What does it truly mean to be agile?

Navigate Disruption Podcast

Episode 10 – December 2023

On this new podcast episode, Christi Stern (Consultant in Talent and Organization) and Shaun Betts (Partner of Infosys Consulting’s Agile Practice) engage in a conversation about what it truly means to be agile. Many organizations believe that ‘doing’ agile is the goal. It is actually about ‘being’ agile, and in order to become this, a systemic view should be considered before embarking on this transformative journey. Shaun discusses how agility isn’t a tick-box exercise of methodology and that in fact, is about people being the heartbeat of transitioning to agility – driving adaptation of their behaviors in adopting new ways of working. Have a listen to how organizations can manage complexities by living the values of agility.

Agile Transformation Infographic

Transcript

Christi Stern
Hi, I’m Christi Stern and here today with Shaun Betts from Infosys Consulting’s Agile practice to talk about organization-wide agile transformations. Hi, Shaun, welcome to the show.

Shaun Betts
Hi, Christi. It’s great to be here today. Thank you.

Christi Stern
So, agile has been in existence for over 20 years. And most large companies want all the benefits to be quicker in response to change, but they struggle. Can you help us understand why?

Shaun Betts
Yeah, Christi, we see this time and time again with organizations that they often seem to think that this is a technology delivery methodology, rather than organizational wide and enterprise-wide agility, and often fall down the trap of ‘doing’ agile rather than being agile. And by that, they throw themselves into agile events and ceremonies and artefacts and tooling. But do not really embrace the behaviors that go with that agility from front to back, through business and technology, across that value stream. And therefore, there’s tensions, and that leads to not realizing the benefits that they intended when they set out on their journey.

Christi Stern
So agile is about being agile more than it is working in Scrum, or what have you. Okay, then, to create an example, I imagine a successful legacy organization, one with a long history and established ways of working that fragmented, where communication paths are tangled, and data information is siloed. Let’s talk about changing said company to an agile one and scaling the approach across the entire organization. If I was a leader, where do I start? What’s the minimum I need to do to make my business become more agile?

Shaun Betts
Yeah, it’s always a tricky one with where they start. Again, organizations will often look towards a framework such as SAFE, as the golden bullet is the rulebook that they must follow in a tick box exercise to say, ‘yeah, we’re doing these things, so now we’re agile.’ But far from that, there is a need to look at: What do we mean by value? What is our vision and goals? What do we want to achieve by doing this? And who do we need to make this to happen?

So, you’re right through from R&D, marketing, HR, legal, all the aspects through to technology delivery; how do we build that framework of value streams of all the people that contribute towards it, and organize around that, so that we’ve got all the people with a skin in the game, they’re intrinsically linked and embedded within that product and the value that they’re deriving? And they’re all focused on that singular goal of those outcomes that they want to achieve? So, organizing themselves around that having an effective operating model in new ways of working that covers right from the idea through to delivering an iterative value there on is also important, and enabling their people to be able to operate in this new way, is key to what they do.

Again, the organizations will get very, very stuck in complex organizational structures that they have. And most organizations, particularly the large ones, you can’t get away from the Matrix structure with shared services with shared platforms. And at Infosys, we found an excellent way of managing that complexity to still bring virtual teams together, that are working in synchronized approach towards a successful outcome, and to develop that iterative approach. So, all those sorts of things welded together will help the organization move forward in their own context.

Christi Stern
Well, thank you. When we speak about focusing on value and outcomes and that high level strategy, can you also share with me some recommendations for a tangible agile entry point?

Shaun Betts
Absolutely. So, I think the first thing is to set out what sort of organization would you like to be? What’s your North Star? Where do you want to get to? And importantly, how are you going to measure progress towards that? Our recommendation through all the work that we’ve done is to start small, and then to scale. And that brings a number of advantages. First of all, you’re able to contextualize it within your organization. You can’t take a framework and plug and play. It’s got to be contextualized to the people in the way of working within the organization. And also from that you can win or learn. You understand what works, you understand where you’ve got to pivot and change and adapt and slightly amend things in a more controlled way. And that makes unpicking it much easier if it’s in small control environment. It also builds champions that you can then lift and shift and scale across the enterprise without having to employ 1000s of agile coaches to come in and help you with the journey. But also, it builds tangible results which builds momentum for change through what I would describe as a poster child effect: whereby we can drive change within the organization through the exemplars that we see through this. So, I think starting small, think beyond technology.

This goes right across the enterprise too often, this tension between business and technology. In agile transformations, we’ve got to look at this holistically from front to back. And don’t plan forever, this is not a 10-year journey, this is not a transformation team that you’re going to pull together, that’s going to take a long time. This is very iterative, don’t wait for the perfect design, it will never happen. We have to test and learn and win and learn as we go. So, we work with organizations 100,000 people wide across the globe, helping them to develop agile and agile at scale transformations very, very successfully. But starting small, and then expanding towards where you want to get to be a measuring those tangible outputs.

Christi Stern
And for those that take this on, there are many benefits to the legwork that you’re describing here. Some are well known, like increasing capabilities to produce value fast. And in recent years, the trend towards purposefully working all areas of the business with the end customer in mind really increasing customer satisfaction. What are the benefits have you seen?

Shaun Betts
Okay, so if you look at all the artefacts out there, they will all talk about working faster, quicker, more responsive as absolutely critical to an agile transformation. But there’s lots of other benefits as well breaking down organizational silos and having people working towards a common outcome. And shared goals and collective goals towards those is very, very powerful. The empowerment that comes with agility and pushing down decision making closer to the customer, close to the people that send the work will always produce a much stronger and more positive result.

And also being an employer of choice, operating in these new ways of working, these new digital ways and contemporary methods that are supported by empowering individuals to be the best that they can be. Enabling them to remove the blockers without having to go through the hierarchy, to look at continuous improvement in their role, is proven not only to reduce attrition, but also to attract the best quality talent that’s coming through the marketplace. So not only are we satisfying our customers, not only are we working very efficiently, but we’re also an employer of choice. It’s a win-win situation for all parts of the organization.

Christi Stern
Well, and if you’re really interested in digital upskilling, I also have a podcast that Mick Burn, our last one that we recorded was on that very subject. So, in addition to all of that, it also benefits the employee, which is very important as well.

Shaun Betts
Absolutely, they’re the people that bring this to life through the behaviors that they display, and the approach that they take, and absolutely key you can bring the frameworks and the mechanical pieces of agility into play – but to get the real benefits, it’s the people that make the difference. And one of the ways that we do that within Infosys is we take a persona-based approach. So, we make it very personal for somebody to understand how does it impact them in new ways of working? How do they adopt these new ways of working? What can they expect to actually do and experience and see, and who do they interact with? It’s a very personal thing. And we’ve done that very successfully.

Christi Stern
Yes, absolutely. And there is overlap with some of our other offerings, because as you said, it’s a customized package, right? It’s not a plug and play. So where do teams get stuck in agile transformations?

Shaun Betts
So, teams often get stuck in a number of ways, one of which is the organizational silos and not getting together those value streams of end-to-end value. And looking at those things, and also trying to break things down into small iterative approach that develops continual value. And measuring value itself in organizations is often very tricky. Historically, organizations will have built business cases with a value proposition that’s never really measured, it’s a means of getting the budget to secure to do the piece of work rather than to make a real difference. So, understanding what you want to measure across business value, customer experience and efficiency, understanding about how you can get the best out of the virtual value streams, or the real value streams that go through there.

But also to enable the people to be successful, training on its own is not enough. A lot of organizations will enable people through recognized training, which is great because it gives them a foundational understanding. But really giving them the support that they need in day to day in real life situations or in real life problems is critical to embedding that sustainability. And we do that through a hothouse coaching, where we embed people within there, look at real life scenarios, real life problems, enable people to be able to respond to those in new ways of working, rather than we’ve seen before, where people haven’t got the support, they drift back into old ways of working because that’s what they know. That’s what served them well in the past. And in the absence of having the maturity to deal with it they then adopt that way of working rather than looking outside of the box and see how they can resolve that within the new world. So, these are some of the challenges that organizations have, as well as the differentiation between business and technology, which in a lot of companies still seems to build a lot of tension.

Christi Stern
Also, we’ve spoken a bit about the leadership perspective and an agile personal transformation. Do you have tips then for teams that are facing these challenges?

Shaun Betts
So, the first thing is to have courage and try, don’t be afraid to try adopting the mantra of win or learn fast. And that’s the critical thing is to learn fast, if something doesn’t work, that’s great. That’s quite short, sharp cycles, we can pivot and change and do something different. For leaders, I would say that this is a fundamental change for leadership, leadership, alignment, about where you want to be, what sort of organization you want to be as critical and conveying those behaviors through the chains is critical to the success of this and empowering people, allowing them to win or learn fast, giving them the decision making rights, giving them the ability to be in charge of their work in their destiny, and how they drive things forward. Don’t think of this as purely mechanical, this is about embedding those behaviors, changing those behaviors, and really realizing the benefits of that. So, you know, to make this work, measure things, look at the people have leadership alignment, and enable people to be successful.

Christi Stern
Well, thank you for joining us, Shaun. It sounds like moving agile is truly an investment in the future of any organization.

Shaun Betts
Absolutely. So, this can be a differentiator for most organizations if they can get this right. They will be a true leader in the market.

Christi Stern
Well, we appreciate your being here today. Thank you so much.

Shaun Betts
It’s a pleasure. Thank you, Christi.

Christi Stern
If you’re a leader or interested in learning more about how to be agile how to transform large teams of people to working more adaptively through organization on digital change, or have a specific challenge, send us a note and share your question so we can answer them in future shows.

Host: Christi Stern
Guest: Shaun Betts, Partner Agile Practice

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