In today’s episode of the Agile Coaches’ Corner podcast, Dan Neumann is joined by Andrea Floyd, an enterprise agile transformation consultant at AgileThought. Andrea has 25 years of experience in software development and management. She is an innovator who has led multiple organization-wide scaled agile implementations, and she has also architected innovative solution strategies and roadmaps across many frameworks (including Scrum, Kanban and the Scaled Agile Framework).
Dan and Andrea will be taking a look at some of the reasons why agile transformations don’t stick. Sometimes transformations get announced with fanfare…but then die off with whimpers. Tune in so you can learn how to reduce the chance of failure and give your teams the best chance of success.
Transcript [This transcript is auto-generated and not completely accurate in its depiction of the English language or rules of grammar]
Intro [00:03]: Welcome to Agile Coaches’ Corner by AgileThought. The podcast for practitioners and leaders seeking advice to refine the way they work and pave the path to better outcomes. Now here’s your host, coach and agile expert, Dan Neumann.
Dan Neumann [00:16]: Welcome to the Agile Coaches’ Corner. I’m Dan Neumann and I’m happy to be joined today by Andrea Floyd. Andrea is a transformation consultant here within AgileThought and she brings with her about 25 years of experience in software development and project management. She’s been an innovator that’s led multiple organization-wide scaled agile implementations and has experienced architecting innovative solutions, strategies, and roadmaps across a bunch of frameworks, including Scrum and Kanban and the scaled agile framework. So thanks for joining Andrea. This is your first time on the podcast.
Andrea Floyd [00:49]: It is and I’m excited to be here.
Dan Neumann [00:51]: I’m excited to have you and I’m excited about the topic. We’re going to be talking about reasons why agile transformations don’t stick. Have you seen that happen in the past?
Andrea Floyd [01:03]: You know, um, frequently, sadly. Um, there’s several reasons why that might occur, but, uh, it’s sort of disheartening when you, when you go in and there’s all this energy around and excitement around doing something different and learning new ways to work and the momentum gets going and then somehow life creeps in and things start to face some challenges. And then the energy that was once there sort of dissipates and, and I’ve seen them revert back to um, how things were done yesterday.
Dan Neumann [01:37]: Yeah. Uh, transformations a lot of times get announced with fanfare and sometimes die with whimpers. For sure. So what are, what’s a maybe what’s top of your list for why some of these don’t stick? What do you see?
Andrea Floyd [01:51]: Well, a lot of them, you know, they get going and it really depends on how these transformations get their kickstart. Some start off as grassroots, some are started at the C level and then there’s this perception of it being pushed down. Really what I, I’ve learned through many transformations is, is that you need to have a, a, an awareness of why you’re doing a transformation and it needs to be shared enterprise. Why? So if you aren’t personally impacted, you understand that there is change happening in pockets within the organization and that change may have, uh, limited, but some way a fingering approach, um, where it impacts what you’re doing. So a lot of, um, transformations if it’s deemed that it’s just being dictated to and they don’t understand why, you know, why are we trying to change and how’s this going to impact me? Going back to the principle of understanding what’s in it for them, uh, you’ll get resistors and, uh, those resistors can erode, um, the intention behind the transformation. And then if they started as grassroots, it’s great, but they’re very organic and they sometimes don’t have the, the influence or the investment behind them to actually take a foothold. And there’s some fundamental things that may need to shift in the organization that they can’t, um, influence or impact. So it needs to be done holistically, but in small pockets where you can actually start to, uh, demonstrate what the value is going to be achieved by the change that’s coming. So it really depends on, um, the perfect marriage between having the, uh, enterprise-wide support as well as having the individuals who are working and facing challenges today being fully onboard and understanding how this is going to impact their world in a positive way.
Dan Neumann [03:54]: Yeah. And I’ve seen even if there is a vision and the communication of what’s in it for them, a lot of times it feels like that isn’t communicated often enough. So saying it once or at a, you know, a town hall or a big corporate all hands or something like that isn’t sufficient. It’s one of those messages that has to keep being reinforced time after time.
Andrea Floyd [04:19]: Absolutely. You link that back to the empirical control process. That transparency. Right. So you want to make sure, just as you’re saying Dan, is that while it may not be touching each individual in the organization as deeply as some, there needs to be an awareness and it needs to be visible. What are we trying to achieve and how are we progressing towards that and are we achieving the successes we’re hoping for? So creating that community of believers who turn into supporters.
Dan Neumann [04:48]: I like that. And you touched on the other, um, thing that I’ve seen happen, which is the grassroots thing and that it bumps up into some layer in the organization that hasn’t bought in. So, uh, I that sometimes looks like people go off to the conference, you know, it’s submission season right now for just closed for the big agile conference. So imagine you’ve got a group that goes to the agile conference and they see all the talks and they come back all excited and they do some stuff and then they smack into a level in the organization, you know, senior folks that, um, aren’t all excited about this agile thing and they’re a fairly traditional group and, and that definitely creates some friction.
Andrea Floyd [05:25]: Right. And I think as we talk about the topic of friction, it sort of ties into another thing that I’ve seen, you know, really impact maybe and a challenging way, transformations that are underway are the lack of, um, identifying a team of champions throughout the organization and being very mindful on who you ask to participate in that role. Making sure that they have those soft skills, um, such as, you know, they’re a trusted advisor or they have the ability to positively influence. So there are people that others want to listen to and have seen be successful. But the reason I say a team is you want to make sure that you’re setting up the transformation for sustainability. So as you grow, um, and you develop these original, let’s say five, that’s a great number for a group of champions as you have hopefully enough representation through the levels of the organizations and the department. But then you’ve got this community coming along and just like learning when you then radiate out from that and you seek out other champions to, to pass the baton on to you get this, um, sprinkling of these agent change agents throughout the organization who not only there to support but they understand the real life problems that many of us face in our organizations. Their agile is not that silver magic bullet that once you say we’re doing agile, all your problems go away. It really is, is that agile in my opinion, helps to illuminate those things that you’re already aware of. So if you can see them and then you have some support to help understand how you might work differently to address some of those real world problems that you’re facing every day, um, then you can actually affect change. So agile has a bunch of different frameworks and techniques and practices that help create that transparency so that the right action can be taken.
Dan Neumann [07:35]: Yeah, I believe this episode’s going to be released right after one with Jorgen Hesselberg. And I had a chance to work with him when I was independent at Nokia and he wrote a book about agile transformation and that framework, they had an agile working group is what they called it and it was a team of not the most senior folks, but they had the support of a very senior leader. So she provided a lot of the support and then they had the agile working group that was doing these things like reaching out, building support. Um, they had their transformation board and um, they, they were, uh, champions. They did have a lot of empathy. They did some listening, but they were also fairly, um, firm in setting the direction that things were going and kept that kept that momentum going as they went through.
Andrea Floyd [08:26]: That’s an excellent point. Sometimes why transformations don’t stick is the train goes off the track, and I call it the rubber band theory, is that if you don’t continually reinforce those behaviors, um, and to have a deep understanding of why you’re doing the different frameworks or practices that you’re doing, if you don’t understand the why behind it, it becomes more often a series of just checking the box. While I’m doing, for instance, let’s say you’re using the Scrum Framework. Well, I’m doing Scrum and I have my daily Scrums and my planning and my retrospectives in my review. So I, you know, I’m doing, you know, and I’m operating in a two week sprint. So check, check, check, check. Well, that’s all good. But then what happens is life starts to happen. The enthusiasm around the new thing, this transformation starts to diminish a bit. And people start saying, well, we don’t really need a daily Scrum. I mean, honestly, you know, we’re, we’re getting work done. It’s, it’s just not adding the value. It’s a distracted. There’s too many events and that’s, you know, one of those symptoms I look for. It just instantly tells me that they don’t, that the people who are practicing aren’t understanding why these events exist and what they’re promoting in terms of the importance of that collaboration and communication that’s happening. So that’s, you know, if you don’t have somebody there to remain in place to help monitor and provide ongoing awareness because we start to do what we do and living our lives. And this is just our pattern. And if somebody is not looking for what we call anti-patterns and helping to coach us and mentor us on reminding us why we did, we’re going to snap back. That rubber band is going to go back to its original position and you’re going to start doing things the way you used to because we as humans do what’s comfortable for us, what we know as part of our innate beings. So you’ll fall back into old patterns. So you definitely need those guardians to help make sure that they’re looking for those, um, behaviors. But more importantly there to reinforce and coach and, and provide the right information to reinforce the importance of why.
Dan Neumann [10:59]: Yeah what you described, you know, the guardians you’ve got, uh, the barbarians at the gate if you will, which is just kind of the, the everyday things that the people are used to dealing with. And you know, the difference between, uh, somebody who is a Scrum Master in the Scrum Framework or a Scrum Master in title only and maybe they do the administrative stuff of making sure meetings get up is a very weak implementation. It’s not even really being a Scrum M. It’s the Scrum Masters who are looking for, are we living the Scrum values? Are we getting the benefits out of the events? Are the roles being fulfilled? Well, is the, is the organization taking an agile stance and moving that way, um, that is so much more powerful and can help this rubber band from, from snapping back, if you will?
Andrea Floyd [11:48]: Absolutely. I’m sure we all understand as individuals, everybody responds to change differently and they’re going to be on their own individual journeys on how quickly or open they are to doing things differently. Things may, in their opinion be working just fine and this is a disruptor. It’s a distractor from getting the work done, so you’re going to have to have people in place. You can help have those right conversations and help the individuals to feel like they’re being heard so their points can be understood, but equally important that you can open them up to understanding how applying a framework or a practice may actually shift some things and increase their ability to be successful. So often I look for people to take the baton who are charismatic and I used a term earlier around being a trusted advisor. You want to make sure that for that agile transformation to sustain, you have those influencers identified and feeling confident in their abilities to provide that support. And I keep seeing real world, you know, client after client, you know, they’re excited about the opportunity to do things differently and to learn what agile would mean for their organization. But they are, they’re hitting a timeline. they’ve got milestones, they’ve got business commitments that need to be made. So you need to have practical, um, options available to help people move through the change. It’s a journey. It’s not a quick win. I mean there are definitely quick wins that you can look forward to, um, impact and hopefully help people to see the value so that you can make this shift. But they need to understand that you can work in harmony with some current processes as you make the transition to your future state. And that takes, um, partnering with the right people who can visualize that and articulate to everyone, cause it’s one thing to talk to, let me just say it’s a software organization, one thing to talk to a developer about that. But it’s certainly another thing to talk to a product manager or owner who is responsible for hitting something out into the market and explaining to them how this is going to be able to in the midterm support that. But there are some shifts that we need to make. So they need to understand from a revenue standpoint, um, the value that’s going to be achieved and understand that there is a reasonable way to get to their destination.
Dan Neumann [14:27]: And as you talked about the rubber banding, obviously at AgileThought or maybe not obvious, I guess I shouldn’t take for granted that people know that we sometimes are helping organizations do transformations and it’s important that the organization take responsibility for moving things forward. And um, we can help and guide and train and coach. But when you remove that external influence, it’s important that that organization has, has really championed their own agility. And, and taken on that responsibility for, um, mitigating the risk of this rubber band snapping back as soon as the outsiders disappear.
Andrea Floyd [15:07]: Right. Absolutely. And so one of the techniques for helping people to see that is to help them see as soon as possible, um, how the transformation, um, or aspects of it can show real value and improvement. So that goes back to one of the other, um, observations. You know, this big bang versus looking for start small, right? And I will often think about how do you earn the trust and the respect and confidence of those that you’re working with or alongside of. And it’s by showing them that I can consistently do a behavior. I can consistently make, um, a quality, um, increment of a product. I can consistently tell you, um, if I understand, um, in relative size how much something is in terms of complexity or effort I can with some sense of confidence forecast when I may be able to get that work to you. And that’s the artistry around us is looking for those opportunities to start to demonstrate that value sooner rather than later. And that’s why if you can get a team operating and get people excited about what they’re seeing, that team achieving, there’s this natural, I want to do what they’re doing, you know, that evolves and then it starts to cascade. But again, if it’s not seen as being successful or achieving the outcomes that they want to achieve, they’re gonna lose interest and it’s going to become one of those dinosaurs that it set up on the shelf and they walk away from.
Dan Neumann [16:54]: Yeah, and when the pilot team or some attempt to get started, it turns into a false start or something that doesn’t deliver value or leaves bad feelings in people’s mouth. That’s also a challenge to overcome. Then, so being pretty intentional about selecting which team, which effort, whether it’s a project or a product or whatever, you know which team, what effort, and making sure that you’re giving that the best chance of success so that it does become an attractive force.
Andrea Floyd [17:25]: That is such a great segue to one of the other observations. It’s about investment, right? If you don’t put the right investment in your transformation or the change that you’re trying to, um, create, you’re not going to see the results that you’re looking for. And the investment is not only around obviously dollars, but it’s around people and tools and time. So if I can’t set a team, so ideally you identify a pilot team, you know one that has definitive well understood outcomes that they want to be working towards. So the goals are understood. You’ve created a team of people who understand what’s in it for them. Now I have to set that team up for success and that takes investment and that means I have to have provided them. Again, I’m going to use the example of a software development team I have created. The environment already exists. They have their depth development environment, their test, their integration environments already exist. I’ve already given them access to the tools and they have support around any new tools that they might be using. A big one is making sure that they understand what is it that they want to be building, what product are they looking to create? And that means that I’ve given them the time and the people to start to create a meaningful product backlog with an understanding. If I can’t create the body of the what then I, you know, my team’s not set up to be able to be, um, successful in terms of being able to provide the, the what, that you are looking for, the outcomes that you’re looking for. So that investment is absolutely essential as well.
Dan Neumann [19:17]: Yeah. You’re trying to, um, provide that right support. You’re trying to reduce, um, the, the chance of failure. Failure is always an option. I think that, you know, and uh, but you’re trying to reduce those chances and give that group the best chance of success so you’re not redoing it at some point in the future or at least hopefully not.
Andrea Floyd [19:38]: Right. So these items that I’ve listed, the, the, the focus of having an awareness around these principles around how to make an agile transformation stick is to create a sustainable environment with sustainable practices and people that can actually continue so that you don’t look like this as the flavor of the day that you have set the teams up for success. You’ve created a community of champions and you know, we can sprinkle in there, hopefully you’re creating some community of practice to help support the teams. We’ve got a pilot team off and running with that have been given the investment that they need to to achieve success. And so now if I’ve got a repeatable model that I can mirror and grow from, then I have a chance of having the right people in place, the right examples, the right practices, the right tools so that I can continue to radiate this out through the organization and provide that ongoing sustainable support.
Dan Neumann [20:45]: That’s a really nice summary of some of the reasons why agile transformation sometimes don’t stick and some strategies then that people can employ to hopefully make their transformation a little stickier.
Andrea Floyd [20:58]: Well, that’s wonderful. And I think it’s so well worth, um, taking this out for a spin because the ones you can achieve are life changing.
Dan Neumann [21:08]: For sure. And you know, if it doesn’t work the first time you try get up on that horse and try again. That, uh, is certainly, uh, something that has happened in various scenarios I’ve heard about where, you know, at the first transformation that attempt didn’t stick for whatever reason and organizations or teams will tend to reboot and give it another shot, hopefully addressing the root cause that that was, uh, behind the first flop. So very good tips. Thanks for joining on that Andrea. We end the podcast with kind of what are you looking at as part of your continuous learning journey? And I’m curious, what are you reading these days, Andrea?
Andrea Floyd [21:49]: Well, I’ve got a couple of books I’m reading through right now. One is real-world Kanban by Mattias Skarin. And then, um, I’m doing a lot of work with clients right now and always looking for ways to keep the, the training and the knowledge transfer as fresh and interesting as possible. So I’m reading a book by Sharon Bowman called Training From the Back of the Room.
Dan Neumann [22:14]: Very cool. Yeah, the Kanban is definitely a powerful method when done well and, and part of that’s digging into the continuous improvement in the metrics side. At least from my perspective. That’s what I’ve seen. So I haven’t read Mattias’ book but I’ll have to see about doing that and yeah, moving away from death by PowerPoint, you know, of course we don’t do that but I have, I have definitely found myself being PowerPointed to death, uh, at other places and uh, very cool that uh, you keeping it fresh with tactics from training from the back of the room. Great. Well thank you for joining Andrea and we will look forward to having you on as a guest again in the future.
Andrea Floyd [22:56]: That’s going to be my pleasure. It was wonderful. Thanks so much Dan.
Outro [23:02]: This has been the Agile Coaches’ Corner podcast brought to you by AgileThought. The views, opinions, and information expressed in this podcast are solely those of the hosts and the guests and do not necessarily represent those of AgileThought. Get the show notes and other helpful tips from this episode and other firstname.lastname@example.org/podcast.
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