A free, 1-hour webinar on the Path to Agility® – Introducing a simple yet powerful way to profoundly better outcomes
See firsthand how Path to Agility makes sense of Agile transformations
Get specific answers to your chronic transformation challenges
See potential impediments that have been stealing your momentum
Uncover capabilities to accelerate your progress
Business leaders have seen enough to believe that agility is the path to better business results. An empirical model that builds in continual improvement and consistent measures? That’s a powerful promise and explains why Agile is attractive. So attractive, in fact, that it’s hard to find a company today that doesn’t claim it’s agile or going agile.
Our experience and research have shown that the vast majority of organizations who take on an Agile transformation will either experience “superficial agility” which usually results in failure and reverting back to old, ineffective behaviors, or “pocket agility,” where some things may improve, but falls short of the true organizational improvements needed to be more resilient. Companies are stuck in transformation with no way out.
This is why we created the Path to Agility — a proven framework designed to help guide organizations through their Agile transformation journey. It helps by providing a clear approach for identifying the capabilities necessary to move forward and the visibility needed to resolve obstacles along the way.
The Path to Agility is designed for change agents and leaders who need to improve transformation consistency, quality, and results. For example:
Scrum Masters who are serving teams adopting agility
Coaches and consultants supporting Agile transformations
Leaders and executives who are guiding their organizations through transformation
Companies who demand predictable and measurable business outcomes
Why Business Outcomes Matter
Using business outcomes as a “north star,” the Path to Agility helps both teams and organizations evaluate where they are on the journey to business agility and map out what they should focus on next. It equips organizations with a simple yet powerful roadmap to profoundly better business outcomes.
Is your organization well underway implementing DevOps? Or maybe you’re just getting started with a DevOps initiative? Did you know you can maximize your chances of achieving desired business outcomes by combining DevOps with an Agile transformation?
You Keep Using Those Words…
When you hear “Business Outcomes,” “DevOps,” and/or Agile transformation” – what comes to mind?
We’ll share our definitions. (If you disagree with our interpretations, contact us…we love a good exchange of ideas!)
It’s more than outputs.
These are the highest-level objectives of your organization. The big WHY. They are key inputs for your business and technology discussions around WHAT to work on. They are measurable outcomes – goal posts – that provide feedback on HOW your initiatives are doing.
It’s more than continuous delivery.
DevOps is the practice of software development (Dev) engineers and of IT operations (Ops) working together during a product’s entire lifecycle, from design through development to production support, in order to shorten the total lead time (from concept to cash) and to provide predictable delivery of high-quality products.
It’s more than “Scrum.”
Agile is an iterative approach that focuses on collaboration, customer feedback, and small, rapid releases in order to satisfy the customer through early and continuous delivery of value. While the Agile movement originated in software development, it has been applied to much more: from medical devices to spacecraft, as well as engineering, marketing, and education.
It’s more than “Training, Titles, Ceremonies, and Tools.”
It doesn’t come in a box (or inside a cloud). It ain’t a silver bullet.
An Agile transformation is a rethinking and reworking of how your organization engages technology, people, and processes to achieve specific business outcomes. It is the relentless pursuit of continuous improvement.
What’s the Pay Off?
Agile transformations and DevOps initiatives are complementary. Can you have one without the other? Sure. However, if you put the two together you have the opportunity to align the tech side of the house with the business side. This combination will enable your enterprise to gain faster feedback, reduce risks while also obtaining meaningful business outcomes.
We’ve identified nine common business outcomes, all of which are positively influenced by Agile+DevOps. (Reference: Harvard Business Review Analytic Services Survey, Sept 2018).
In our experience leadership tends to “Want them all, equally. And NOW” Sorry. If everything is important, you know the saying, nothing is. Prioritization of the organization’s highest-level objectives, to avoid whiplash and to create focus, should narrow the field down to no more than three.
It will be challenging as there are many potential impediments that could derail the transformation without the right support.
From organizational silos to legacy technology. From the need to ensure security and compliance, to the lack of the right skills and even the right mindsets among employees.
The good news is that there’s a path through. For over a decade, Agile Velocity has been helping enterprises chart and benchmark their progress during change initiatives. We’ve observed patterns of change, learning, and growth that move through five different stages, each building on the learnings from the previous stage. The Align stage is the first stage of the journey while Adapt requires a significant amount of agile maturity.
Align the initiative with measurable business outcomes and define a clear transformation roadmap.
Establish foundational practices and a culture of learning by empowering teams to take ownership of their work and process.
Maintain a predictable cadence of delivery, enabling organizations to make informed business decisions.
Optimize the full value stream and shorten the time-to-market.
Embrace organization-wide adaptability in order to quickly respond to market demands.
For software powered organizations (we could make the argument that 99% of all businesses fit this description), DevOps can significantly improve their ability to progress through the latter stages of Predict, Accelerate and Adapt.
Science has proven that introducing change into any system will result in a period of chaos until a new status quo is achieved. When adopting DevOps practices or undergoing an Agile transformation, organizations will experience a temporary decrease in performance before integrating new practices enables a new, more performant, status quo.
Many leaders don’t acknowledge or plan for the “dip” that accompanies the learning stage – adding more change, producing more chaos, resulting in failed initiatives. Any organizational change must have leadership support along the entire journey or it will be short-lived or fail outright. With leadership support and by using the stages as a guide, time spent in “chaos” can be reduced.
Like the authors, we believe that “Leadership really does have a powerful impact on results. . . . A good leader affects a team’s ability to deliver … how the team manages its work and develops products. All of these have a measurable impact on an organization’s profitability, productivity, and market share. These also have an impact on customer satisfaction, efficiency, and the ability to achieve organizational goals.”
Some of the key transformation elements which require leadership involvement include:
Sense of Urgency
Identifying and communicating the compelling reason(s) why the organization should change
Ensuring alignment around the compelling purpose has been achieved at all levels
Roll Out Strategy
Defining an initial transformation roadmap, one that takes into account organization structure demands, top risks, and incremental rollouts
Aligning teams to value
Facilitating change to support the overall transformation
Resolving organizational obstacles and impediments with urgency
Continuing to communicate the change vision (rinse and repeat)
All transformations require shifts in culture and mindset. How big? The standard answer: “It depends!” Some situational variables are current organizational levels of
Many organizations attempt transformations with disappointing results. If you perceive a gap between where your organization is and where you want it to be, we can help. Our client roster is filled with Fortune 500 companies and growing businesses alike – all of whom have benefited from our expertise.
We’ll help you shorten your feedback loops – so you can build the right thing, the right way, for the right people, at just the right time.
What, if anything, about the way people are leading today needs to change in order for leaders to be successful in a complex, rapidly changing environment where we’re faced with seemingly intractable challenges and an insatiable demand for innovation? from Brené Brown, Dare to Lead: Brave Work. Tough Conversations. Whole Hearts
Join us for a series of live online conversations exploring the most crucial leadership questions of the day.
Each free, 1-hour session gives you access to a panel of distinguished guests who will provide their honest and hard-won perspectives.
We encourage you to bring your own questions around transformational leadership. Our format will offer time for the audience to interact with our guests.
Reserve your spot today for one or more of these not-to-be-missed webinars to up your level of mastery to lead in environments filled with volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity (VUCA).
All sessions will be held on Fridays at 2 PM ET (18:00 GMT)
Lyssa Adkins is an internationally-acclaimed, inspiring coach and teacher. Her current focus is on improving the performance of top leadership teams through insightful facilitation and organization systems coaching.
Carolyn Dragon is an engaging and highly talented coach, facilitator, and presenter. Visionary, enthusiastic, and grounded in results, Carolyn is a leader in learning, growing, and inspiring women’s personal and professional leadership development.
Lyssa and Carolyn co-lead TENWOMENSTRONG – a group that brings together circles of dynamic and inspiring women leaders to live their life on purpose.
Expert on adaptive leadership, former submarine commander, and author of Amazon #1 Best Seller: Turn the Ship Around!, Captain David Marquet imagines a workplace where everyone engages and contributes their full intellectual capacity, where people are healthier and happier because they have more control over their work, and where everyone is a leader.
Andy Worshek is a keynote speaker, guest contributor, and Intent-Based Leadership expert. He served with Captain Marquet on the USS Sante Fe as Combat Systems Department Chief, later advancing to Chief of Boat on the USS Cheyenne.
Prof David Snowden and Andrea Tomasini: June 26, 2020
Leadership Skills that focus on “Individuals and interactions over processes and tools”
In volatile times like these, leaders can have a tendency to focus heavily on tools and processes. There’s also a danger that they head into micro-command-control mode through a desire to “Stay in the loop.” In doing so, leaders can easily lose the plot: people still matter.
While no doubt mastering work from home (WFH) technology is important and maintaining communication is vital, a great leader will focus on leadership skills that make sure the teams they serve don’t skew their values too far to the right with regard to “Individuals and interactions over processes and tools.”
Velocity. It is one of the most commonly used, abused, and misused metrics in Agile software development. Teams, their managers, and even their stakeholders often focus on “improving velocity” without considering the entire value delivery system. Then they are shocked when they don’t get what they really want, for example, predictability or speed.
In this article, we explore healthy ways for your organization to use metrics to gain meaningful insights into the outcomes of your experiments as you and your teams pursue the craft of creative knowledge work during an Agile transformation.
Measure for a Purpose
As Simon Sinek famously says: “It all starts with why.” You need to understand what you think you are going to measure and why you want to measure it. When it comes to metrics in Agile, the data itself is not the goal — instead, it’s a means of tracking your journey, testing hypotheses, and providing feedback as you head towards your next goal.
That goal, the Big Why, should be focused on outcomes, not outputs. Here are nine business outcomes (that come from Agile Velocity’s Path to Agility® framework) to think about:
Employee Engagement: Employees are more satisfied in their work, willing to go the extra mile, passionate about the purpose of their jobs, and committed to the organization.
Continuous Improvement: The ability of the organization to relentlessly pursue optimizations in all aspects of business functions.
Innovation: New ideas, creative thoughts, or novel imaginations provide better solutions to meet new requirements, unarticulated needs, or known market needs.
Customer Satisfaction: Customers are satisfied with the experience, benefits, and outcomes when using your product or service.
Market Responsiveness: The ability of the organization to pivot quickly to respond to ever-changing market demands.
Productivity: Teams maintain a predictable cadence of delivery enabling the business to make informed business decisions.
Speed: The time it takes to deliver an idea into the market.
Quality: The product or service meets the expectations of the market for usability, reliability.
Predictability: Increase the business value realized while maintaining or reducing costs.
We recommend that your organization focus on a select few outcomes. (Sorry, you can’t have them all at once!) Limiting your organizational WIP helps create a clear sense of urgency.
Reasons To Measure
There are many reasons to measure as you track progress towards organizational outcomes. These include:
To know where to invest your money – and to do so based on more than just gut instinct
To know if you are building the right things for our market
To measure your performance and alignment — where your inventory (the software that the development teams create) that addresses features, defects, risks, and debt is not easily visible
To know if your customers and employees are delighted (or not)
Why Don’t More Organizations Measure More Things?
In our practice, we routinely discover that many organizations don’t have much in place in terms of metrics. Why not? Some reason include:
People are afraid of weaponized metrics – used not for purposes of continuous improvement, but instead for comparison and punishment.
They were collecting vanity metrics, ones that didn’t offer any predictive power and eventually considered measurement programs “useless.”
Folks believed the “right things” were just too expensive to measure, and they failed to poke around to find existing data that would suffice.
They mistakenly thought the “right things” were immeasurable — and didn’t consider finding proxies.
Successful Programs for Metrics in Agile
Successful organizational metrics programs focus on global outcomes and meaningful feedback loops. This is true at any point along the transformation journey.
Here are a few idea starters for each of the business outcomes listed above:
Team learning logs
Value stream flow efficiency
Reduction in recurring impediments
Number of validated business-level hypotheses developed and tested
Number of times a week team members talk to an actual customer
There are many anti-patterns to be mindful of when implementing metrics in Agile settings:
Hawthorn Effect: Individuals modify their behavior in response to their awareness of being observed. (“Oh, watching the burndowns are we… well, here’s one set for you. The real set is on the back of the rolling whiteboard.)
Goodhart’s Law: All metrics of evaluation are bound to be abused. It’s just human nature. Individuals try to anticipate the effect of a policy and then take actions that alter its outcome. (Things like Class of Service, or rules like FIFO can be gamed. “That’s an expedite ticket, and I’m judged on time to first response? I’ll send it right back to ya with a question. Bingo, I hit my SLA!”)
Friedman’s Thermostat: Correlation does not mean causation, but it sure can be a clue.
Comparing metrics across teams: Teams all have different contexts. (Velocity, sorry to mention it again, is relative and team dependent. Same with throughput – “comparison” leads to over the wall development. Same with operational stability – “comparison” can lead to painful change management processes.) Cross team comparisons remove safety and learning. As Deming reminds us: ”Whenever there is fear, you will get wrong figures.”
Focusing on lagging over leading Indicators: Taking a macro-economics view for example: the level of unemployment is a lagging indicator. By the time you see an upward trend, it’s a bit late to stop it. A good leading indicator for this domain would be Architectural Design Firms submitting bids — a sign of pending economic growth, with job creation as part of it. Leading indicators in software: automated test coverage, code complexity, and team health.
Choosing vanity metrics: Good for feeling awesome, but bad for taking action. Funny things happen when we rely on vanity metrics. When they go up, all of us will be the first to take credit. When they go down… well… it wasn’t me!
Ignoring companion measures: Keep in mind there’s no free lunch. Measure holistically, so you see the tradeoffs. If you’re working on improving cycle time or throughput, you better also keep an eye on quality as well as team morale.
Metrics: Values, Intentions, and Purpose
Are transparent about what and why you measure what you do…
Think about your team members and customers as humans (not resources or wallets)…
Support your teams by thinking long term about values, intentions, and purpose…
…Then your organization will be able to handle the adversity that comes with today’s VUCA world. You’ll build and maintain resilience as you change the status quo, all the while developing a culture rich with collaboration and innovation.
Good things will happen — if you just stop focusing on velocity.
Want to Learn More?
If you need help implementing good processes/practices around metrics including gathering baseline data, we offer a service that does just that! Our Agile Assessments help organizations develop a baseline for their metrics and understand key next steps in their Agile journey, all while maintaining a focus on what’s important: business outcomes.
Sometime during my 50th trip around our star, I had a thought: I should run a marathon before I turn 60.
And then those voices in my head kicked in with a nice chorus of “Yes, but…”
“You can’t even run a mile without wheezing!”
“Remember in high school — when you played soccer and lacrosse and you chose the position that required the least amount of running: goaltender?”
“You’re over the hill. Take up bocce ball instead…”
So I went back and took a nap on the couch and my gremlins chalked up another victory.
Breaking Goals Down With Personal Agility
We all know, thanks to Mr. Newton, that a body at rest, absent any outside influence, stays at rest. In my case, overcoming my inertia took a little shove. The force was not an alarming annual physical, but a couple of significant life changes, one of which was the dropping of a long daily commute. All of a sudden, I had three extra hours in my day.
The universe was giving me a sign.
I decided to use my experience as an Agile coach and run an exercise (pun intended) in personal agility. Instead of taking on a full marathon, I broke it down into a smaller, less risky product increment. AKA, a shorter distance. I decided to run a 5K.
I downloaded acouch-to-5k app to my iPhone, and set out to test a hypothesis I believed to be true: I was too old and fat to be able to run for 10 mins (let alone a freakin’ marathon) without needing an EMT.
Here’s my first week of running, March 2018:
Yep: 30 mins to cover 1.75 miles and only 8 of those minutes at a running pace. My inner gremlins had a lot of fun with that.
Yet I stuck with it…
Eight weeks later, I ran a full 5k in 35 minutes. It wasn’t a record-breaker, nor a marathon, but I did disprove my hypothesis. So what was my next step, my next product increment?
Resistance to Change
Individuals, teams, and organizations all have very powerful systems that seek stasis and resist change.
In the world of coaching, we call the equilibrium the comfort zone. It’s a nice and easy place to be, nothing there worth losing sleep about and next to no anxiety. However, in the comfort zone, there is also little growth, change, innovation, or creativity. This is the land of fixed mindset.
For meaningful change, we need to move outside the comfort zone and spend some time in the stretch zone, where things can be downright uncomfortable. However, the stretch zone is also where perceptions expand and transformation and growth happens. This is the land of growth mindset. Getting there requires some incentive, or the opposite, a disturbance or a crisis. (Remember Mr. Newton?). To get through the pain, help is often needed.
The Power of Coaching
Shortly after running the 5K, I shared my excitement with my friend Frank. Little did I know, Frank’s one of those crazy runner types. He also happened to be a very effective and subtle coach. He managed to get me out on the trail three times the following week, running at a “democratic pace” — meaning he could speak in entire paragraphs without any visible effort and I was struggling to get out one-word answers.
At the end of that week, Frank casually dropped, “You know, you did three 5k’s this week. Do that for a couple of months and you’ll be able to run a half marathon.”
“Hmmm, Frank, check my math… that’s 21K!!” (It also happened to be halfway to my original goal.)
Frank encouraged me to sign up for the November 2018 Bucks County Half Marathon, which was about 5 months away at the time. It cost $90 to register and if I decided to bail at the last minute, the money would go to a good cause.
I made a training plan with a big visual tracking board and did my best to stick with it, even though many times, I wanted to call it quits.
But my coach kept coming up with ways to keep me moving back and forth across the border between comfort and stretch, embracing new challenges, persisting in the face of setbacks, and viewing the effort I put in as fruitful.
That fall, we both ran the Bucks Half Marathon. Frank finished at least an hour ahead of me, yet there he was at the finish line, cheering me on as I completed my race, “Dude, that was awesome. One of those a month for the next three months, and you’ll be running a full marathon… Here, have a beer!”
A Full Marathon
A few nudges here and there from Frank, and I signed up for the NJ Marathon for the following spring. I put in the miles week after week through the winter following awell-known novice training routine. My coach helped me through the new aches and pains, the selection of running gear, and changing my nutrition.
Then the day came. Sunday, April 28, 2019. It was cold. It was drizzling. I won’t sugar coat it: I was miserable from about mile 12 onwards, right after I tripped over a manhole cover and hit the ground hard. I was running at barely a walking pace, but one foot in front of the other, I made it to the finish line, 6 hours, 10 minutes, and 24 seconds later. By the time I got to the end, the free beer tent had already gone home. I vowed to never, ever do that again.
Greeting the Gremlins and the G.R.O.W.T.H. Mindset
Then I read a blog article by Lia Ditton. She’s about to embark on a really big challenge: rowing solo and unsupported 5,500 miles across the Pacific Ocean. In her article, Lia wrote about her own gremlins. Reading that even athletes like Lia have moments of self-doubt encouraged me.
So I signed up for a second full marathon, the Philly AACR, and to show the gremlins who’s da boss, I gave myself another BHAG: run 1,000 miles this calendar year.
On my training runs, I listen mostly to audiobooks. Not too long ago, I finished Robert J. Anderson’s Mastering Leadership. In it, he wrote:
“As we descend into our doubts and fears, we see that they are not what we thought they were. We see that the old self is too small for the purpose and vision that want to come through. We also discover that there is a much larger self that is fully capable of creating the future to which we aspire… The pursuit of purpose brings us face-to-face with the ways we are playing-not-to-lose. [This] means facing our fears head-on, becoming a student of our fears by descending into them.”
Anderson’s idea of facing fears head on reminded me of a way I learned to chat with the gremlins at this year’sAgile Coach Camp. It goes like this:
I see you. I hear you. I feel you. I love you unconditionally, and I accept you fully.
Now, how can I support you?”
There’s an incredible power behind this approach: turning not only to face but to embrace the “can’t do it”
voices that lurk in the shadows. Shining a light on the darkness forces those gremlins to pause, even if just for a moment. In that space, one has the opportunity to subject underlying beliefs to investigation and modification.
I was fortunate to have a running coach appear when I was ready. He assisted me with my development, my performance, and helped me to achieve outcomes I thought at the time were far beyond my capacity.
We did this through a model I refer to as “G.R.O.W.T.H.” – Max Landsberg’s GROW model (Goal, Reality, Obstacles/Options, Way Forward) plus Trust and Honesty.
My gremlins and I have a less contentious game of hide and seek now.
Even though those pesky voices tried to “save me from myself” on race day in Philly as the weather alternated between rain, sleet, hail, and snow, I managed to complete my second full marathon.
As far as my BHAG of 1,000 miles is concerned, I’m a bit behind my target, suffering from a cranky iliotibial (IT) band. Nevertheless, I’m working every week to stay the course, one mile at a time. Part of the reason I continue is to overcome my perceived limits by leaning into them. Another reason is that I can eat all the carbs I want. Oh, and beer… It tastes so much better after a multi-hour training run.
As Abraham Maslow said: “In any given moment, we have two options: to step forward into growth or to step back into safety.”