEO or as a board member?

Furthermore, it is important to look for the dispute according to rounds of questions and discussions. It is about a conscious process, in which employees deal with their own purpose and at the same time as the one of the company. As well as actively looking for points of friction and similarities. It can happen that somebody says: My purpose is not your business, that’s private. Of course, this must be respected and, as a leader, you must at least make sure that the respective team members recognize their own contribution to the corporate mission through their work tasks. Thereby they have to find meaning in what they do and, as a result, gain commitment.

 

The concept of engagement – Drive by Daniel H. Pink

 

A concept, I really like to use, is the Drive concept from the bestselling author Daniel H. Pink. I use it to reflect with leaders and team members and to work on motivation and purpose. From my point of view, it gives you clarity in a complex of topics that is sometimes elusive and difficult to grasp. Furthermore, it provides valuable insights by determining the location: where do I stand? How do I fit for the business purpose? What else would it take for the fit to be better?

For example, I worked with a group of senior executives and spent a whole afternoon answering questions like: ”What is my own purpose? How does this coincide with the corporate trajectory?” One participant has stated that she clearly separates her own purpose from that of the company, and at the same time realizes that it requires quite a bit of effort. As a result, she asked herself where there could be a common intersection, and how much energy she can use to bridge this gap.

Exactly those kinds of reflections are the ones, I find extremely valuable for both sides, the participants, and company. It offers a real value, to pause for a moment and go into depth to gain clarity on the one hand, but more importantly to gain motivation and commitment for the daily challenges.

More about the DRIVE concept

 

In addition to the purpose, the Drive concept is also about self-determination (Autonomy) and perfecting (Mastery) as a lever for engagement. Find out more about the concept in this video and in Daniel H. Pink’s book The surprising truth about what motivates us.”

 

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Incredible 40 billion Lego bricks are said to exist in the world. After they conquered the hearts of many children, the small colorful stones are now conquering the seminar rooms in the management & development industry. We wanted to experience this method ourselves. Therefore we had a Lego Serious Play workshop, where we asked ourselves: What will MDI look like in 2025?

 

Impuls Workshop Lego Serious Play – Our Hard Facts

 

Duration: 3 hours

Number of participants: 15

Facilitator: Dominik Etzl

Question: What will MDI look like in 2025?

Framework: MDI team workshop 2018, day 2

Goal: First of all, we are always looking for new agile methods and wanted to experience this one as well. Furthermore, we wanted to find a common vision for MDI in 2025.

 

Think with your hands

 

This is basically the only rule in Lego Serious Play, wherefore it is unstoppable that all participants are starting to build once the little bricks are spread out on the table. But that’s not a problem at all, as Lego Serious Play is not about thinking and planning for a long time, it’s just about doing it.

While our facilitator has given an overview of the method and different fields of application, we have already developed the first buildings within a team. In addition to the intuitive and unstoppable building, we also had some warm-up exercises, with questions such as: What motivates you in your daily work?

Lego Serious Play Teamworkshop Marketing

„It motivates me that we are a team many different characters with different tasks. Nevertheless, we have one important thing in common: we all work at MDI. The cooperation with my colleagues and the helpfulness within the team motivates me every day. ” (Judith, Marketing)

„While building my model, I realized that I do not have a strict division between my professional and personal life. All my different activities and roles in life are symbolized by the different branches in my model. Having the ability to flexibly move around on those branches and combining one with the other motivates me tremendously.” (Julia, Marketing)

Lego Serious Play Julia
Lego Serious Play Teamworkshop Consulting

“When my colleague asked me what motivates me in my job, I shaped a smiley. I think it’s important to be able to laugh a lot, no matter how serious life is. I don’t miss that at MDI. There is a lot of laughter and fun in my work environment, and that is something that motivates me to go to work! Apart from the good mood in the office, we have a great relationship with our clients and coaches! This atmosphere motivates me a lot.”(Valmire, Junior Training & Development Consultant)

Since no specific know-how or skills are necessarily needed to work with Lego Serious Play, we came straight to the point fairly quickly: What will MDI look like in 2025?

In order to obtain different results here, we have divided our team into three groups according to their functions: Consulting, Project Management, and Solution Development together with Marketing. What was the concrete task? Everyone had to build their own vision first. Afterwards, the individual versions were assembled on a large board and supplemented or shortened.

The unstoppable euphoria about building new things has temporarily paused here because the question was complex and we wanted to take some time to think about it. But after a few minutes, all three team tables (Consulting, Project Management, and Marketing + Solution Development) were already starting to build their ideas and visions.

 

The ideas and discussion

 

After 20 minutes, it was time to introduce our future visions to each other. What we quickly noticed was, that new ideas were coming to light – even though we didn’t have a lot of time. The models we built, were the ideal starting point for discussions. We did not only discuss the models within the whole MDI team but also within the small groups and departments.

But what are the next steps for now?

We brought the Lego structures of “MDI in 2025” of all the teams to our office so that the ideas, we collected during the workshop, would not be forgotten. In the next few weeks and months, we will see which ideas will be implemented. However, it is already clear that we did not only get to know another agile method but also gathered many new ideas and motivation for future projects, through this workshop.

FAST FACTS ABOUT THE TOPIC

Why Lego Serious Play?

  • Everyone is actively involved and makes their personal contribution to answering the question
  • Knowledge is taught and the learning effect is enhanced
  • Thoughts are illustrated
  • Tangible models remain stronger and longer in our memory

 

In which areas can Lego Serious Play be used?

  • In the search for new ideas and innovation
  • To create a shared vision and concrete strategies for your own company
  • Team Development
  • Communication, values, and behavior can be reflected by this method
  • To analyze future scenarios in a playful way

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How to successfully use the cynefin framework [Quick-Info]

The framework – its origin and background

 

The main idea of the cynefin framework was developed by the Welsh management consultant Dave Snowden, who has worked for IBM for many years. The knowledge management system is supporting us in identifying and understanding different situations based on their complexity. In this way, suitable ways of acting can be derived. The framework detects in which situation agile management tools should be used and when it is better to refer to classic management methods. Not every problem requires agile solutions and methods. Therefore the Cynefin framework should always be applied BEFORE deciding which management method to use.

 

The four domains of the framework and their fields of application

 

All in all, the framework can be divided into 4 different fields:

  • Simple: in this field, the relationship between cause and effect is clear and obvious for everybody. Simply said: “if you do this, you can expect this response”.
  • Complicated: there is a clear relationship between cause and effect, but an analysis and/or expert knowledge is required.
  • Complex:  the relationship between cause and effect can only be identified afterwards, which is why it is not possible to make predictions about the future but only about the past.
  • Chaotic: there is no relationship between cause and effect.

With this framework, situations can now be divided into this four different domains. This gives me a clear and situation-specific instruction on what to do. The framework helps you to quickly analyze situations and to find the right management style. It makes a huge difference, for instance, if I am in a complicated or complex business environment.

In the complicated environment (classic management methods), an analysis should be carried out, whereas – in the complex environment – agile methods should be used. This helps companies not only to find the right management tool in a quick and efficient way but also explains why problem X, for instance, should be solved with agile methods, whereas problem Y shouldn’t.

Uschi Cynefin Framework Trainer
About the author

Ursula Weixlbaumer-Norz is always looking for new solutions for leadership challenges of our time. She is working as a trainer and coach for many years already and is specialized in team development, negotiation techniques, conflict and crisis management, intercultural competences, communication, motivation, change management and management strategies.

Since when are you working with the cynefin framework?

Ursula: About 1 1/2 years ago I came across the cynefin framework and immediately liked the idea of the framework really much. This year I was attending a further education in London on this topic.

 

What are your experiences with the framework?

Ursula: Nowadays, you get the impression that agile methods are everywhere. During my coachings and trainings, I often deal with leaders who do not know where and how to use all those new agile methods. This is exactly where the cynefin framework can support them, which makes the decision which problem-solving method to us, much easier.

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How to lead a business through the digital transformation [Development approaches]

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Modern technologies have changed our working conditions. Digitalization has become the number one leadership challenge. In order to succeed as a company in times of this digital revolution, a new, agile leadership approach has become a matter of survival.

Whereas the business world used to be rather steady and predictable before the digitalization, it is increasingly volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous (VUCA).

Nevertheless, many leaders still employ practices, strategies, and tools that were common in times before digitalization, where leadership was long-term, bureaucratic, hierarchical, directing and instructive.

But – this leadership model is no longer up to date due to the changes in the business world. Specifically, this means that

  • the “internet of things” is real
  • information is accessible to everyone instead of a small group only
  • old businesses close down and new ones open up every day
  • former constants now underlie regular change
  • expertise shows in a well-developed resource-network rather than mere theoretical knowledge

 

 What are the consequences of the digital revolution for leaders?

 

Due to the changes in our business world, a lot must change on the leadership level as well. Leadership must be adapted to constant changes and keep track with the latest technologies and trends. But what are now the specific consequences for leaders?

  • Traditional development is expensive and time-consuming
  • Teams need to be empowered; collaboration is essential
  • Development often requires customers to be involved in the process
  • Requirements are constantly changing
  • No clear conclusion, development continues

 

In short: a new leadership approach is needed.

 

We need a leadership approach that is natively adaptive to change – and does not build upon past conditions. An approach that does not assume that the world is stable and predictable – but rather is aware of the fact that the fundamental conditions have to be questioned again and again during a project. After all, the future of business-success belongs to those, who know how to use the changes for themselves and to turn challenges into opportunities.

 

Agile leadership as a new leadership approach

 

Agile leadership originates from the IT industry, which is an industry that is constantly changing. This leadership approach is designed for fast changing cycles and is using shorter sprints, iteration cycles, and continuous feedback. Agile leadership is driven by transparent processes and developments and supports team-collaboration, communication, and interaction within the team.

What do you need as an agile leader to be successful in today’s world?

agile leader in digital transformation
  1. A new mindset, to see change as an opportunity to create an agile organizational culture, to communicate the „big picture“ and to always be one step ahead of the competition.

Individuals & interactions instead of processes & tools

Working software instead of comprehensive documentation

Customer collaboration instead of contract negotiation

Responding to changes instead of following a plan

2. A new skillset, to create the framework and infrastructure for an individual development of each employee.

Skills, an agile leader needs to have

 

  • Entrepreneurial thinking
  • Strong customer focus
  • Employee focus
  • Teamwork
  • Self-leadership and reflection
  • Tolerance for ambiguity
  • Flexibility
  • Change management competencies
  • Solution competency
  • Leading virtual teams, leading from distance
  • Knowing agile work and management methods
  • High communication competency

 

3. A new toolset, to successfully implement the theory into practice and maintain an agile organizational culture.

What are the concrete consequences for you as a leader?

 

Due to the digitization, roles and responsibilities have changed within companies. The market is changing daily and the world is becoming increasingly uncertain. Agile leadership is indispensable in order to be able to assert itself as a company on the market in the long term. However, the successful transition to an agile leadership model requires the full support of everyone involved.

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