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A 5-step strategy for Agile transformation

I go to Agile events and all I hear about are the dysfunctions in the workplace. Everybody has horror stories on how their work should be Agile, but is far from it, and most of the problems are caused by the pyramid of power structured during the Industrial Revolution, that still echos in our work relations today:

  • jobs are providers of pay
  • whoever controls pay holds the power
  • hierarchy is the only opposition of chaos
sounds familiar?

When research on how to do Agile transformations in formal-structure based companies, we realize those are the core values that need to be flipped around:

  • jobs are enablers of creation through purpose and mastery
  • pay is relevant to provide life quality so that money is not a concern
  • autonomy is order without control

The two sets of values are completely irreconcilable, and that’s why while doing Agile transformation it is so important to start small, with a single team, testing what works inside that environment, and then slowly infecting other teams as the first ones mature. Culture isn’t a switch you can flip inside yourself, let alone in a whole company.

The idea is to enable you to infect people positively.

I find it very interesting that the most basic capitalist need — productivity and profit — became the drive to enable basic socialist principles — like autonomy through cooperatives, pay baseline and equal distribution of work and power — , in a very healthy and surprising synthesis.

These are the guidelines you must have in mind while doing an Agile transformation:

  1. You can’t tell upfront who is a “good” or a “bad” team member. Most times the wrong motivations are so ingrained in them you’ll first need to offer new motivation and then see how they react.
  2. Provide information, full disclosure. Make all objectives clear and help the team set their goals and metrics of success. The only thing you must really insist on are frequently showcasing results and measuring progress.
  3. Cooperation and autonomy might cause mayhem at first, but being held accountable during Review (or any presentation of the work results) will soon affect the teams through peer pressure. Allow the teams to self-organize, and facilitate as they find the rotten apples themselves.
  4. Do not try abolishing too many industrial controls at a time, but keep in mind your ultimate goal is to have them all replaced by metrics that focus on the value you delivered, not people’s punctuality, leisure time or effort.
  5. Work hard on evening out the pay both internally and externally: every employee pay must be fair (not high. FAIR.), both considering the colleagues that have the same responsibilities and the market’s standards.

These 5 steps are the basic initiatives you’ll need to take, regardless of the environment you want to transform. They will be the pillars without which any Agile framework will crumble, because being Agile is not about framework, method or tools. It’s about the mindset and the values you instill in your work and your life.

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