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Agile transformation: Managers horror, Leaders delight!

Over the years with large number of failing software projects, we now understand that software projects are different than manufacturing or assembly line projects. We cannot draw much of the parallelism from one another. If we want to be successful, we need to identify differences and address them rather applying similar strategies we apply on manufacturing environment.

Agile revolution with agile manifesto changed the landscape of software development.  Agile (values, philosophy, culture and frameworks) reformed the software development and well as software organizations. We started finding value in change while accepting change is the only real constant in the system. Teams rapidly started to adapt to change and deliver best possible value to organizations.  While some organizations were able to adapt to agile delivery model many still struggle. One of the prominent reasons diminishing the efficacy of agility that we found in agile transformations is not changing classic hierarchical bureaucratic organizational structure.  Some organization that struggle the most, seriously lack to execute the conversion of classic mangers into leaders which is essential part of agile transformation.

Agile values (Communication, courage, feedback, simplicity) and Scaled Agile Framework or SAFe values (Alignment, built in quality, transparency, and program execution) both do not go hand in hand with traditional hierarchical management. In command and control culture led by managers values like courage and transparency are always conflicting and anti-pattern.

While leading multiple transformations into mid-large scale teams, we realized a constant pattern of anxiety, rigidness to subvert the process by most of the managers. Agile transformation changes hierarchical organizations to horizontal self-organizing teams. This makes manages very uncomfortable as they perceive it as if they lost their kingdom.

As Gary Hamel has noted, hierarchical bureaucracy solved two essential problems:

  • Semiskilled employees to perform repetitive activities competently and efficiently;
  • Coordinating those efforts so that products could be produced in large quantities.

There are places where classic hierarchical organizations may be effective however most of the software world doesn’t echo the challenges identified above. Software organizations fundamentally are not repetitive. We almost every time work on unique set of problems to delight our customers.

We have also observed rare occurrences where managers came out as leaders and supported agile transformation understanding its value putting organization first. In these cases, we saw significant value delivery over the iterations and above all team satisfaction and morale skyrocketed.

In agile world, we commit to deliver best value each iteration and focus is on managing and delivering value rather people, we are all adults in this game..isn’t it? We hire great people and do not cap their productivity, innovation and critical thinking imposing command-control culture.



About Shukla Aditya

Product and program management leader transforming large enterprise organizations to deliver best value by scaling agility and redefining software product leadership.

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