Leadership – How do you encourage Agile and innovation in a Bureaucracy?


How does Leadership encourage Agile and innovation in a Bureaucracy?

By: Beth Schaefer    Director, Institute for Professional Development

Are you a leader supporting Agile efforts in a large traditional or bureaucratic organization? Let’s help each other.

I have Agile going on two fronts now – well, three if count our Agile training programs.

  1. My department is designing and building new business architecture courses with an agile or iterative approach. More on this in the next pocket agile blog.
  2. On the university org. chart, my department has been housed in the Center for Education Innovation (CEI) for the last two years. We are in talks of how to be agile in a government institution like a university.

What is the Center for Education Innovation (CEI)?

The Center is comprised of what I consider the most entrepreneurial of the university departments (although I am sure some would argue otherwise) because they are departments that say, “yes” to new ideas and then figure out a way to do it.  As department leaders, we are all calculated risk takers.

  • The CEI Current status?

Up until now, despite being under the same org. chart umbrella, our departments have largely worked independently of each other or, at best, done some ad hoc, as-needed collaborations.   We do talk about making sure we maintain a culture of innovation, and we have loosely defined what the elements of that culture need to be.

  • CEI Future state?

As often happens on the organizational maturity continuum, we are looking at moving from ad hoc to standardizing or making our innovation efforts more intentional.  We have started informal discussions on what the value proposition of the CEI should be, who the CEI customers are, and who (what other departments or roles) might be necessary to enable CEI to be Agile and innovative in the midst of a large bureaucracy.

So, here are my big questions

  1. If the Agile approach is a necessary component of innovation, how does one blend Agile with bureaucratic processes?
  2. If we start formalizing our CEI to better navigate existing processes, at what point, is the CEI no longer entrepreneurial and just another branch of the bureaucracy?

What is your best lesson learned to share with the rest of us? I am curious to hear from you.  

To help, I found this snippet in a longer article in the Harvard Review called Agile at Scale.  I think it provides an interesting intersection between agile pockets and traditional organizational structure.

When leaders haven’t themselves understood and adopted agile approaches, they may try to scale up agile the way they have attacked other change initiatives: through top-down plans and directives.

The track record is better when they behave like an agile team. That means viewing various parts of the organization as their customers—people and groups whose needs differ, are probably misunderstood, and will evolve as agile takes hold.

The executive team sets priorities and sequences opportunities to improve those customers’ experiences and increase their success. Leaders plunge in to solve problems and remove constraints rather than delegate that work to subordinates. The agile leadership team, like any other agile team, has an “initiative owner” who is responsible for overall results and a facilitator who coaches team members and helps keep everyone actively engaged.

I have sent this article to the other directors under the Center of Education Innovation umbrella, and await their thoughts as to our next steps.

In addition, I am interested in knowing other leaders successes or failures.

Please comment on our LinkedIn or Facebook pages.

 

 

 

 

 

Is Pocket Agile a Thing, or Did I Just Invent It?


Is Pocket Agile a Thing, or Did I Just Invent It?

Or – Is it OK to be Agile Lite?

By: Beth Schaefer    Director, Institute for Professional Development

I hesitate to say that I am practicing Agile because I have not been formally trained in Agile. And, I work in higher education – an industry not known for being quick to change.

So instead, I say that I am making iterative changes – much less official – no standardized rules or manifestos to follow if one is just growing and improving in an iterative fashion.

However, when I look at my project list, I have lots of opportunities to be Agile:

  • Changing a classroom experience in business architecture into a virtual experience
  • Working with IT professionals to determine my university’s role in recruiting and retaining a talented pool of IT workers for Minnesota
  • Partnering with clients to design effective training experiences

Of course, like the rest of you, Agile is on my radar these days – and as it moves out of IT and software development to infiltrate other parts of organizations*, my interest grows.

So, what are my next actions steps to become officially Agile?

Step 1: Get over the idea that Agile is only for software development.

Over the next few months, I will focus my blogs on how Agile is being used in:

    • HR
    • Marketing
    • Designing Office Space
    • Business Office Efficiencies

Step 2: See how the Agile Manifesto can apply to education and training.

Applying the Manifesto outside software development may label me Agile Lite, but I will do it anyway. I will post it once I have it completed.

Step 3: Take a class to learn more about Agile and its methodologies.

My department has 5 project instructors with expertise in Agile and Scrum and all with their own opinions. They will provide information for me to choose the path that works best for my department and eventually (hopefully) my organization.

Step 4: Innovate and improve – iteratively.

For now, I need to move iteratively. I have recently moved to being OK with iterative change rather than “flip the switch” change, so we will start pockets of Agile and continue to research if “Pocket Agile” can work in a non-Agile organization.  Yes – more future blogs

* Here are some articles on using Agile across organizations – both pros and cons.

An Operating Model for Company-wide Agile Development from McKinsey&Company by Santiago Comella-Dorda, Swati Lohiya, and Gerard Speksnijder

While this blog is to sell their product, it does provide some good talking points that may be useful for describing the Agile maturity of your own organization. In addition, there is a handy chart that illustrates differences in structures, interactions, roles, and budgeting between traditional organizations and agile ones.

Can Big Organizations Be Agile?   From Forbes by Steve Denning

Steve says “yes.” And, not only Agile but entrepreneurial.  He shares examples of where it is happening, including Ericsson, Spotify, Barclays, and Microsoft – including lessons learned by our own CH Robinson’s Agile transformation.

Bring Agile to the Whole Organization. From Harvard Business Review by Jeff Gothelf

Jeff starts by stating that we are all in the software business now. He provides some examples of HR and finance can change their structure to support Agile entrepreneurial employees.

Embracing Agile from Harvard Business Review by Darrell K. Rigby, Jeff Sutherland, and Hirotaka Takeuchi

This team of writers makes an argument for training executives to understand Agile to move agile out of pockets and spread across organizations.

Agile training for executives from Institute of Development at Metro State

 

 

Value the Voice of Customer


Value the Voice of Customer

By: Beth Schaefer    Director, Institute for Professional Development

It happened again last week.  I was at a meeting where a policy revision was announced.  As the policy changes were being laid out, several people in the room had questions that did not have answers.  It became clear to me that the customer had not been included with the policy redesign.

And, it eventually became clear to the person presenting the new policy.  As the questions were being asked, I could see the “ah ha moment” occur.  The lightbulb went on that the policy had addressed a symptom of the problem and not the actual root cause of the problem.   So much so that the person actually said, “the real problem here is….”  The policy went back to the drawing board.

I get it…  

  • You may not think you have customers for internal process.
  • You already have a pretty clear idea of what will work and getting customers involved takes time – You can roll things out faster if you just do it.
  • Your department owns the process. You really know best.
  • Your department has the power to set your own policies.
  • Not every little change needs to be a big deal.

I, too, am tempted to just get things done. I love crossing tasks off my checklist.  I want to skip the meetings, the feedback, the extra time and extra steps – besides, it is not like I can every make everybody happy.

I do not think making everyone happy can be a goal, but even spending a little bit of time on customer viewpoint will reap benefits.

The Voice of Customer (VOC) Benefits:

  • The customer voice focuses on the root cause of the problem/opportunity.

As you talk with your customers about the problem you are solving, they can help you with their struggles.  The nuances that they bring to the problem will ensure that you are solving the root cause of the problem rather than addressing a symptom.  For instance, maybe you will discover that the process is sufficient, but nobody is aware of it.  Better communication, not a new process, would solve the problem.

  • The VOC can make solutions better.

The variety of viewpoints that customers bring to the problem can be an opportunity to be creative with your solution.  When you use something every day multiple times a day, you may get tunnel vision.  Opening your perspective can help you use a new lens to view a routine situation.

  • You avoid rework.

Solving the wrong problem.  Designing a process that is too cumbersome. Coming up with a partial solution.  These are all mistakes that can be avoided if you take the time to seek feedback from the people who will use the policy or process.

  • Customer voice determines the communication plan.

The best solution can be lost with bad communication.  Understanding who your customer is and how they use the policy or process should help you tailor the communication on the change.  It should tell you the best method of communication.  It should tell you where to store the information for reference.  It should tell you the level of detail and the vocabulary you need for people to understand the change.

  • Identifying your customers helps you implement the policy or process.

Audience is important for buy-in.  You can make any changes you want, but if people do not buy into the change, you have more work on your hands.  Yes, you can order people to do things, but, people have tactics to resist – especially here in the passive/aggressive Midwest.  Do these sound familiar?

  • I did not know we had started that yet.
  • I could not find the new policy/form/process.
  • I was on vacation, so I did not know.
  • I tried, but my computer would not open the (document, form, link).
  • I was using the new process, but (insert name here) did not know about it, so I quit doing it
  • The old way is easier and faster; I do not have time for the new way
  • I am waiting for the official training before I start
  • My supervisor has not told me to start that yet…

I could go on and so could you.

Even the smallest changes can benefit from some feedback.  Think of your VOC as an accordion.   If the change is small, spend a little bit of time on VOC.  If the change is large, spend a lot of time on VOC.  And, the larger the impact, the more time I would spend on determining your value proposition – matching your solution to get gains for your customer pains.

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