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Transformation Services Director at CA Technologies (formerly Rally Software)
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| Interview with Eric Willeke Follow 0 Followers by Shane Hastie Follow 11 Followers on Dec 03, 2015 |
11:21

Bio As a transformation consultant, Eric leads customers’ large-scale change efforts—working with people at all levels to get work done by breaking down complex concepts into manageable pieces. You’ll find Eric advising executives & internal coaches, facilitating org design workshops, identifying & mitigating adoption risks, and teaching SAFe & Kanban classes.

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1. Good day! This is Shane Hastie with InfoQ and we're here at Agile 2015. I'm with Eric Willeke. Eric, welcome! You are the Regional Services Director for Rally? Becoming Computer Associates at some point, after the merger. You and I have met each other before but most of the audience probably haven't come across you. Would you mind briefly introducing yourself?

Absolutely. I'm currently a Regional Services Director for Rally. I lead a team of consultants who help with organizational change and agile adoption. In my case, predominantly up and down the East Coast, as one of multiple teams around the world. Prior to that, I've lead transformations as a member of a similar team, in past lives. I've come up through the architecture and development ranks and just been involved in trying to deliver value from various perspectives for a number of years.

   

2. Great. You were involved with the conference - you were a speaker; but you were also track chair for a fairly interesting track that they had this year. Do you want to tell us a bit about it?

Sure. It was called the Help Track although that's kind of an odd moniker. In previous years we've done a lot of coaching within the tracks and each track chair and each track team with their volunteers would work to help submitters work their way through the submission process and help them deliver the best possible proposal with the best chance of bringing a great program together.

This year, we tried a new experiment and we wanted to explore what it might be like to separate out that coaching process a little bit and provide a dedicated capability. A group of volunteers that was really passionate about helping to refine and bring that program together not from the evaluation and selection process but rather from the working with the presenter and working with the candidate to create that proposal.

Then based on that, the track chairs and their teams would evaluate and select the best program based on those proposals.

   

3. Well, certainly, the program is very, very high quality. How did that process work? How did it go?

Well, it was an experiment; of the few hundred people who engaged in the help track early on the consensus is from the track chairs and the track teams that the result were stronger, that the incoming proposals were better fit for the tracks, better fit for publication. However, the typical hockey stick of delivery meant that only about 10% of the participants engage in the help track. Something like 80%, submitted in the last week, well after the help track closed.

   

4. The help track was an early process?

It was early on the submission process. It ended in the middle of January where the submissions, I believe, closed in the middle of February.

   

5. You spoke on the conference on the topic of scaling the social fabric of Agility. Do you want to tell us a little bit about that?

Yes. Something I've seen a lot is, I think you saw with scrum even back in 2004, 2005, is we've lost the first wave of people who kind of got the genesis of it and why it existed the way it was. You started seeing people implement the process. We know that that's a key part of it, of course, but if you lost that purpose of scrum, you lost that alignment and the collaboration aspect and tying it together.

We'll now fast-forward to 2015. We've got a wide variety of effective frameworks for thinking of scaling Agility, having felt things like SAFe, DAD LeSS-- all of them are out there and they bring their own perspectives. They're all based around how do we get the value delivered faster with more teams and more people?

Well, like any framework, each one of those is at risk of losing kind of the soul that makes it real. So it becomes -- I fear and I call it “big dumb framework” because if people just implement the icons, they go to the picture of their choice and say, "Oh, we have to do this, this, and this," they forget the other half of transformation. The human side where you're trying to bring people along to collaborate across the value stream to deliver more effectively.

Certainly, asking them to behave differently within a process is part of that. That's a great first step, if you don't forget the rest. We want to remember to bring that human side to make sure that we're actually designing processes and applying them in organizations, I'll call it tailoring processes, to service scaffolds that the collaboration can hang on, to provide for the people, to remember that the only users of a process are the humans that are in the various stakeholder groups, the developers, the testers, the portfolio managers, the executives, and perhaps the product managers and customers further out.

Those are all people that are being served by this process. We want to make sure that we're designing for them collectively and not for any one role or just designing to design as a methodologist. You have to have both sides. We want to maintain that balance. But I’ve started seeing things like SAFe, things like that, loose that side already. I want to push back and study a little bit.

   

6. That certainly is something that there's a lot of resistance to these frameworks because they're perceived as being mechanistic and put people in and make them cogs in a machine rather than this focus on the humanistic aspects. So how do you bring these humanistic aspects into what can be a very -- what looks like, for some people – a very stock and cold framework?

I focus predominantly on, not on kind of the industry, not the marketing sense of it but I really focus on the individual leadership that are key to making these transformations happen. So company by company as we work with them, I'm really focused on building that leadership team, the coalition that will help steer the adoption and making sure that that group has understood this mindset, that they are truly thinking not just in terms of quarterly results and transformation as initiative that they can delegate but truly focusing on the fact that this is their organization that they're changing and they have the responsibility and the accountability to the results of ensuring that it's a smooth change, that they're considering the humans and the outcomes because we know what happens if people destroy their workforces and destroy the organizational health, you lose great people and you have to hire at ever higher rates as your reputation degrades.

   

7. How do you convince a lot of the senior executives to get on board with that concept because they used to delegate a change, to making it somebody else's problem?

This one of the cases where a lot of people, I think, suffer from the "us vs. them" thinking. I always start by gaining by empathy with the concerns of those leaders that I am working with. I seek to help them move from "we are a group of leaders or a group of executives with mandates" to "we are a team of executives that is owning this organization and its outcomes”.

As you start to help leadership achieve that tipping point from being a group of managers to being a team of managers, it's incredibly visible to everybody else in the organization below them. When they take ownership of something and it's not, "Oh, Mike's going to go handle the adoption," it's "We are here. We are in front of you handling this adoption, this transformation," that is also visible to everybody in the organization.

As a result, the people below them start to close the gaps and the silos smooth out a little bit and you start to see these working teams of managers at multiple levels down through the organization. Decisions that once upon a time might have taken three or four weeks to go up the stack on one side and finally get the meeting that allows them to come back down the other stack, now, those are handled in a matter of hours or days at most.

I worked with one organization recently that recognized that a key component of its overall platform vision was missing. They were only six months from launch of a relatively important business. In the middle of a big room planning session, they spawned a new release train; they actually went from six to seven and said, "We need somebody to own this vision." Can you imagine doing that without having a team of managers working together to own that relationship?

It would have taken week of meetings to get by and to get started. Instead, you have people there. They know each other. They're working as a team of leaders. They mobilize the people necessary, identified the leaders that were going to lead that part of the vision and acted on it in 48 hours in the room before everybody left and made it a non-decision.

   

8. What are the challenges to, or perhaps, the key factors that enable us to achieve this?

It really starts from the outcomes. You need to understand what is the purpose of your activity. So we look at the need for structural flexibility and the ability to react to the market and change our shape as an organization and we look at this paradigm we talked about earlier, of organizational health and having a company that kind of has wholeness and works well together.

You start by how do you get to those points and work backwards? As people see that purpose and they see that connectivity, in some way, it becomes obvious. They say the leadership supporting this and leading it and it becomes obvious that, "Okay. This isn't just something that's being done to us. It's not just somebody inflicting a new process or inflicting a new way of working. As a company, if we want to achieve our vision, this is the way we're going to go about it. This is how my leadership believes. This is how my manager believes. Oh, look, my peers in the other departments over here, they're receiving the same message."

This intense clarity is so consistent that cost of change is reduced. The pain of the change is reduced and people are a little willing to engage. There will be the resistors and the people who take more time, but we're okay with that. We just want to make sure that our people are receiving consistency of vision, hearing the same purpose and all moving towards the same direction.

Shane: For many organizations, this is a huge cultural shift.

Absolutely. One of the things that – I led a cultural workshop with a group of about 150 managers and about 120 managers at a company in the northeast. We had three speakers from completely different organizations representing very different viewpoints, talking about culture. Yet all three of us had essentially one core thread and that is that culture is the sum of all behaviors.

If you get enough people acting at a different way in pursuit of some goal, the culture will naturally evolve to match that way of working. You can't force it. You can't change a culture. But you can guide the environment and the way people work so that the culture ends up where you want it to be. I hope you want cultural change if you're in the process of shifting your organization and essentially rewriting the DNA of how you work because you can't avoid it. But most of us, especially at this conference, have found that the Agile way of working tends to result in collaborative cultures and empowerment based cultures that are quite effective. Those are the results that we want. So it should be a good thing but it will change and it will follow the change not lead the change.

Shane: Eric, really interesting stuff. Thanks for taking the time to talk to us today and enjoy the rest of the conference.

Great. Thank you very much, Shane. It's a pleasure.

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