In many ways, “Agile” has become a victim of its own success. C level executives now pursue “Agile” as the silver bullet to fix their companies, often without really understanding what organizational agility looks like or the sacrifices necessary to move in that direction. If you’re considering leading an effort to increase agility in your organization, here are some questions that are vital to ask before heading out. The answers your senior leaders give you to these questions can help you understand if you have the support to really make agile practices stick in your organization.
1. What do we hope to achieve from our move to agility?
This is your opportunity to understand if expectations are aligned to reality. A shift to agility in most organizations is more of a culture change than a process change. Culture change is difficult and takes a long time. If your executive sponsor expects something along the lines of "Convert our entire organization to agile within the next 12 months.", you've now identified an opportunity to have a deeper conversation and guide expectations.
2. How will we measure progress?
A common issue I've observed in organizations that have attempted to make the shift to agility and failed is loss of momentum due to a lack of demonstrable results. It wasn't that the changes being made in the name of agility weren't helping the organization to execute more effectively. Instead, it was the inability of the agile champions to demonstrate exactly how those practices had benefited the organization because they failed to set clear expectations and gain consensus on how those results would be measured. As I mentioned earlier, a shift to agile is a culture change. You will meet resistance. Generating small wins and showing how the shift to agile practices has directly contributed to the organization being more effective is your best defense.
3. What do you think you’ll need to change about the way you lead for this to work? Are you sure you’re willing to do that?
Okay, so this is a two-part question, but it's important to make sure your executive sponsor understands the personal commitment she is making. Another common failure pattern I've seen in organizations that fell short on their journey to agility is the idea that agility is something that happens at the individual contributor level. The reality I've often observed is that those people are actually working pretty effectively given the organizational constraints that have been placed on them. It's usually not the people on your teams that are preventing the organization from being fast and responsive, it's the processes and incentives that control their environments that are the real culprits. In order to change the environment, leaders must change the way they run the organization. Make sure your executive sponsor understands that before you set out on your agile journey.