The Importance of Vision
I wish that I could say that every transformation I have participated in was well guided by an overall vision of what the world would look like once all the coaches went home and the organization was ticking along like a self-sustaining, agile machine.
It was true, each transformation was guided by some sort of vision; unfortunately, the vision was understood only by a few and in the cases where the vision was more widely known, seldom did the organization have the passion behind seeing the vision come to its fruition.
The lesson learned here is, it is not enough to simply have a vision to guide the transformation effort, the words we use, the tone in our voice and the commitment must be real.
Case in Point
Several years ago, I took an engagement with a client who was very new to agile. The company had a long history of waterfall projects and traditional program management but had recently been falling behind competitors in several markets. The decision was made to venture into agile to attempt to accelerate delivery and become more competitive.
The leadership team, along with the transformation consultants whom they had hired spent a descent amount of time shaping an overall vision
for the agile transformation. Then came time to launch their first Agile Release Train (ART) using the Scaled Agile Framework (SAFe) as a foundation.
During the executive briefing in the first Program Increment (PI) Planning event, one of the company’s top Product Management Vice Presidents was elected to speak and give the teams that were assembled a view into the overall vision of not only where their products were headed but also the grand experiment that was their agile transformation.
His words were inspiring and heartfelt. He spoke of bright futures and efficient workflows and healthy collaboration. You could tell that a sense of pride was filling most everyone in the room as they had been “chosen” to spearhead the transformation effort.
Then it happened…
After delivering an inspiring address, the VP of Product Management closed his remarks with, “I know this is a lot of change but don’t worry. We still have enough time in the project to go back to the old way if this agile thing doesn’t work out.
All at once, all the oxygen left the room and I knew at that very moment, the transformation was at risk.
The Best Visions are Shared, not Sold
Getting people excited about change is an extremely complicated matter. Even in situations where the need for change is well known and agreed to, resistance creeps in at the first sign of weakness in the new paradigm.
Companies try to overcome this by any number of mechanisms. Senior leaders will hold town-hall style meetings and praise the new direction, posters will be printed extolling the virtues of the principles of agile, and newsletters will sing the praises of this new way of thinking.
All of these things are necessary to communicate the changes but what is usually missing is the dialogue and the agile transformation vision feels like we are being marketed to, not engaged to take on the tremendous challenges that face businesses today.
The dialogue, between peers and from management to their reports gets limited to the tactical aspects of implementing a flavor of agile. The lack of focus on the vision limits the individuals in the organization ability to recognize the benefit; to their customers, their co-workers and themselves. It fails to have them join you in realizing the vision and sends them down the path of implementing yet another process change that will disrupt the rhythm that they thought they had achieved up to now. Leaving them not inspired but inconvenienced.
Take the Time to Talk it Out
As you embark upon your agile transformation journey remember this:
Take the time to create a compelling vision for the transformation. One that demonstrates not only the benefit to the
company but to its customers and associates. Look outside of your organization to facilitate the visioning process. It is an exercise that can bring out lots of emotions, good and bad.
Discuss, dissect, disagree, have the conversations that are critical in understanding WHY the transformation is happening and that all will understand “What’s in it for me”.
As everyone begins to internalize the vision and utterly understand the importance and associated benefits more will join in a broad coalition that will help to propel the transformation forward. Changes will have more staying-power and the likelihood of growing a long-standing culture of agility will greatly increase
About Michael Callahan
Michael is the Founder and Principal Consultant for Mindset180 LLC. He has been engaged in agile for both development and non-development teams, programs and at the enterprise level since 2002. He has been a transformation consultant/agile coach for the past 8 years and has worked with multiple clients, mostly in the healthcare and financial services industries.
You can reach Michael at firstname.lastname@example.org