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Agile Habits: Changing Large Groups of People 1 Habit at A Time

In my new book ‘start agile’, I’ve gathered my thoughts and experiences about starting an agile transformation. Most people start with agile because they want to:

  • Speed up product development
  • Make people work in (cross-functional) teams
  • Want to launch more innovative (digital) products
  • Get more productivity out of their people
  • Find out what all this agile fuzz is all about

I’ve learned over the years that most agile transformations either start ‘top-down’. This is mostly because a big consultancy (usually McKinsey) convinced the BOD about the agile organization (I love McKinsey). Sometimes it starts bottom-up (because some IT guys found this to be a better way to develop great digital products). 

The below image shows the 3 stages I see for an agile transformation (and I see them as recurring, iterating, continuous improvement). 

Start Agile

What is start agile? What the topics that start agile talks about? Here are the focus of start agile:

  1. Structure: usually tribes and squads or scrum teams  
  2. Process: almost always scrum or elements of scrum
  3. People: training people in scrum or agile fundamentals
  4. Leadership: make leaders aware of what’s happening
  5. Tools: Jira, trello and some other tools for visualization

Once the basics are in place, some people conclude that they created an agile organization. Transformation ‘done’.

My view here is: 

  1. Transformation is never done; it’s not a project, it’s a never-ending cycle of ‘getting better at what we do and how we do things’
  2. The focus after the basics has to be on Agile habits
  3. To get a large organization agile, we need to get the agile building blocks right

Agile Organization

The building blocks of an Agile organization are well defined by McKinsey. Below image shows the organization level practices:

These are all very important aspects of the organization that we need to get right. In most transformations, we develop a roadmap that runs several years. We tackle the building blocks one by one and keep iterating and improving.

Many of the above building blocks are ‘hard’; they are about structure, systems, tools. What’s an equally important and often overlooked part is: how do we change people’s behaviors? How do we teach people to become more entrepreneurial, to innovate, to ‘keep learning’? 

Agile Habits

If we want to change the way a large group of people thinks and goes about work, we need to change their habits. This is not about a one-off training program. It’s not about hiring an agile coach per se. It’s about an institutionalized way of encouraging people to change their ‘ways’. 

One of the themes in agility is ‘self organization’. This sounds exciting for most people. But the question we all have is ‘how do we stimulate self organization?’ What is expected of us? How do we self-organize? The answer to these questions is: define, encourage and measure the agile habits. 

As I organize a series of podcasts, articles, and eventually a book about Agile habits, I have listed out the ones I see. As a reader, maybe you recognize different or additional behaviors I have missed out. In the spirit of co-creation, it would be great to receive your thoughts in the comments to this article. If you want to do an interview in a podcast or share your ideas otherwise, please comment or reach out to me. 

Don’t forget to download start agile ebook here!

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