Bottom-Up Implementation & Top-Down Intent
A good strategy that I have used for dealing with complex agile transformations in large enterprises has two parts: bottom-up implementation and top-down intent. As Mike puts it, this is “where leadership sets the direction and establishes constraints, but with teams that are empowered to operate within those constraints.”
Bottom up implementation means helping teams be as successful as they can within their constraints. It means getting them mature enough to report out significant performance information like velocity, story ratios, resource shortages, quality and blocking issues on a reliable cadence. It means gaining transparency about the challenges in an actionable way. Due to extreme constraints in many organizations, this isn’t easy. What’s constraining agile in your organization?
Bottom up means helping the teams factually communicate the impact of obstacles on team performance. I use assessments to identify and communicate the “non-agile” behaviors and practices that are reducing the potential performance of the teams. Because we know that Agile/Lean practices work, we know that the teams that assess higher will perform better against their business drivers and performance metrics. Have you identified the obstacles in your company?
This approach of team and organizational assessments and improvement road-mapping tied to team metrics is a very mature way to help sustain the changes and to highlight where my clients aren’t getting the success they want. All this information from the ground credibly expresses the impacts of the organizational and management obstacles that arise from management decisions. In many organizations, you can’t simply create change in the larger environment to make the team stuff easy without first producing the information needed to justify change to management. This brings us to…
Top down intent requires helping management understand how they can be successful with Agile teams. They often are not in a good position to be successful with agile, they are under tremendous duress, and they need to work through a ton of challenges. Sound familiar? But we can still make progress. This requires explaining at the upper management levels and in other parts of the organization why they need stable teams. It requires data to demonstrate the impact of the organizational design in order to support moving toward the recommended org design. Understand the system, how it creates value, and its constraints. Build Scrum teams around the constraints.
As part of top down intent, it’s important to build awareness of the capabilities required in the program office that will be necessary in order to maintain the changes after the external agile coaches leave. They need to hire people to sustain momentum with internal training and coaching. And they should do this early on so these new people can get up to speed, spending time with the external coaches.
So there you have it: one way of approaching complex agile transformations in the enterprise. There is more, so stay tuned.