With the blistering pace of technological, economic, and socio-political changes, it’s clear that enterprises have to change—not just in the products and services they provide, or the platforms through which they provide them—but also in the way they plan, fund, and execute work. For many, this change means scaling Agile.
The firms that have thrived in this new landscape are fundamentally different than the ones they’ve replaced. One common thread that companies like Facebook, Airbnb, and Spotify share (beyond the fact that they are software-driven) is a mindset of innovation, adaptability, and growth known as agility.
Whether or not they call it that, these firms are all recognizably implementing the principles of Agile in that they:
- Focus on delivering value to customers
- Work in small, self-sufficient teams in networked organizational arrangements
- Operate in short planning/funding cycles
Many organizations have been practicing some version of Agile in their software development or IT departments for years, which can be helpful in increasing the efficiency of those teams. But ultimately, to enable agility across the enterprise, organizations need to understand, adapt, and scale Agile beyond software development and IT to the rest of the business. They have to evolve their portfolio management practices to boost agility while leveraging the stability and infrastructure that gives them market advantage.
In this series of posts, we’ll discuss the benefits of scaling Agile, and provide tips and recommended practices for implementing it across your organization. But first, let’s dive into the three key shifts necessary for scaling Agile across the enterprise, and why so many companies struggle to make them.
3 Key Shifts Necessary for Scaling Agile
The emphasis of mindset in Lean-Agile implementations—as opposed to the practices, processes, and rules of other methodologies—makes it simpler to understand, communicate, and scale, but also more difficult to implement, practice, and sustain. Agile is more of a shared mindset (aka a culture) than a set of practices.
This is why it’s easy to spot “fake” Agile. Leaders might preach continuous improvement but discourage using working hours to practice it. They might allow teams to self-organize but refuse to adjust funding and planning practices to allow for true autonomy. They might rely heavily on terms, roles, tools, and rules of scaling methodologies without a deeper understanding of the principles behind them. These companies are unlikely to see performance improvements through Agile, because they aren’t actually practicing it.
What’s missing from these implementations of Lean and Agile is the understanding that:
In order to see radically different outcomes, you have to create a radically different culture.
This is also why implementing Agile in software dev and IT—and stopping there—typically doesn’t produce the bottom-line results that stakeholders might expect. As Agile expert and author Steve Denning explains:
“The elements of a culture fit together as a mutually reinforcing system and combine to prevent any attempt to change it. Single-fix changes at the team level thus may appear to make progress for a while, but eventually the interlocking elements of the organizational culture take over and the change is inexorably drawn back into the existing organizational culture.”
Success with scaling Agile requires a deep, cultural shift. Denning explains that this actually includes five cultural shifts:
These cultural shifts are all rooted in one fundamental idea necessary for scaling Agile: The idea that the best business outcomes occur when everyone in the organization focuses on delivering customer value. Secondary to this is the idea that people want to do their best work and simply need the autonomy, mastery, and purpose to do so.
Although both of these ideas might seem self-evident, the way our businesses are structured, the way our leaders lead, the way we measure progress, the way we incentivize employees, the way we make strategic plans, are typically designed to make them impossible to actually practice.
Work Management Shift
If, as an organization, you believe that people want to do their best work, and you feel confident that your organization is aligned around the shared goal of maximizing customer value, you’ll need to shift your work management methods to enable value to flow:
- Leaders will need to shift from a command-and-control approach to a more open style of servant leadership
- Funding/budgeting practices will need to shift from being project-driven to being determined by value stream
- Team structures will need to shift to allow for rapid experimentation and higher levels of collaboration
- Communication will need to shift from being top-down to more horizontal
- The role of the PMO will need to shift from being the dictating force for how work gets done to be the connecting force that promotes knowledge sharing across the enterprise
Each of these changes helps transition the organization towards a more Agile, sustainable future. You can learn more about how to make these changes (and why) in our series on Lean Portfolio Management.
Scaling Agile across the enterprise requires visibility, transparency, and flow of information that most existing tech stacks don’t provide—so understand that scaling Agile will require a shift in technology, as well.
It’s likely that your organization captures financials, capacity planning, and corporate objectives in one place (or more), but you track delivery of the work in a completely separate tool (or likely, tools). This makes aligning your delivery teams with your higher-level strategic goals an uphill battle.
Once you’ve organized into value streams (or as you’re undergoing that shift), identify opportunities for increasing transparency, flexibility, and information sharing across the enterprise. Look for a Lean-Agile solution that enables your organization to map strategic plans down to the Agile teams, and roll up the work, impact, and financial contributions to the strategic objectives. This will almost definitely require more than a simple solution swap, so be prepared to pull up some roots in order to find a solution that truly supports your Agile initiative.
To learn more, continue reading the other parts of this series, listed below:
Also, be sure to download “The 7 Benefits of Scaling Agile” eBook to explore even more.