How Do You Lead an Agile Organization Transformation?

“How Do You Lead an Agile Organization Transformation?” was originally published by The American Management Association (AMA) Playbook on January 22, 2018

The role of leadership in change management is essential to any organizational change, such as incorporating Agile ways of working into your organization. However, leaders can find it challenging to create a deep-rooted change that takes hold within their organization—including Agile. If support for Agile principles is limited, the organization will have a difficult time gaining traction, yielding better results, and penetrating the established culture. So, how do you garner the much-needed support for more Agile design thinking?

Agile principles have the power to improve the efficiency, quality, and success of an organization’s ways of working, but you need a champion—an Alignment Leader®—partnered with a Change Partner to help the organization undertake the heavy-lifting of redesigning the organization, implementing new patterns, and creating a culture that will embrace Agile principles. Change Partners are practitioners (internal or external) that bring know-how, tools, and proven approaches to help Alignment Leaders set-up, guide, and successfully implement an organization transformation.

The Alignment Leader: Champion for Change

How do you identify an Alignment Leader? Or, perhaps more importantly, become one yourself? The following lists some of the tenets of a good Alignment Leader:

· Use questions. Rather than make statements about what should be done, Alignment Leaders are masters at asking the right questions. These questions should help the entire team achieve mutual understanding, discover alternatives, and refine the problems at hand.

· Improve flow. Much like a Product Leader and a Scrum Master, an Alignment Leader and their Change Partner help the design team stay focused on the project at hand without getting distracted. Rather than stop the flow of work to fix a potential problem or concern, an Alignment Leader helps improve the team’s speed by keeping them focused and addressing impediments before they stop the work.

· Trust the team. The role of leadership in change management cannot be underestimated. A good Alignment Leader empowers his or her team by supporting their recommendations, decisions, and work processes. This vital support and trust can pay big dividends in production speed, burnout prevention, and employee satisfaction.

· Get involved. Leaders that stay involved throughout the life of a project validate the work with their interest and presence. A good Alignment Leader validates Agile and helps it succeed by showing up, participating when possible, asking questions, and being clear about project non-negotiables and direction.

The Change Partner: Clearing the Way for Change

Alignment Leaders, in partnership with a strong Change Partner, can drastically improve how fast their organization adopts Agile principles and begins to see benefits. However, the reality is that alignment leadership doesn’t happen overnight. Leaders must also adjust to cultural changes before they can help their organization adopt them. Even if they are willing, the transition process can still be difficult and time intensive.

A very important role on an Agile team is that of “Scrum Master,” whose primary responsibility is to facilitate meetings and clear impediments to productivity. In many ways, Change Partners are the ultimate Scrum Masters, providing overall project oversight, facilitation, training, and support. However, for Change Partners to be successful, you must:

· Resource them. Change Partners need access to your organization to be effective in mobilizing and creating lasting change. Make sure they have access to team members, project management support, and the communication assistance necessary to create change.

· Give them time. In Agile, it can be hard to know how long something will take until you have run a few sprints, made the necessary adjustments, and gotten your feet wet. Agile methods have proven to be much faster than traditional waterfall methods. However, they are iterative in their implementation and usually don’t provide a neat Gantt chart to make you feel in control. Don’t rush your Change Partner (especially in the beginning) but do expect results and regular reports on progress.

· Trust their guidance. Change Partners can help coach leaders on their path to alignment leadership. This isn’t their first rodeo. Trust their coaching and their guidance on tools, processes, and methodology.

· Engage external partners if necessary. Sometimes you don’t have the internal capabilities or bandwidth for a change. Trust your Change Partner, as they help you fill capability gaps during a transformation or while you ramp up your internal capabilities and resources.

Defining the Role of Leadership in Change Management

To create support for Agile in your organization, develop Alignment Leaders and involve a trusted Change Partner. By doing these two things you can implement Agile projects and principles faster and start reaping the benefits almost immediately. While it may not be easy to

implement Agile into your culture, it is possible and there are tools that can facilitate the journey. The faster you can reap the benefits, the easier it will be to garner greater support for the change. In this way, change is exponential—the faster you get there the easier it can be.

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