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“I submit that there must be a commitment to, practice of, and execution of professional common behaviors and the presence of highly communicated, standardized organizational expectations – without which there are no supports upon which the Agile bar can be confidently raised.”

Jim Rosa, Enterprise Agile Consultant, Icon Agility

Overview: Agile is a mindset and a set of organizing and productivity practices that’s growing in popularity. Those who realize the power of agile, what’s at stake in choosing to adopt it, and what’s needed to create success, are those in the trenches who participate as agile strategists, coaches, consultants and trainers. They also recognize that if an organization has a dysfunctional workplace culture, it will not be able to leverage the benefits in an agile transformation and they will lose their investments of time and money.

Savvy business leaders also know the value of agile and recognize that to leverage the benefits of it they must nurture certain kinds of people within a culture system. This is more important than usual within an agile environment because Agile initiatives are related to managing complexity and growth that cannot be otherwise managed and progress.

What’s occurred generally is that they’re resistant to the well-intentioned but discouraging methods imposed on them in an effort to gain their participation. Leaders must change tactics and make the effective transfer of responsibility a top priority. Self-management, initiative and accountability are key and depend heavily on intrinsic motivators – psychological rewards people get from self-management. The four intrinsic motivators are a sense of meaningfulness, choice, competence and progress.

This episode is focused as a response to a market segment we find has a high need for the culture transformation model we provide. It is the agile and DevOps market, whether an this is being adopted across an entire enterprise or leveraged within various digital transformation / software engineering projects. I want to say upfront that while I’ll give you a little bit of information on agile and DevOps, I will be asking questions of an expert in this field. And the first question is going to be his version of what agile and DevOps are and why they matter. Like LifeWork Systems, the agile shift and transformation process is relevant today and requires that people understand the models and what makes them work and succeed as well as what makes them fail.

Questions to Ponder:

  1. Who are the people adopting agile?
  2. What is agile and DevOps and what are their value to all businesses?
  3. Why do so many agile transformations fail?
  4. What are the traits and strengths crucial to develop in individuals and teams using agile?
  5. What must leaders (executives, managers, supervisors – all leaders) understand and align with to create a successful agile transformation context?

Episode Guest: Don White

My guest today is Don White, an agile and DevOps strategist, consultant, trainer and coach for the past 6 years. That was born out of his software quality assurance background the previous 15 years. Sustainability is huge focus for Don. Don’s experience spans: banking, insurance, investment management, global retail, Virtual Reality education, health care, digital marketing, and domain name registrar spaces. He knows first-hand the power of agile/DevOps transformations as he has been key to helping organizations adopt an agile mindset and system. He also has deep insights into why too many agile transformations fail which is how Don and I came to choose this topic for today’s podcast: Why Agile Transformations Fail. In our conversation, Don and I agreed that the following questions are likely the most important for those of you listening today. Don has been married for 23 years and has one son who’s a junior in college. Along with his love of family, environmental sustainability and a triple bottom line mindset is a shared passion of Don and his son.

  1. Who are the people adopting agile? As CEO of LifeWork Systems, a performance management and culture transformation company, we are drawn to the agile market because those who embrace agile frequently exhibit a unique combination of 5 psychographics that make agile thinkers and adopters compatible with our responsibility-based culture model. These leadership qualities are that:
    • They have awareness. They know what the future holds and they are aware of the important factors they need to keep top of mind, including the speed of change, the level of complexity in the workplace and regarding technology, and the need to be able to quickly pivot to meet the existing and future needs in a rapidly-transforming marketplace. They tend to be people that value research of thought leadership and innovation, what’s happening in business development and what improvements they need for their business to meet growth goals they face in next years to come.
    • They also have and recognize need. They do profit/loss analysis on their business practices. They may be bleeding out through high turnover of employees, low staff engagement and productivity, inability to stay competitive, that all lead to current or future failure. They know specifically what their needs are costing them financially.
    • They also have passion and conviction about preserving the viability and value of their organization. These are people who feel compelled to seek excellence no matter what is required of them. They are intentional about what they know and need and are highly motivated to find solutions and commit to them to keep their organization moving forward into a successful future.
    • They are also trend-forward and innovative thinkers/leaders? I can’t tell you how often we have met with people whose organization exhibit great need – some of them are losing millions. In spite of this, they are apathetic to their pain because they are fearful of anything new or different. They are risk averse to considering needed change even if their organization is leaking profitability like the titanic. So this psychographic is about having innovative, trend-forward leaders at the helm who take reasonable risks because they know they will otherwise be left behind.
    • They also have and are willing to invest time and money into transformation. They are aware and passionate enough about moving forward that they willingly invest time and money into change processes that are needed.
  2. What is agile and DevOps and what are their value to all businesses?
    • Agile is a mindset and set of organizing principles that impact the role people that enables each to co– create efficiencies, successes and deep collaboration, innovation and engagement.
    • Many organizations are recognizing the value of an agile framework but are not sure why their investments into it are not always delivering on the promised advantages.
    • Without an agile philosophy and model, most businesses will become extinct.
  3. Why do so many agile transformations fail?
    • You have to get the culture right for it to stick; there is not a comprehensive systems approach to the needed culture model
    • Too much is put on the shoulders of just a few people, which then creates an unhealthy dependence on larger-than-life heroes (often the consultants) which is not sustainable in the long-term.
    • The CEO and all members of the senior team rarely understand and support the agile transformation mindset and processes. Then they inadvertently sabotage the agile mindset and practices.
    • Leaders try to shift too many things simultaneously. They don’t realize the important needs of people for a persistent team that is context-specific and why it matters.
  4. What are the traits and strengths crucial to develop in individuals and teams using agile/DevOps?
    • A lack of such traits and strengths becomes highly apparent in an agile transformation.
    • Managing complexity, uncertainty, and increasing technological advancements require a significant amount of social and emotional intelligence and consistent behavioral guidelines.
    • All stakeholders in the organization need to be on the same page about people development and what kinds of conditions are required to foster them.
    • Leaders must help their staff become personally responsible and self-motivated. To do so, leaders must dismantle control tactics and transfer responsibility to all people in the organization. This eliminates dependency on the few and creates self-governance.
    • Every person needs to be masterful in developing new habits they remember and draw upon regularly no matter who in the organization comes and goes.
    • Teams cannot be high-performing because too often, the people in them are treated with those who resort to command-and-control tactics.
  5. What must leaders understand and align with to create a successful agile transformation context?
    • Without understanding the agile mindset and practices, leaders inadvertently sabotage the agile transformation process and set back progress.
    • They don’t know how to create the type of relationships needed to keep people happy. They treat people as resources not as problem-solvers. They treat them like game pieces without regard to their wants, needs and ideas.
    • Too many are worried they could lose their identity, relevance and job.
    • They fear change and then self-protect. They are afraid of their own loss of job.
    • In technology, the average time a technologist is at an organization is 1.5 years. Without a healthy culture, they leave sooner rather than stay and grow.
    • Risks: Losing valuable talent and losing business and market opportunities because you don’t have a culture that takes the business objectives forward rapidly which puts you at risk of losing customers to other competitors.


Keywords:  agile, agility, agile transformation


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