Organizational Alignment Will Make Or Break Your Agile Transformation

By: Brian O'Fallon | Jul 10, 2017 |  Agile Coaching,  Agile Transformation,  Article

organizational alignment from leadership down to the teamsIn organization after organization Agile adoptions fail because “Agile” is seen as something only technology teams do. They see getting to market faster and delivering more value as something that happens solely within the delivery team. Marketing, design, sales, and business development are seen as inputs or outputs to the delivery process rather than part of the delivery team.

An Agile transformation often requires a full shift in the culture and mindset of an organization, and that’s not an easy feat. Even if executives have a clear understanding of their goals, communicating these goals and aligning the company around them isn’t usually second nature. In fact, an article in Harvard Business Review on organizational alignment argues that one of the four reasons for a misaligned enterprise is that most organizations do not have enterprise alignment as a core function.

Signs Organizational Alignment Is Missing

  1. Lack of camaraderie between the business side and Technology side

When there is a big divide between business and tech, each side is seen as the enemy of the other. The Business views Technology as “bad suppliers” and Technology sees the Business as a department without clear direction. According to the Scrum Alliance 2015 State of Scrum Report, 71% of survey respondents reported tension between their teams and the rest of the organization.

  1. Lack of customer value-centric goals

A lack of customer value-centric goals ultimately leads to a company losing sight of their product’s grand vision. The value a product brings to the customer should be the North Star the entire organization aligns goals towards.

  1. Tribalism

When things get siloed, weirdness happens. I like to refer to this issue as Tribalism. This occurs when tribes, or groups, begin to develop within an organization. Communication between teams is blocked, and productivity is limited. Inevitably, this leads to weird things happening and the formation of opposing goals.

  1. Promises of Agile go unfulfilled or the transformation has stalled

Whether it’s six months into a transformation or two years, in our experience, a stalled and/or unfruitful transformation is one of the top reasons to invite an organizational coach. Getting predictable is one of the main promises of Agile so it may be time to call if spotty delivery continues to be an issue.

Coaching & Alignment

When we kick off a transformation engagement, the first thing we ask our clients is “why?” During the discovery process, we gain an understanding of why an organization needs our help so that we can help establish, articulate, and install the broad alignment needed for a transformation’s long-term success.

We meet with leadership to determine the root desires for the adoption and transformation. The goal for the transformation cannot be to “do Agile”; transformation goals must be grounded in measurable, strategic outcomes. Without empirical measures of success, how do organizations know when you’ve gotten to “Agile enough”?

Transformation goals can be tied to the business or be adoption-based. We help leadership fully articulate these goals and find a sure way to measure them. “What does success look like for you? What’s different a month, two months, six months from now? How can we measure this?” Defining the metrics they would use to track the goals they’ve created helps create accountability and direction. Example metrics include:

  • Improving product quality
  • Improving employee morale
  • Faster time-to-market

These typically vary from organization to organization, based on the unique business goals each may have. This gives our coaches a place to start when helping organizations to build their transformation backlog.

Broadening Alignment

It is important to note that having clear, measurable goals is only half the battle. These goals go to waste if only the high-level executives understand their significance. For an Agile transformation to successfully take root, there must be transparency and buy-in throughout the organization. Everyone, from executives to Technology, needs to see how each of their individual roles play into the larger picture.

Without this level of transparency, we begin to see a breakdown, and a greater divide between the executives and the Technology department begins to form. Next thing we know, everyone is playing the blame game. Executives are upset with Technology, and Technology is feeling underappreciated for their hard work. This, of course, all results in a storm of even more work for everyone.

In the latest State of Agile report, 19% of participants say a major challenge they face while adopting Agile is ineffective collaboration. Traditionally initiatives are broken down into individual components that are assigned out to individuals or departments to complete their portion. Dependencies are identified and everything is integrated into the end. The flow of information tends to be hierarchical, and collaboration is generally just meeting to manage dependencies. Typically, it all falls apart, in the end, little fits together correctly, deadlines are missed and frustration abounds. This is why an organization needs alignment from top to bottom— and back up again.  

Visibility and Transparency

When we initially begin to experience transparency, there tends to be an element of horror on both sides. The business side assumes the tech side is always tinkering away on their products and is shocked when they find out what Technology is actually working on. Things like technical debt and infrastructure work seem like nonsense to the business side. However, these processes need to be kept in place to keep technology organization efficient.

Technology is horrified because business doesn’t understand the importance of their work. Even worse, they may not believe the outlined plans because priorities thrashing has given them whiplash one too many times.

With effective alignment and coaching support, this only lasts a little while. Coaches help discover all the work being done and make it visible to everyone. This allows the Business and Technology to have a much better understanding of how time and talent is being used currently so that programs are able to be prioritized in the future. Leadership is also able to see impediments slowing or blocking value delivery giving them the opportunity to address those impediments and set the organization up for future success.

Transparency can be scary at first, but it pays off in the long run. Having this richer understanding of what everyone is doing and how their roles and work fit together will allow a company to successfully follow their transformation roadmap and reach their goals.

Agile transformations aren’t easy. Often time, we see the transformation begin to fall apart when leadership fails to provide their teams with the direction and support needed to be successful and a system for maintaining alignment once the transformation is complete. We connect leadership to their teams and the rest of the organization to ensure that their goals are universally understood and achieved. The goal is for executives and management teams to build the foundation that will help them continue to be agile long after the push for transformation ends.


For more on our approach to building lasting business agility, you can check out our Transformation Services page.

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