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Book Review and Author Q&A on Four Spheres of Lean and Agile Transformation


Four Spheres of Lean and Agile Transformation book by Thomas P. Wise and Reuben Daniel, is based on how management should create an organizational environment to implement Agile. They talk about the Agile readiness in the organization and how to begin a Lean or Agile implementation journey.

The authors shared their experience and research done at various organizations. The book is very informative and concise. The book also covers a case study of Lean manufacturing.

The book explains the four critical ingredients for success of any Lean or Agile implementation:

1. Individual behavior: focuses on the core behaviors at the individual level.

2. Team roles and responsibilities: clearly defined roles and responsibilities.

3. Management governance: team governance strategy and guidelines for decision- making and prioritization.

4. Organization institutionalization: making the change stick via clear change vision, communication and leadership support and commitment throughout the process.

InfoQ interviewed Wise about the book and discussed his viewpoints.

InfoQ: Who are the target readers of your book?

Wise: We wrote Agile Readiness with the intent of providing executives and middle managers with a how-to-guide when it comes to preparing an environment that will enable teams to use effectively Agile and lean methods. Agile Readiness will guide the development of an environment that will raise leaders and break down the barriers between divisions and groups. Now, it is important to remember that when we talk about leaders, we are talking not about a position or title, but rather a role that team members play. In a truly Agile environment, the role of leadership moves from person to person as the need arises.

InfoQ: What motivated you to write a book on this topic?

Wise: Agility is a development style unlike any other that we have seen in business. It is a cult-like movement that often arises from a “grass roots” effort. The problem that business managers face in using Agile methods is the basis of agility. It is a change in the behaviors of participants more than a change in traditional methods of development. To change behaviors, we have to create an environment that supports and reinforces these behaviors.

All too often, Agile methods flounder and fail to deliver powerful outcomes. Failures are often not due to the method, but rather due to the smothering of the flame that created the movement. Our motivation comes from watching too many Agile teams smothered. We wanted to write a guide that will help our executives and middle managers create an environment that will allow Agile and lean methods to thrive.

InfoQ: Your book is based on Agile readiness: four spheres of Agile and lean transformation. Please give an overview to the readers.

Wise: Our guidelines are pretty simple. We need to remember that agility may be counter-cultural. Agility can, in many organizations, require a manager to let go of behaviors that made them successful in the first place, and this can be scary. It causes us to let go of traditional roles and share both information and leadership roles.

If we want managers to share control, we need to prepare the landscape. We need the new practices to cross over organizational boundaries. We advocate a holistic view that enables new behaviors to take hold, reshape the traditional view of project roles, use strong change management practices, and instil a governance practice that reinforces the change.

InfoQ: Why is it important to check the readiness of Agile?

Wise: Good question. Why not simply allow the development team run with agility? Developers grow up these days understanding Agile methods. University professors teach agility. Developers read about agility and hear about agility all the time, and they can likely implement the method with ease. The problems arise when the rest of the organization is ill prepared to support the changes.

Agility can be a powerful method for larger, mature organizations to compete with the little guys that are poaching their market share. These large or mature organizations have strong and unyielding organizational boundaries that won’t easily support Agile methods. They have well- developed communication channels and governance processes that reinforce the status quo. Taking the time to check for Agile readiness will identify opportunities for changes that will reshape the organizational environment in a way that will enable these new teams to thrive.

InfoQ: How individual behaviors are important in Agile organization?

Wise: Agile is a method that is highly dependent on individuals and the way that they approach their work. It requires participants to take on new roles that they would normally not adopt. Leadership roles move from person to person, and each must have the freedom to commit to the team. These commitments often cross organizational boundaries.

In a traditional development environment, managers set priorities and deadlines, but in an Agile environment, managers shift to a facilitation and enabling role. Managers become channels for success, creating new lines of communication and business relationships. They need to move away from their traditional command and control role. In an Agile environment, personal success is highly dependent on team success. Participants from all areas of the organization need to set aside traditional “siloed” views of roles and responsibilities and adopt a collective view.

InfoQ: Please elaborate Agile readiness survey mentioned in your book.

Wise: Building the survey around the behaviors of individuals and departments helps us to find connections that need to be in place for Agile methods to be most effective. A traditional organizational assessment focuses on the processes and measures of those processes. We used this method to prepare some very successful organizations to make this shift.

It can be a shock to the organizational leaders when they realize that the traditional methods that have been very successful in the past are what inhibit their ability to compete with the smaller, Agile start-ups. The controls we put in place allowed the organization to grow into that eight hundred pound gorilla that masters the marketplace. Now these same controls inhibit the ability to compete with that small 15-pound terrier nipping at their heels and picking off their best cusWiseers.

InfoQ: What is organizational institutionalization and why is it important?

Wise: The term describes the need to build a process of governance that instills and rewards the changes in behaviors. For changes to take hold and become “the way work gets done” people need a reward. “Bad behavior” must be identified and extinguished, and good behavior must be heralded and publicly acknowledged. Our procedures need to be adjusted in every aspect of the organization. This includes how we plan and finance our projects and adopt and assign resources and measure success.

InfoQ: Please give an example of the implementation of four sphere model of Agile readiness.

Wise: I’ll talk about one organization with which we have worked. The organization had very strong departmental and divisional boundaries. These boundaries restricted the flow of information and compartmentalized project priorities. The group with which we worked was heading down the road of centralization of some activities and to do this was working on making changes based on a very traditional maturity model. We got word that one very influential and critical development group was heading rapidly down the path of agility, and so we decided to implement an assessment of our ability to support Agile methods.

The assessment highlighted in our department pockets of readiness. However, the rest of the organization was in no way near able to support Agile methods. We immediately set about developing training and awareness efforts, opening up new channels of communication and even moving people to new locations that would enable them to support Agile methods. We began shifting the way in which we measured our work and training our people on new tools. We talked with development, business, and operational teams and helped them to use the same assessment to determine what behaviors they may need to change as well. We even shifted the way we rewarded our people. We created a small group charged with discovering ways to help managers identify people using the new Agile behaviors and immediately reward them to reinforce the behaviors we believed would make the change successful.

Using the Agile readiness assessment based on behaviors rather than processes, prior to making the process changes allowed us rapidly move to Agile methods. When Agile teams came knocking on our door, we were ready and so was the rest of the organization.

InfoQ: Do you want to give any message to the readers?

Wise: Remember that it is the behaviors that make agility successful, but that agility is not the goal. Identify your organizational goals and measure them as well as the changes in behavior.

About the Book Author

Thomas P. Wise has an MBA and a Ph.D. in Organizational Management with a specialism in Information Technology Management. Currently he teaches Quality, Organizational Management, and IT Transformation part time as part of the Computer Sciences MSc program at Villanova University and as part of DeSales University’s Master of Computer Science and MBA programs.

Reuben Daniel is a Director of Cognizant’s Business Consulting practice focusing on Business Process Transformation. With several years of experience in the Communications industry, he is an expert in Six Sigma, Lean, ITIL, Agile and Organization Change Management. Reuben has published papers on Cost of Quality, ROI and Quality Management.

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