December Enterprise Agile Breakfast – Cultural Aspects of Agile

14. December 2015 Agile & Lean, Events 0
December Enterprise Agile Breakfast – Cultural Aspects of Agile

Any transformation is hard, especially in a corporate environment with well established processes and predefined expectations. Agile implementation in an enterprise is a complex endeavor that changes the way people think and operate. Leaders of this transformation face challenges that are unique to them but may have been faced by others in similar roles in other large companies. The goal of InRhythm’s Enterprise Agile Breakfast series is to bring these leaders together in order to share advice and support each other on resolving obstacles and bringing success to the transformations including cultural, process, financial, and other aspects of a large enterprise-level change.

When we started hosting monthly Enterprise Agile Breakfasts, for leaders of Agile transformations in large companies in October 2015, our goal was to create a safe container for this group of change agents to be able to share their opinions, form partnerships, and support each other. During the first session, the participants used a Scrum retrospective format and came with a set of topics including:

– Adapting Agile to enterprise – Bending not Breaking

– Taking people to church vs. making them believe in God

– Agile enterprise with offshore teams

– Measuring business value and costs in Agile at enterprise level

– Showing the financial benefits of Agility

– Agile metrics (what really makes sense?)

– Portfolio management at scale 200+ projects

For the December session, we prioritized two topics: cultural aspect of Agile and Agile enterprise with highly distributed teams. Chris Deptula from Shutterstock volunteered to lead the offshore Agile enterprise topic and Olga Lech, who has extensive Agile transformation experience with multiple enterprise-level companies, volunteered to facilitate the Agile culture-related set of topics. The conversations all centered around our role as change agents in building the Agile ecosystem that empowers teams to be successful in a highly scaled environment. In this blog post, I will mention some of the discussion topics the group came up with in relation to the topic of changing Agile culture at enterprise level: “how do we avoid taking people to church vs. making them believe in God”, i.e. how do we change Agile culture at scale rather than establish the processes for everyone to follow without changing their values and help everyone involved in transition – managers, stakeholders, and organizational-level leaders to develop Agile and lean thinking.

The topic started with a dichotomy and continued with a discussion of a number of culture-related Agile dichotomies:

  1. Taking people to church vs. making them believe in God: what do you want to be, a “cult” leader or a leader who has a “divine” purpose.
  2. “Organizational leadership vs. team work” (the concept of “organizational citizenship” resonated with the participants as Agile transformation is not successful if team members do not feel they are “citizens” of the enterprise).
  3. An unselfish leader vs. Machiavellianism and narcissism that helps people’s careers (Olga shared the findings from a recent HBR article, Why Bad Guys Win at Work and applied them to Agile leadership).
  4.  Leaders (A-type) vs. workers (B-type).

Participants shared their advice in identifying and supporting change agents who make Agile transformation a success.

The second topic was related to Agile in a distributed enterprise. Cultural change is not easy at scale when everyone is co-located. Having highly distributed teams across time zones when direct communication is challenging, if not impossible, imposes additional challenges on Agile transformation leaders. Participants discussed hub-and-spoke operating model and how to bring Agile teams together despite time zone and cultural differences. We felt this topic was so important that we decided to continue this discussion at the next session in January 2016. Chris Deptula who led the conversation summarized topics in the following way:

  1. Aligning values and behaviors across teams from different cultural backgrounds (ie: culture of India vs. Thailand vs. Great Britain vs. Eastern Europe vs. US, etc).
  2. How to start implementing a culture of “safety to openly talk about making improvements” and the “courage to see it through”, and the role of PMOs in that.
  3. The group also showed interest in discussing common frameworks for implementing strategy alignment (ie: OKRs) and the Agile program and project management office’s role in doing that.

Written by Mariya Breyter


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