4. May 2023 By Markus Felkel and Jenny Gursch
Agile scaling and the challenges that come with it – part 2
In the first part of our blog series on ‘Agile scaling and the challenges that come with it’, we took a closer look at the demand for agile scaling and the challenges that need to be overcome in order to generate added value for an organisation. In this next part, we will focus on the challenges that come with it. We will limit ourselves to the three most common ones: cultural change, changes in work management and technological shifts.
Agility is often described as a culture or mindset consisting of a set of practices. In the context of agile scaling, this can be both an advantage and a disadvantage. The framework for agile scaling is less important than the shared mindset behind it, but establishing this mindset can be difficult. Agile expert and author Steve Denning explains,
‘the elements of a culture fit together as a mutually reinforcing system and combine to prevent any attempt to change it. Single-fix changes at the team level thus may appear to make progress for a while, but eventually the interlocking elements of the organisational culture take over and the change is inexorably drawn back into the existing organisational culture.’
Denning’s prediction seems sinister, but it is also correct: the inability to change the corporate culture is one of the main reasons why agile transformations fail.
Agile scaling requires the whole organisation to think, act and react differently across the board – from planning the work, to management and execution, to employee commitment. This change needs time, determination and above all the commitment of the management.
Successful agile scaling starts with corporate governance. Leaders need to internalise the lean-agile mindset. This includes prioritising benefits, flow and continuous improvement over milestones and requirements as well accepting rapid failure and learning from continuous change. Agile leaders must be willing to challenge the status quo and adapt their leadership style. A lean-agile mindset promotes leadership as a service, which sees leaders set strategic goals and designates team capacities and then trust the teams to achieve those goals in the way that works best for them. In this way, leaders support the basic agile principles of responsibility and autonomy, which are key elements of agile scaling.
Work management change
Companies need to go through a cultural change if they are to implement agile scaling successfully. This change must be aligned with the principles that enable employees to give their best and maximise customer value. To put these principles into practice, companies need to adapt their work management methods to ensure a continuous flow of benefits.
Traditional work and project management processes assume a fixed scope and estimate the time and resources needed to fulfil that scope. Companies assume that they can reduce risks and increase success by defining requirements in advance.
However, the lean-agile model reverses this paradigm by making time and resources more constant through established iteration windows and teams, and making the scope more fluid through constant learning and change. Teams experiment, get feedback quickly and adjust the scope accordingly to adapt quickly.
Companies can adapt their work management approach in the following ways to make agile scaling a success:
- Developing a more open style of leadership, moving from a command-and-control approach to a participative approach
- Adjusting budgeting practices from project-based to value stream-based
- Changing team structures to allow for fast experimentation and active collaboration
- Changing their communication style from top-down to horizontal communication
- Adjusting the PMO role from being a force that dictates how work gets done to being a connective web that promotes knowledge throughout the organisation
Companies aiming to scale agilely also need to review their technology stack. Agile scaling requires and promotes transparency, visibility and information flow throughout the organisation. If there are technology silos – that is, if different tools are used for finance, capacity planning and business goals – it is difficult to coordinate delivery teams. Teams cannot scale successfully without the right technology solutions, even if the culture and workflows are in place.
The choice of technology depends partly on the agility maturity of the respective company. Companies with multiple agile teams may need a solution that improves transparency and the flow of information between teams. Other companies’ needs may include a more robust solution that integrates their agile work into the larger portfolio.
A tool that enables two-way information and collaboration can help map anything from strategic plans to agile teams, as well as provide access to tasks, impacts, financial contributions and strategic goals. It is important that the solution can grow with the business and is flexible enough to adapt to changing requirements. Teams will completely change their workflows as they mature, and it is important that the solution supports this.
Finally, companies working towards agile scaling need to address their technology stack. Company-wide agile scaling requires and simultaneously boosts transparency, visibility and information flow. For most companies, this means evaluating and possibly upgrading or replacing technological solutions.
In the next part in this series, we turn our attention to the benefits of agile scaling.
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