This is how you lead an agile transformation
The agile transition is undoubtedly a strong tool for organisations that want to be more customer-oriented and increase their delivery speed, thus growing the business value. But it requires a significant change in the traditional mindset to succeed. Therefore, as a leader, you must prepare yourself thoroughly for the conversion and adjust your operating model to meet the changes.
New technologies and increased business demands challenge most organisations’ digital capabilities. The traditional IT organisation can no longer just be business support. It must be able to understand, interpret and act on innovative technologies that can create a stable foundation and potentially turn organisations into digital frontrunners in their respective markets.
We live - as you know - in a time of constant disruption, where almost all companies have an expiry date, unless they continuously manage to innovate themselves.
To act faster on new market demands and support innovation, the answer for many companies is to implement an agile setup in their operating model. Instead of just experimenting with agile development methods at team level, many companies try to implement agility across projects and programmes.
Can old dogs learn ingenious new tricks?
Take a stand on IT
This means new collaboration methods between IT and the business, and you, as a leader, must therefore decide on the IT organisation's role in the company.
In the agile world, you should organise your entire business, as well as IT, around the value you create for your customers. But when at a lower level of agile maturity, it is important to reconcile how the agile parts of the business affect the rest of the organisation's way of thinking and working.
For years, there was much said about the positives of being able to meet diverse management needs in diverse governance. However, experience has shown that maintaining such a structure is complex.
This places great demands on your leadership and the way they measure individuals. In an agile setup, people are not measured as an individual but as part of a team. The ability to collaborate is thus essential for getting the most out of working agile.
When organising in stable teams that deliver end-to-end value, it is important to incorporate the various shared services (such as finance, HR, security, IT ops) as part of the structure. If you take a given shared service as an example, they can be represented as direct competence in the individual agile teams or they can only participate in relevant agile meetings, as a sparring partner and a form of agile staff function.
In agile, you talk a lot about building T-profiles. These are people who build competencies to be able to span their deep subject area, to ensure cross-functionality and avoid silos. A build-up of T-profiles requires team stability, which you get by breaking down the classic project organisation and centring people around products that support the different value streams. This ensures the team matures both professionally and personally.
New leadership roles
An agile organisation introduces a new range of leadership roles, servant leaders. These are managers who support their teams and ensure they have the framework and autonomy to fulfil their respective tasks. It challenges the mindset and approach for leadership roles. As a leader, you must recognise that one's team is often academically stronger in terms of the detail of a solution. Therefore, you must be good at dealing with the overall vision, ensuring autonomy for the task itself. The ability to prioritise and ‘say no’ is also essential, as agile continuously focuses its work on the fastest possible solution to the end user.
The new working methods and frameworks often require new, multidisciplinary profiles to coordinate and prioritise across teams supporting the same value stream. In addition, there is an increased diversity in the type of competencies in the organisation. You still need to maintain specialised competences but must be able to embrace interdisciplinary collaboration and, at times, change work tasks as you deliver and are evaluated as one team.
As a leader, you will have to re-qualify the competencies you already have and possibly hire new professional anchor points to act as pioneers and change agents.