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

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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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