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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Why – The core changes of digital disruption

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Digitalization is a global mega trend that forces almost all companies to change significantly. But what are the main characteristics of those changes around us? If we understand better, what is changing in our environment, we have higher chances to work on the right adjustments within the organization in order to reach a better fit with the environment.

The starting point is technological progress: Binary code, microchip, internet, big data, internet of things, artificial intelligence, physical products (combi of digital and reality), intelligent personal assistants etc. have and will continue to change our day to day life.

This technological progress led to some main changes in how we work and live together. On the basis of Khan’s* work we identified 6 core changes:

  1. Interconnectedness
  2. Abundance of information
  3. Increased complexity
  4.  Increased transparency
  5.  Less hierarchical, more empowerment
  6. Man Machine cooperation


1. Interconnectedness

 

Billions of smartphone users can interact with each other without time delay. Experts are forming worldwide research networks, crowdsourcing allows to receive many ideas, financial resources etc. with little cost and time investment.

 

2. Abundance of information

 

It can be a blessing and it can be a curse. We can access most relevant info in our vicinity or from the other side of the world. Some people look at their Smartphone in order to see, how the weather is outside the window. Highly paid software developers are pretty good in seducing us to spend more and more time with applications and to activate the push notifications.

 

3. Increased complexity

 

With the increased speed of change and more and more people sharing the same space, complexity goes up. In most cases, organizations need to increase internal complexity in order to get along with external complexity. E.g. a retail has to build up an online shop and blend the physical and online world, find a way to balance classical retail management with the agile world of online development …

speed of change in the digital disruption

With the increasing speed of change, the complexity goes up as well

4. Increased transparency

 

Nowadays it is very difficult to keep a higher level of privacy. Cameras everywhere in the city, iPhone search function, Google earth, Facebook etc. make our day to day life very transparent. If somebody wants to find out, whether the spouse has an affair, this should not be too difficult anymore 😉. At the same time, you can run a business on other continents with e.g. using Google docs, Yammer, Trello and many other kinds of cloud software.

 

5. Less hierarchical, more empowerment

 

In a knowledge economy, people want to have a say. And they also need to be empowered to make decisions close to the client or the technical challenge. Hierarchy is too slow. Laloux’s reinventing organizations, holocracy, lateral leadership etc. point at democratic alternatives. Hierarchy loses influence but will not fade totally.

 

6. Man-machine cooperation

 

Anorganic entities with some digital steering (programs, bots, robots) and humans work side to side. We find thousands of example in industry, medicine, business, travel etc.

In the metaphor of the Disruption Surfer, these 6 core changes describe, what the waves are made of. Each wave is unique. Nevertheless, waves have common patterns. If we know how to read them, we will be successful in picking and surfing the next wave.

 

Article written by Dominik Etzl und Gunther Fürstberger

*Shayan Khan/Tikkanen (Stockholm Business School 2016)

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