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3 Agile Transformation OKRs Leaders Can Use to Avoid Wrecking an Agile Transformation

By Erik Cottrell | Sep 17, 2020 |  Agile Coaching,  Agile Transformation,  Business Agility,  Leadership

The image is a ship leaning on its side. We discuss Agile transformation OKRs leaders can use to avoid wrecking ship.The leaders and change agents we meet are eager to ensure their Agile transformation avoids hitting rocks or running aground. After all, nobody wants to experience a shipwreck. We have found that the ones who do enjoy a successful journey have navigated three especially challenging obstacles. 

We aim to address those obstacles in this article by offering three Agile transformation OKRs (Objectives and Key Results) for you to consider. For those who are not familiar with OKRs, they are a helpful goal-setting tool particularly for initiatives or efforts like an Agile transformation. OKRs are used to define how to achieve objectives (the “O” part) through concrete, specific, and measurable actions, the Key Results (KRs). The key results are time-bound and measurable milestones under the objectives. 

We provide example measures below but keep in mind that your key results can and should be modified for your situation. If you are just starting out on your transformation, it may be helpful to have more general measures until teams become predictable, at which time very specific measures can be used. 

The First Agile transformation OKR – “Leader Engagement”

In the 14th State of Agility report, the second greatest challenge experienced when adopting and scaling Agile is “Not enough leadership participation.” The first is “General Organizational Resistance to Change.” Both of these challenges are dramatically improved with increased leadership engagement. 

An OKR addressing leader engagement is a great opportunity. Do well here and the impact can offer massively outsized returns. The opposite is also true. It’s such a high-reward, high-risk area it deserves special emphasis. 

Example Objective: Leaders are ready, willing, and improving their ability to lead an Agile organization

As measured by:

  • Business outcomes are clear and understood by teams and stakeholders
  • The transformation’s compelling purpose permeates throughout the organization
  • An Agile Leadership Team is in place
  • The Agile transformation roadmap is clear and visible
  • Leaders are trained and supported in their new Agile leadership capabilities

Organizations that have leaders who are ready, willing, and improving their leadership in an Agile approach recognize significant business advantages. When companies achieve this objective, as measured by the above key results, there is a new sustained capability that contributes to a massively positive impact. 

These leader key results are intentionally chosen because they quantitatively describe how the ready, willing, and improving leadership objective is met. 

These specific key results are taken from the Path to Agility®(P2A).  With P2A, we lead Agile transformations by focusing on business outcomes which, in turn, engage leaders. Leaders who are excited about improving business results are far more willing to actively support a transformation effort. 

Tactics you might consider offering your leaders:

  • Apply a credible outcomes-based Agile transformation framework
  • Utilize high-quality, tailored training your leaders will value (training to equip them for leading an Agile organization).
  • Offer ongoing agility-based executive coaching to help them to enhance and/or build their new leadership capabilities.
  • Have, and keep having, leadership conversations about the business goals and outcomes.
  • Connect the business goals to the transformation effort so there is clarity about how the teams are working better towards measurable business results.

The Second Agile transformation OKR – “Team Capabilities”

What companies need are long-lasting Agile teams. Agile capabilities enable teams to adapt to the widest range of disruption and keep functioning at a high level. That is a promise of agility.

Keeping an eye on capability growth while adopting these new Agile ways of working is key. Good questions about Agile team capabilities are:

  • How are the teams learning and improving?
  • How are they collaborating better?
  • How transparent is their work? 
  • How do they hold each other accountable? 

Establishing these capabilities can be helped a great deal by implementing the necessary Agile practices. Also bear in mind that a team can do “Agile things” while not learning or improving, collaborating better, being transparent, or holding each other accountable, and so forth. So focusing on doing Agile things may not get you the result you want. The objective here is to keep the capabilities foremost in scope for long-lasting results. 

Based on our research, most companies get stuck and stay stuck in middling Agile at best. What we observe is that it’s easier to measure how many teams are “doing Agile things” like how many “ARTS have launched” or how many teams are “having regular standups” and so on. Until relatively recently, measuring practices has been easier than measuring Agile capabilities. 

We created the Path to Agility for ourselves, in part, to address the challenge of keeping capabilities in view. We needed a transformation framework that could establish business outcomes, identify and measure necessary Agile capabilities, and integrate Agile practices. It’s not an easy task to keep all those things in mind during a transformation. However, they are all critical for success and P2A keeps us on track for growing team capabilities.

Example Objective: Teams are ready, willing, and improving agility by building new capabilities

As measured by:

  • Self-organization and collaboration as teams take ownership of their work (Team ownership)
  • Clearly defined goals and aligned expectations enabling autonomy and understanding how their work ties into the larger whole (Team Purpose)
  • Teams improving continuously to deliver value more effectively (Value delivery) 
  • Learning loops from experimentation with inspection and adaptation (Learning culture)
  • Team work made visible (Transparency)
  • Stakeholder input and feedback is sought early and often (Visibility)
  • Team members seek ways to help each other to complete high-value items (Quality)
  • Stable team throughput measures (Predictability)
  • All team members are trained in overall <insert your Agile methodology here>

Granted, this a long list of key results, and it would be best to spread them out over time. This list is a selection of the kinds of capabilities a team likely needs to measure as they build mastery over time.

The teams that are ready, willing, and improving agility by building new Agile capabilities become dependable and predictable partners in delivering customer value. That is the significant advantage of team agility. 

The Third Agile transformation OKR – “IT and Business Partnership”

One of the most rewarding Agile transformation obstacles to overcome is seeing business and technology work better together. When these groups partner and build trust, it pays important dividends throughout the organization. 

We rarely see a greater incentive for momentum than when a customer lights up because a team solved one of their most difficult problems. When a team knows their work contributes to improving the customer experience, they are powerfully motivated. It builds momentum to higher team performance that improves over time. It’s especially impactful when a cross-functional team sees how everyone’s diverse yet coordinated work made it happen. 

More than ever, the most difficult customer experience problems span silos and departments. To have the ongoing capability of solving those problems, cross-functional partnership and trust becomes mission-critical. Calling this out as a specific objective makes good sense. 

Example Objective: Sustained partnership, alignment, and trust between the IT & Business departments

As measured by:

  • Business partners at all levels are trained to support Agile efforts
  • Customer and stakeholder feedback loops are shortened
  • All teams are cross-functional with business involvement
  • A clear value statement (or hypothesis) exists and cross-functional teams understand how they contribute
  • Internal partnership scores are improving (e.g., eNPS)
  • Cross-functional team are regularly retrospecting their progress and implementing improvement plans
  • Predictability is improving

These measures can be made more quantifiable to meet your needs. Each one represents a way to ensure partnership and trust are built for the long-term. They are all dependent on Agile’s empirical process and benefit from the Agile approach of prioritizing human interaction. These often won’t start happening unless new ways of working are introduced and encouraged. 

When partnership, alignment, and trust between the IT & Business departments is present and customers lives are being positively impacted, the benefits compound. 

Tactics you might consider offering your cross-functional business and IT teams:

  • Have people from business and IT go through Agile training together so that they can learn together and develop a common language.
  • Intentionally celebrate and enjoy customer wins together as a team.
  • Offer soft-skills training (like bringing up difficult topics, holding each other accountable, etc.).
  • Build a culture of learning by making the effort to discover what teams are learning and how they’ve decided to get better (rather than trying to solve their problems).
  • Encourage team members to have conversations that help increase their appreciation for one another’s challenges and obstacles.
  • Use helpful tools like Value Stream Maps, Personas, Journey Maps, etc. to help team members see how value flows to customers and where that flow can be improved.
  • Again, we recommend having a credible outcomes-based Agile transformation framework to align to common goals.

While customers stand to gain the most when high performing cross-functional teams work together to solve their problems, the internal benefits are also massive. When business and IT effectively come together, it sends a signal that all departments can, too. 

Set Your Course

The success of your Agile transformation journey can be helped dramatically by using these three OKRs:

  1. Leaders are ready, willing, and improving their ability to lead an Agile organization
  2. Teams are ready, willing, and improving agility by building new capabilities
  3. Sustained partnership and trust between the IT & Business departments 

How you choose to describe, measure, and apply these three key Agile transformation accelerators can be as unique as your organization. The benefits to your customers, your employees, and the long term results when you have them will be profound. 

We wish you great success along your path to agility. Learn more about our approach, here.

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