Steve Martin is an experienced Agile coach, trainer, and founder of Agilistic, an agency that helps medium to large-size businesses transition to Agile. Steve helps higher leadership embrace the Agile mindset and has recently published a book entitled ‘Change starts at the very top. A simple Agile transformation guide for leaders.’
Gosia: Hi, I’m Gosia from Whiteboards and this is the Agile on Board Show. I’m here with Steve Martin, an experienced Agile coach, trainer facilitator, and the founder of Agilistic.
Agilistic helps medium to large-sized businesses transform into Agile. Hi, Steve, nice to have you here!
Steve is the author of the recently published book, entitled ‘Change Starts at the Very Top, a Simple Agile Transformation Guide for Leaders.’
Steve, we know that Agile has been a hot topic for quite some time now. The Pandemic has accelerated the adoption of Agile principles in so many organizations because they had to pivot or suddenly respond to unexpected changes. However, it seems like a lot of companies are still making mistakes when transitioning to Agile.
Today, we’re going to focus on the biggest mistake companies make. From your experience, what is it, and how to deal with it?
Steve: Thanks, Gosia. Yes, well, if I can give you a bit of an overview. There are actually about five big mistakes or reasons why Agile transformation fails.
In my experience, one of the biggest mistakes is the lack of management commitment, where you might have an organization that is just embarking on the change. Senior management or middle management will send their teams on training courses and have the expectation that that’s all that needs to happen. They will not actually go through the process of transforming or changing themselves.
What you have is a real disconnection between those on the ground actually building products or delivering services within an Agile framework, and their managers and senior managers who are working in a completely different way. You have this real issue where managers, leaders, and senior leadership, have different behaviors and different cultural aspects in terms of the way that they run the teams and their departments, which is completely different from any Agile principles.
What I’ve seen is that managers and leaders don’t actually embrace the Agile way of working, Agile cultures, principles, and values. And therefore, there is this real gap.
Gosia: Would you say that’s the biggest mistake? It’s happening, not from the top down. The higher management expects that all the departments will change, but they are not really adapting to this change.
Steve: Agile is not just for product development teams. We’ve established this, it’s very much a framework that can be embedded right across the organization. That must happen at different levels and hierarchies across the company.
Gosia: How to deal with it? This is a tough issue. From your experience, who’s the best person to go to the higher management, start the chat and say, ‘look, if you want this to happen, you have to be on board, we all have to follow the same script.’
Steve: There are training courses for leadership, and there are leadership coaches that they can take on board. It’s giving the time and commitment to it. It’s not just about getting the training and the knowledge, it’s actually putting the effort in and making time for a change.
What I’ve found, in my experience, is that there is a bit of resistance there because they don’t believe that it’s for them. And it leads to other mistakes that companies make in that there is a bit of a lack of trust, asking themselves ‘Is this the right thing for the organization?’
You might have one senior leader who absolutely wants this to be the way forward for the organization and others where there’s some conflict and there’s no alignment in that being the right strategy.
Management themselves will have a bit of resistance to that being the right way that an organization needs to go. There’s that lack of commitment again. Perhaps there is a difference in opinion and conflict.
Gosia: If someone hires your company, would this be your job to talk to hire management? Or in case there’s already a Scrum Master in the company, and the development team is already trying to implement Scrum, and there is resistance at the top, would it be more a role of the Scrum Master, to talk to the higher management?
Steve: I’ve seen it work in different ways. Generally, it’s where a senior manager might listen to somebody who is more experienced, at a certain level, whereas a Scrum Master working with the development team on the ground might showcase that there is a problem with having exterior dependencies where they need the support and commitment. However, somebody right at the top of the organization isn’t necessarily going to see that.
To answer your question, somebody like myself, within an Agile coaching arrangement, somebody coming into the organization – might be positioned at that level, where they can actually work with the senior leadership to understand them and guide them. I would provide coaching and mentoring to help them understand how they may support those sorts of teams on the ground.
What I’ve found is, Scrum Masters, generally have real knowledge and experience. They’ll be able to see where the problems lie, but they may not have the authority or the capacity to work with senior leadership at the level where it’s needed.
Gosia: If I understand correctly, your company organizes courses for senior leadership, so they can be trained because you’ve seen this problem over and over.
Steve: Yes, that is the whole premise of the book. It’s actually helping leadership to understand where their role is, and how they can support the team. Training is just part of what the Agilistic do. There’s also coaching and mentoring. We have a structured framework that we can embed into an organization to help them completely transform their ways of working and also culture-wide across the organization.
The training is just a part of it, this is the foundational level of it. There’s a whole array of services that we provide as well.
Gosia: Just out of curiosity, I don’t know if it’s easy to answer. How long would it take normally? Let’s say you take a new company on board and you train the higher management. How long would it take for them to accept this new mindset, a new way of doing things? Is it a long process?
Steve: It is a long process, and that’s one of the biggest mistakes, as well. It’s a misunderstanding or unrealistic expectations being set. We can’t just send teams and people on to a training course and expect that they’re Agile, there is a process involved. What we’re doing here is we’re not just changing processes, we’re changing mindsets. And that can take a fairly long time, depending on the type of person, if they have that willingness. Then, you’re 80 or 90% there. Those who are slightly resistant take a little bit longer. Now, to answer your question, how long does it take to actually change an organization
It depends on the size and also the commitment, engagement, having the right expertise in place as well as having people that can come in who’ve got the right experience and attitude. The minimum would be about six months, but it could take easily as long as two years to change the mindset, actually to change the whole organization.
If you’re talking about 5000, 10 000 employees, that’s a lot of training and coaching involved, to actually get them all aligned and focused together on the same way of working.
Gosia: Great – thank you so much for this.
Steve: So not to put anybody off.
Gosia: It’s worth doing, right?
Steve: It’s worth doing but what we say is, expect there to be some positive outcomes fairly early on, because that’s something that we can do at the team level. The bigger the organization, the longer that might take, because of the complexities and the existing processes and structure of the organization. It just takes time to change that and make adjustments.
Gosia: Definitely. Thank you for explaining this to us. For those interested in Steve’s book, you can go to Amazon and purchase it. Once again, the title is ‘Change Starts at the Very Top, a Simple Agile Transformation Guide for Leaders.’ Thank you so much for listening to this episode of Agile on Board. See you next time!