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InfoQ Homepage News How Defining Agile Results and Behaviors Can Enable Behavioral Change

How Defining Agile Results and Behaviors Can Enable Behavioral Change

Specifying and measuring behavior within a certain organisational context can enable and drive behavioral change. To increase the success of an agile transformation, it helps if you link the desired behaviors to the expected results. This way you set yourself up to be able to reinforce the behavior you want to see more of in order to reach your results.

Evelyn van Kelle and Chris Baron spoke about behavior change for adopting agile at Better Ways 2022.

If you want to change something, whether it’s a process or a new way of work, it usually means someone, or a group of people, need to do something different than they were used to, Baron explained:

In an agile transformation people need to act differently so new behavior (and therefore behavioral change) is mandatory.

Specifying and measuring behavior is really important, and it’s very hard to pinpoint and get right, van Kelle mentioned:

Specifying behavior seems easy but it’s actually really hard. "You could be more supportive/transparent/open" is a typical example of things you could classify as behavior, but they’re not. Can you show me what being more supportive looks like? Easily said: if something doesn’t pass this "show me test", it’s not behavior.

Baron suggested starting with specifying your results within a certain context. After this, you can specify behaviors that will get you these results:

In an agile transformation, I often see that behavioral change, change of culture, or having a different mindset is the focus, but if you cannot link it to results, you can’t measure it. So how would you know if your agile transformation is successful? Behavioral change is much more about measuring than people might think.

It’s crucial to start with defining results, then behaviors and doing that within a specific context, van Kelle concluded.

InfoQ interviewed Evelyn van Kelle and Chris Baron about behavioral change.

InfoQ: What is it that makes human behavior important in agile transformations?

Evelyn van Kelle: Agile transformations are super complex. Expectations are high and it usually requires a change in behavior from people. A new agile mindset is needed, servant leaders and people are supposed to "live and breathe" the new (Agile) values. After a while, resistance is a recurring topic in many conversations. People are not engaged, committed or motivated enough.

What do you see people do that you classify as resistance? What behavior entails that agile mindset? We usually have a gut feeling, but specifying what behavior really looks like is really hard. If we want transformations to be successful, we will have to stop oversimplifying these topics and unravel their complexity. This starts with specifying behavior properly.

InfoQ: How would you define results and behavior, and how are they related?

Chris Baron: Identifying what context you’re in and what results you are looking for in that context is a great start. You have to set yourself up to ask: which behavior(s) will get me the results or improve my results? Having an overview of the context, the results and behaviors will provide important insights so you can decide if behavioral change is needed and if so, which behaviors need to change.

As an example, you can start identifying the organisational context of a Scrum team by asking yourself a couple of questions:

  • Is this scrum team able to deliver value to the customer or do they have dependencies with other teams?
  • Who are their stakeholders?
  • What is their way of working?

Once you cover that you can start identifying results that you want to achieve within that context; maybe you want to deliver faster to the customer. But how much faster, in what timeframe, and what is it that they deliver?

Now that you have made clear what you want to achieve, you can focus on how you want to achieve this, and what behaviors you want to deliver faster. Maybe you want people to deploy code as early as possible instead of waiting till the sprint is finished. This might mean that behavioral change is needed in order to deliver faster.

Van Kelle: We often see a lot of work has been put into new company values, from defining them, to communicating them via all-hands sessions and beautiful posters on the walls. And then nothing changes…

There are more relevant explanations here, but one of them is that these values rarely define what behavior is desired: boldness, honesty, integrity, ownership, just to name a few, all equally promising and important, but they don’t say anything about behavior, nor do they relate to a specific result. And they probably imply different behaviors in different contexts.

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