7 steps for IT leaders to create an agile enterprise culture

“If you adopt only one agile practice, let it be retrospectives. Everything else will follow

~Woody Zuill

Agile is no longer just a software development methodology; instead, it has become part of the core values that can change every facet of an enterprise. It brings in a culture where everyone focuses on continuous improvement, embracing change, and constantly delivering value. In my mind, this involves seven focus areas that can accelerate a company’s transformation journey towards becoming an Agile Enterprise with a strong, agile culture.

Empowered by management: Successful Agile transformations are almost impossible to achieve without constant support from leadership.  The top-down command and control work well initially, providing much-needed alignment. However, if that continues long term, Agile would do more harm than good. Upper management must embrace and support the change in processes and mindset and, more importantly, communicate their vision consistently instead of pushing for centralized control indefinitely. Once the company starts showing signs of change, management should focus on empowerment and autonomy from being pushy. The culture of solving the problem over becoming a solution provider is what they should go with. In the end, it is not the team’s or management’s win, but collectively the entire company; hence everyone needs to move forward in lockstep.

Espouse Continuous Improvement: Nobody’s perfect; you only get better. Perfection is an impossible dream. Focus on improving people, process, technology, customer experience, and everything else. The organization should have a framework to objectively evaluate improvement at regular short intervals. A 1% improvement every day translates to a 3800% improvement in a year with the law of compounding.   As Agile puts it, “Working software over comprehensive documentation”. Don’t focus entirely on creating slide decks, talking big, and flashy presentations to appease management instead of winning them over with actions and outcomes.  As a new-age technology leader, focus on creating an environment where learning becomes part of DNA. Remember, everything that you know today will be outdated one day. This includes the Agile Manifesto, Principles or whatever you think can’t change. Keeping this in mind espouse continuous improvement and continuous learning. If you don’t, somebody else will, and you may not survive.

Refrain from the credit game: This is the biggest blocker for organizations to succeed and improve. Senior management and executives often are too focused on finding what is in it without thinking about their people, department, and company. The people in this category expect credit for the work done by others, question autonomy, encourage micromanagement, put innovation on hold, leverage management influence to do what benefits them. Being higher up in the hierarchy, they often can affect changes, but power doesn’t help when it has wrong intentions. Top management must be aware of such fearful leaders & demotivators and should address issues at the earliest or move such individuals out of the system. If everyone in the company stops vying for credit, multifold growth is guaranteed.

Be pragmatic ? break the rule and be the rule: Celebrate success but don’t forget to celebrate failure if it happens the first time. Every failure is an opportunity to learn and do better. Create an environment where people are encouraged to experiment and aren’t afraid of failure. Their failure shouldn’t be penalized. Instead, it should be treated as a learning opportunity to do better next time. The feedback must be encouraged. The enterprise may survive by sticking to every possible rule laid out, but to go far, they may have to break the rule, be the rule and make a difference. I would say following Scrum alone doesn’t make you Agile. A strong Agile mindset is what you need. It may sound harsh, but a true self-organizing team that does not require a product owner, scrum master, or any other role is the perfect example to prove the point.

Focus on simplicity and value – Most architectures, designs, and day-to-day work can be done in simple ways.  Focus on what matters, rather than making it so complicated just to flatter the rest of the world. Complex structures & frameworks don’t solve problems. Instead, they spell more trouble for the whole system. We need a mindset shift towards delivering value rather than over-indexing on metrics. Generating value should be the highest measure of success. The reward is not how well you have spoken about yourself or how many hours you worked. Instead, to me, delivered value is the only means of assessing success.

Prioritize engagement and fun ? Fun and engagement play a pivotal role in building a successful Agile enterprise. While organizations do focus on engagement, the fun is often ignored. People don’t work just for a paycheck, but expect a sense of accomplishment, learning, purpose, and fun culture. If your employees don’t get as excited on Monday as on Friday, you need to act. Start everything with fun, and rest all will fall in line. The fun element can be achieved by providing the work aligned with the employee’s aspiration, recognition, opportunity to stretch, series of activities & events, flexibility, autonomy, etc. Don’t forget that excited people are your most powerful resources with the power to take the organization to the next level. Fun often correlates with creativity and psychological safety, which are integral parts of a culture of continuous learning and calculated risk-taking. Enterprises should take extra steps to ensure the well-being of employees is taken care of and given equal priority along with fun.

Transparency and trust ? You can’t expect everyone to be honest and have the highest level of trust by enforcing it. This will happen gradually by making the right choices. Judgment and manipulation must be stopped/discouraged. Psychological safety shouldn’t just be a talking point but also practiced. One should not support wrong deeds for whatsoever the reason be. The feedback shouldn’t be limited to subordinates, but it should go to your peers and bosses too. If you see something, say something, even from your boss, peer, or anybody else in the organization.

I am sure the above practices would help you to move faster in your agile transformation journey and bring in a culture that would be highly rewarding for you and your company.

The author is Sr. Director, CDK Global

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