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Making a Mindshift in Management for Agility

| by Ben Linders Follow 25 Followers on Sep 03, 2015. Estimated reading time: 6 minutes |

The volatility in the market requires that organizations become able to adapt to changing demand as fast as possible while gaining the highest value. To implement agile, managers need to team up to remove impediments in the organization says Ahmet Akdag. An agility transformation is about learning to try, fail and learn.

Akdag will talk about management in agile at the Agile Greece Summit 2015. InfoQ will be covering this first Agile Greece Summit with Q&As, news and articles.

InfoQ did an interview with Akdag about why agility needs a mindset change, deploying agile to do strategic management in a more flexible way, how agile impacts the way that performance management is done in organizations and what managers can do when their organization is implementing agile.

InfoQ: Can you share your view on agility: How do you define it and why do you think it matters?

Akdag: Change is risk for many and opportunity for some. I define agility as a way of getting the most out of change while controlling the risks. It matters a lot because the world is changing faster than ever. The average life times of products are decreasing dramatically, in 1984 it was 20 years, in 2004 7 years and it was 2 years in 2013. The Economists’ survey (2011) among 1451 executives states that agility is important for their businesses. So, the volatility in the market requires agility, being able to adapt to changing demand as fast as possible while gaining the highest value.

InfoQ: At the Agile Greece Summit you will talk about the need for a change in mindset for managers when organizations adopt agile. Can you elaborate about this?

Akdag: Many organizations were built upon the cost economy, where some people think and others do what the thinkers thought. So the thinkers should also make sure and check that what they thought is being done.

Frederick W. Tailor’s scientific management played a key role in here. This situation also caused organizations to have strict high hierarchies, too much authority, role based management and a flow of approvals and bureaucracy. All of these factors can be seen as obstacles in a volatile market regarding acting fast and being creative. In addition to that there is a new generation which is not motivated by these structures and mindset. So organizations should figure out how to become more adaptive while keeping in mind some basics about agile organizations like; self-organization, empowerment, leadership, trust, less structures, professionalism, creating transparency for manageability and empiricism.

InfoQ: Can you give suggestions how organizations can deploy agile to do strategic management in a more flexible way?

Akdag: As my company has involved in over 50 transformation projects so far, we have learned a lot. Agility should be integrated into the DNA of the company. Although this is not an easy process, it’s possible with the determination of the management.

One of the most common problems with strategic management is spending to much time with tasks and execution. When an organization has too strict processes, bureaucracy, split into too many functions or is control & audit oriented, we see that almost every change in the market causes a crisis in the company as they can not decide and act fast. So executives need to involve in resolving the issues which are not addressed in the current organization. That means, the organization is not adaptive enough to deal with volatility. Therefore, strategic management is in crisis all the time and there is no time for making new strategies for the company.

The main approach to this issue is spreading the managerial responsibilities all over the organization and empowering people to make decisions in certain boundaries via managerial value & principles frameworks. That’s usually a huge change for a traditionally managed company.

So, how can the organization change so that they can become more adaptive? There are 2 common approaches to transformation; transforming as a whole or transforming in an iterative & incremental manner.

The first one requires strong executive dedication. Although it seems harder, it is a very easy way to execute change as all the facilities are ready to be used during the transformation. Only thing is, it’s hard to find such a convinced and dedicated executive level. This one is suitable for mid size organizations usually.

The second one is the most common version. It requires some pilots and experiments to convince the entire organization for change. Once you have successful pilots with metrics and if you have a communication backlog and plan, it becomes easier to spread the energy throughout the organization.

We have a model called Agile Studio in order to lead the agility change in the organization for both scenarios. Agile Studio acts as the Scrum Master of the entire organization. It’s a dedicated team of people from every part of the company; internal coaches, people from C-Level, developments and so on. The goal is to improve the organization’s ability to respond faster by the agile values, principles and practices

InfoQ: Do you have examples showing how agile impacts the way that performance management is done in organizations?

Akdag: One should be very careful when performance management is concerned, it’s a tough issue. Agile teams manage themselves. Performance management is an important part of it. Who can hire and fire a person? Can a team evaluate it’s own performance? Can the agile teams take this managerial responsibility? If we are talking about empowerment and spreading the managerial responsibilities to the entire organization my answer is yes!

Agility is about collaborating and being a team. Many organizations are founding agile teams and at the same time assessing the performance of their employees based on their individual contribution. When we don’t have a holistic view on the performance, people might have difficulties in collaborating. People might hide information from each other, might not be very helpful, might not collectively own the goals as they might feel like competing with each other. What I propose is taking the teams results like: ROI, Revenue per employee, Customer Satisfaction, Team’s overall performance metrics as a big portion of each individual’s performance metrics and the rest is the individual’s performance. Eg. %70 Team results and %30 individual performance. The individual portion can be done by the team members as 360 degrees evaluation.

InfoQ: Do you have advice for managers on what they can do when their organization is implementing agile?

Akdag: They have to do more as they have more responsibility than the others in the organization:

They need to come up with a clear change vision and a short, mid and long term strategy. As changing an organization is complex work and needs collaboration, they need to team up as management. There will be obstacles, these obstacles might be the organizational chart, the systems, the processes or some people who resist to change and they need to remove these impediments. They also have to read about agile, try and learn.

An organization actually is a group of people who needs to have the same values and mindset. So, the values and mindset of each an every person should be changing. Agility transformation is not like deploying a process like waterfall to a company. It’s about learning to try, fail and learn. So, management should encourage their people to fail sometimes. This needs a lot of effort, altruism and passion. Finding those dedicated right people is not easy whereas possible.

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