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Why Agile Transformations often fail

by Oct 2, 2018Agile, Leadership

(Or: the surprising things in common between coaching and Agile / Lean)

If you are in the software world or if your company has even a tiny unit that develops any software (which might be the case for pretty much any company out there) you should have heard about Agile / Lean.

While Agile and Lean are different methodologies they do share some ideas, so for the sake of this post I am considering the ways they are similar not the ways they are different. Don’t shoot me for that 😉

I spent the best part of my last 15 years managing software teams and products. I remember the first time I took a Scrum Master course 12 years ago: it was all new and shiny and everything worked in theory. Then I had to spend the next 10 years trying to make things work in practice.

The tenets of Lean and Agile

The main thing that the two methodologies have in common is the concept of learning either from customers or by examining your own doings.

Lean professes “Kaizen” (the concept of “Continuous improvement” in Japanese)good enough never is good enough.

Agile’s most important (and most overlooked) practice is the “retrospective”: a moment that _should_ happen regularly where the team stops and analyses what went well, what didn’t and what can be improved.

In both cases the focus is not on blaming people or things for how the plan didn’t turn out to be what it should have been, but is on understanding with an open mind and in a non-judgemental way the situation and identifying how to change things to get to the next level.

An Agile Coaching Leadership style

If you are only slightly familiar with what a coaching leadership style is you will see how that not only aligns with Lean and Agile concepts of learning, but it boosts the methodologies by creating the mental pre-requisites for the learning to happen.

Once you internalise the skill of listening with an open mind, you are able to have conversations that shift away from blaming and into improving things.

Autonomous teams

Another keystone of both Lean and Agile is “empowering individuals” to make their own decision on how to improve and run the things they do.

A Coaching Leadership style frees up people from the “chains of command” and gives them both responsibility and accountability to deliver a demo-able unit of work or eliminate waste.

That responsibility is deeply rooted inside individuals and teams and when combined with a coaching leadership style it enables the mindset that is necessary to free a team or an individual from leaning on what the boss says.

Why Agile transformations often fail…

What I see very often is that Agile (or Lean) transformations are considered to be simply a procedural change rather than a mindset shift.

The leaders of the company continue to use a command and control leadership style while the people in the organisation are working (or are supposed to work) in an Agile way.

It is difficult to abandon the old habits, I know, but as Lao Tzu says:

When I let go of what I am, I become what I might be

…and how to fix them

If you really want your Agile transformation to succeed what you need is both a procedural change in the way how you do things and a leadership style change in the way how you lead people.

Those two things need to happen at the same time, not separately because one reinforces the other.

Do you need help with your transformation? Visit this and get in touch 😉