“Our business transformation program is two years old,” our client began. “And true to the well-worn adage, our legacy culture is eating our Agile strategy for breakfast.” Agile practices make work both visible and manageable, but how do you visualize and manage the all-pervasive attitudes, behaviors, and habits that make up your entire organizational ecosystem? Values statements, social contracts and other intangibles are all efforts to define and shape culture, but they often prove to be meaningless because they are not actionable. Sustainable business transformation requires more than new ways of working, mood marbles, and motivational meetings.
Realignment began with a process of introducing two pilot teams to Solution-Focused Agile (SFA) in an onsite workshop, followed by virtual coaching. Validated results included immediate Kirkpatrick Level 1 (positive feedback) and Level 2 (demonstrated knowledge) implementation, soon followed by Level 3 (culture change). Level 4 (business outcomes) followed within months, carefully measured by employee engagement and customer Net Promoter Score surveys. The overwhelming success of the pilot program’s success led to additional SFA workshops with senior executives within the organization. Today this Fortune 100 company is now scaling SFA across the enterprise. As one executive put it, “We lost our way because we were focused on our problems; now we’re dreaming again.”
Achieving Enterprise Agility
“IT can’t get anything across the finish line!” was a continued refrain from every member of the C-suite at this fast-paced, rapidly growing company. “Of course we can’t get anything across the finish line,” responded the CIO. “We spend most of our time dealing with technical debt already in production, and the rest of our time creating even more technical debt.” With more than 50 “development priorities” underway, their numerous challenges included a broken governance and portfolio management system, too many project-in-progress, “waterfall” ways of working and function-based organizational silos. “We just can’t take it anymore,” was the overwhelming sentiment among employees at all levels of the organization.
The first step in the turnaround process involved a process of coaching and management training on the K2 Transformation Model with executives at the company. Team-level training and coaching soon followed, incorporating end-to-end value stream mapping, a Spotify-like reorganization, and introduction of “SAFe Scaling” and “DevOps” practices. The organization’s mantra soon became “Stop starting; start finishing.” Their CEO wrote on the portfolio Kanban board: “This is great! I look at it 2-3 times a week—very helpful!” Better yet, their CIO won the industry’s “Rising Star” award as productivity increased 57% in the next quarter. Best of all, the “Agile Joy,” as their CIO liked to call it, soon spread to Marketing, Legal, and other teams across the entire enterprise, contributing to a greater sense of cohesion and optimism.
Enterprise Agility in a Regulated Environment
“You can’t do that in a regulated environment!” was the typical first-time reaction to the principles of Agile. “Can’t do that here,” was the typical code phrase for “We don’t know how and don’t want to know.” But those same leaders also knew something had to change. The company’s very survival depended on replacing their flagship product, and the process in place was a hodgepodge of more than a dozen legacy systems, all slowed to a crawl by growing technical debt. Estimates ranged from three to five years and tens of millions of dollars. Two prior efforts had failed, key people lost their jobs, and management responded by imposing even more “command-and-control.” Productivity and morale continued to erode while turnover continued to rise.
Simply put, the culture had become toxic and intervention was needed on multiple levels. The first steps included establishing weekly coaching sessions with the executive team. The principles of Solution-Focused Therapy and Appreciative Inquiry soon begin transforming the entire corporate culture. Human Resources were coached to better align their recruiting, hiring, and retention policies. Managers and their teams began the process of co-creating new ways of working, based on Design Thinking, Agile, test-driven development and DevOps practices they’d learned through the coaching process. The program of work was completed in less than fifteen months at one-third the original budget estimates. Ultimately these new ways of working spread across the entire enterprise within another year, transforming the company for the better.