Agility, Self-Organization, and a Lot More – Interview With Ralph van Roosmalen

Ralph van Roosmalen is one of the leading Agile and Organization Coaches. He is an innovative Agile Enabler helping organizations and individuals to embrace an Agile mindset to make the next step in their development.

He helps in coaching and defining the management role in an agile environment by using practices, tools and experiences from Management 3.0. He offers help to set up distributed teams and improve teamwork in a distributed environment. He assists in implementing and improving agile software development teams in complex enterprise distributed environments.

He started Agile Strides to help people make the next step in their career; it can be a step in improving their organization, their team or just the way they work.

Here’s an excerpt from an exclusive interview that he had with Bridge Global, wherein he talks about the importance of adopting an Agile mindset and the real meaning of self-organizing teams.

1. What are some of your agile principles that have helped you in your business growth?

Agile is all about inspecting, adapting and being transparent. We need to see what works and doesn’t work and from there move on. Another thing is experimenting things out. Just be open-minded and try things out and be focused and do make sure that you don’t do everything but focus on your strength and try to grow your business in that area.

2. Our organization follows self-organized and Agile principles in all our operations and activities. Do you think self-organization is a great complement to the ‘people first’ model?

Yes, I think it is. But with two constraints. People often think about self-organizing as, “OK we can do everything and everything is possible, we can decide on everything”. I think it’s not the case. Self-organization works quite well. But there will always be some constraints from your organization.

So we have to realize that it is not completely ‘we can decide everything’. You will have some constraints. And with those constraints in place, you can have your teams’ approval and can decide many possible things among yourselves. Your organization will be much more resilient and much more effective and better because people will know how to take the best decisions keeping the organizational goals in focus.

3. How could you help companies in implementing and improving agile software development teams in complex enterprise distributed environments?

By explaining to them that Agile is a mindset. It’s not about the tools or the practices that you apply. It’s about the mindset…it’s how you look at it and how you do things.

Make sure that they understand that an organization is a complex system. You cannot control it like a machine. You just have to experiment and see what’s happening and try to guide it and try to steer it, but you cannot control an organization.

The last and important thing is because you cannot control the organization as it is a complex system, that is constantly adapting to the environment and to itself, you need to experiment, you need to try things out. Make sure you have a vision and a plan in place and start experimenting to get close to your vision. Maybe when you get there, you realize that it’s a completely different place. But that’s good because you learned to experiment, adapt and learn. You will also learn that Agile is a mindset, it’s not about the tools. Make sure that you have a vision in place and you start experimenting to get close to that vision.

4. How does Management 3.0 help a person to manage his organization?

It helps in two different ways. It will help you with understanding the system, how the organization works, how you should look at an organization, you can use the principles to manage a system, and people can manage themselves and do their work with the given constraints. If you understand that way of looking at a system, it will help you.
It is a way of looking at work systems with a strong focus on people.

Another way Management 3.0 can help you well is by applying the practices, the games, the tools. There are a lot of practices in 3.0 like Delegation, Motivation Cards, and Team Competency Matrix and a lot of things. These can help you create an environment where people can manage themselves, where they can decide on a lot of things, still being part of the organization.

So it’s about looking at the system, understanding that it’s a complex system, you cannot control it, that the one part where it helps. Another part is that tools of 3.0 can really help you to make it practical. Because, you need to change the mind as a manager, you need to let things go. Here 3.0 helps you with pragmatic tools you can use to achieve this.

5. How does agile keep you going forward when things get tough?

For me I love to start doing things, I love trying things out. I accept that we don’t know everything, things will be difficult. But you need to start doing it.

I worked with a customer having problems with portfolio management. They were a bit hesitant about how do we do it. I told them to take a small step and from there we’ll see, we’ll just try things out, we’ll just do something and it’ll help you. You’ll learn from it and that’ll help you go on.

Even if it’s just a small step it will help you, you will learn from it. It will make you go on. And when you come across a huge problem, yes it will make the process challenging, but why not just take the first step. Try small things out, experiment, learn from it and just move on.

As nowadays things are moving fast and you need to involve in a continuous learning process. Adapting to what’s happening in the market.

6. A few reasons why a business should adopt agile frameworks?

It’s not necessary that you have to be agile. If you have a business that is stable, you know what you’re doing and you’ve been doing that for years, and it is not certainly going to change for the next 10 years, don’t do Agile. Agile is not mandatory. I have heard people saying “we need to be Agile”. First, look at your organization. If it’s not changing fast, maybe Agile is not necessary.

But as I said before things are changing fast nowadays. Faster and faster. Everything is connected to each other. Information is flowing faster and faster. Goods are flowing faster, people are moving faster. And in short, everything is changing faster.

If you think you can manage those changes by traditional management and by traditional mindsets, you will lose. You will not survive. Changing the mindset is necessary. I think nowadays, Agile is a popular mindset and it will help you. Here you need to apply agile. You need to be ready for change. When other organizations are moving faster you will lose. The moment you realize that I am in an environment that’s changing, you need to change your mindset.

If you stick to an organization, where the manager/CEO decides all the big decisions, you are a bit too slow. If teams are empowered to do things, then you need not wait for the manager. You can make decisions faster and better decisions because you know actually what is happening.

7. How does agile management help a small business to grow?

It will help because people will be encouraged to use their strengths to do the things that they like. In Agile management, you care about people and you make sure that they are happy, and happy people will do more. It’s as simple as that. If you implement agile management you will empower people.

If you grow as a small company, traditionally the CEO/co-founder decides everything. She or he started the business and did everything alone in the beginning. She/he needs to understand that in a small company you need to let things go. And soon (s)he let things go by implementing the right management style it will allow the company to grow, and make use of the knowledge and experience of all co-workers. Because the moment you as a co-founder keep making all the decisions, you imply you know everything. Sorry to say, that is not possible. As I said, if a small company can benefit by empowering people, they will make the decisions and you can grow faster, you don’t have to be the bottleneck anymore.

8. What are your suggestions to a company which is already following agile to improve their business?

What I would advise is, you need to keep reflecting on how you are doing. Agile is about continuous improvement, doing retrospectives on how you are doing. Of course, I advise you also to implement Management 3.0 practices.

Often we start doing agile and after a while due to lots of reasons, we need to look back now and then. Then we may be surprised to realize that we are not Agile anymore because we’ve implemented a lot of rules. Maybe you can reflect on the theory, check back the Agile Manifesto and check are we still on that path. I am not asking you to follow it blindly, but reflect on the theory and check for gaps. If gaps exist, do something about it, at least decide explicit if you want to have those gaps.

PS – This blog is Originally published at Bridge Global Blog

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