I attended a session which described how IBM built what they referred to as an ‘Agile Roadmap’ using a cross-business team.
The presentation began with some alarming statistics from an IBM-funded study: 59% of companies listed culture as the key inhibitor to the adoption of agile practices. 70% of all change initiatives fail, with the following key areas listed as the cause of organizational failures:
1. Poor executive sponsorship
2. Lack of employee involvement
3. Ineffective change champion
4. Underestimating the change effort
5. Ad-hoc approach to change
The IBM ‘Agile Enterprise Transition Community’ realized that if they wanted the organization to fully benefit from an agile transformation, they would have to focus on changing the underlying culture of IBM. A direct quote from the presenter: “you can not change culture by adopting a new set of tools.” Corporate culture reflects the reality of the organization – the values, practices and traditions that have made a corporation successful; this is something that is very difficult to change.
IBM consulting has a “Better Change” process that they have used to help their clients make cultural transitions; this was used as a framework for framing the changes the committee proposed to make internally. The process is loosely based on John Kotter’s Leading Change approach, which has eight steps:
- Establish a sense of urgency: Determine what is driving your need for change – the greater the urgency, the better chance you have of making changes.
- Create a powerful guiding coalition: Bring together business and technical personnel to remove impediments to success. Change cannot be enforced; it must be encouraged and supported. Determine how to achieve many small successes early in the initiative to build momentum and gain credibility. Use these lessons to determine how to leverage wins across the organization. Put out a call for volunteers at this point, who believe in the need for change and will act as additional grass roots voices across the organization. The coalition at IBM was organized in this fashion:
- Develop a vision and a strategy: Craft a mission statement, articulating this will help the community get on the same page. Ensure everyone uses a common set of definitions to describe key goals and deliverables. Make sure everyone understands the problem, such as: “if we cannot make this change, the contract is going to be awarded to another company who can make this change.” The mission statement will simply lay out the strategic vision, but will not give any indication about what will need to be done to achieve the goals. Again, mandating change will reduce the chances of success. If the vision is dictated, it isn’t our vision – work out the vision together. As an example, the IBM vision was: "Uses continuous stakeholder feedback to deliver high-quality, consumable code through use cases (user stories) and a series of short, stable, time-boxed iterations."
- Communicate the change vision: The vision needs to be communicated from the top, all the way down the management chain to the individual practitioner. Do not be shy about communicating the vision to anyone and everyone! The presenter made the analogy of two workers in a quarry: when the project manager asked one what he was doing, he said “cutting stone.” When he asked the other, he said “building a cathedral.” The second worked understood the project vision.
- Empower a broad base of people to take action: The volunteers identified in step 2 are essential to this step. They need to be empowered and supported to make change. It is essential to have volunteers from a wide range of responsibilities, they can be used to identify and eliminate blockers to change. Some examples were given; volunteers can lead courses, coach other employees, and help craft new practices. IBM would bring the most influential volunteers together to hold an “Academy of Technology Agile Conference.” This was a series of virtual conferences, webinars and events, plus face to face local events. Members detailed successes and failures, and gave them an opportunity to engage with other change enablers across the organization. The committee took this time to formally recognize the valuable work the volunteers were doing.
- Generate short-term wins: Scrum is very good to do this, due to the short turnaround time for deliverables and the quick incorporation of lesson learned. Wins will help you gain credibility across the organization.
- Consolidate gains and product more change: This is one of the more difficult steps. Adopting agile practices can directly impact business investment gates: does your business process framework hinder, tolerate, or actively support agile practices? As an example, one of the first IBM business gates required the proposal to completely define requirements; this needed to be changed. IBM is currently in the third iteration of changing their business practices to support agile practices.
- Anchor the new approaches into the culture: It may take some time for employees to practice the new behaviors before they become ingrained – making the new culture. Some problems may occur during this phase: the executives sponsoring the initiative may move on, or you may declare victory prematurely. The agile steering committee needs to be kept in place and vigilant to ensure that the organization sustains the transformation.
One of the last points emphasized was a quote from John Kotter regarding what does not work when changing a culture:
"Some group decides what the new culture should be. It turns a list of values over to the communications or HR departments with the order that they tell people what the new culture is."
- This was an excellent presentation. The presenter was Elizabeth Woodward, who was an Organizational Consultant in IBMs Office of Strategy.
- An overall change vision must be created and articulated across the organization, to the point that any practitioner knows how they are contributing to this vision.
- Employees effecting change need to be empowered and supported by the organization.
- Cultural change cannot be made through the incorporation of tools, or by dictating new processes.
- Practitioners need to be part of the transformation if this is to be successful.
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