Measuring or facilitate agility?

Recently I had a discussion about agility which I found quite thought-provoking.

Let’s assume an organization wants to become more agile. Following the principle ‘If You Can’t Measure It, You Can’t Manage It’ the management asks to define those KPIs which measure the organizational agility.

Let’s start by thinking about the purpose of being agile. An agile organization adapts its actions and decisions whenever required based on the experiences made, available resources, skills and changes in the environment. It desires to move, react and adapt quickly.

Let’s look at the agile manifesto which says:

We are uncovering better ways of developing software by doing it and helping others do it.

Through this work we have come to value:
  • Individuals and interactions over processes and tools
  • Working software over comprehensive documentation
  • Customer collaboration over contract negotiation
  • Responding to change over following a plan

What should or could be measured? Maybe this is the wrong approach, therefore, let’s explore what happens if a KPI is defined and declared as important in an organization? The organization starts to optimize the KPI value and KPI polishing often becomes the main mission and purpose instead of value creation for clients.

Maybe it is time to look at this from a different perspective. Think about a windmill and KPI’s which could be used to optimize its efficiency. The key factor at the end is the wind – the windmill can be optimized to the max but it will never produce more wind. A team, produced by the organization, is like a windmill exposed to the wind.

So rather than measuring the windmill, it is more sensible to measure those factors which create an environment which powers an agile team. Those factors are mainly cultural ones. The culture of a company is the long-term memory of the organization. Culture reflects the companies lived values, its actions and not by marketing slogans. If the organization’s culture reflects slow processes, inflexible planning, hierarchical and slow decisions then this enables very limited chance for an agile culture to emerge. Such organisations can only celebrate agile practices but will never execute in processes.

Here are a few questions about aspects which can be used to assess the organization and the environment:

  • How many people outside the team need to be involved to make a decision?
  • How many pizzas are required to feed the team?
  • Can the teams deliver independently?
  • Does the team control the resources to reach the desired outcome?
  • Is the team empowered to make decisions?
  • How skilled are the team members?
  • Can the team decide on its members?
  • Are all the skills from all disciplines part of the team?
  • Is failure considered a learning experience and a key step in a career?
  • Do all team members share the same vision and objectives?
  • How many people involved do not contribute to the outcome?
  • Does the team have direct access to the clients?
  • Does the team get direct client feedback?
  • Can the team decide on timeline and deliverable?
  • Can the team engage openly with internal and external experts?

Depending on the answers to the questions it makes more sense to transform the organization than to measure the teams. Remove outdated top-down structures, decentralize decision power and seek high skilled staff. Be aware that many parts of an organization have no interest in the transformation. They typically form the immune system of the former structure and will try to keep things like they always were. Some even dream to turn the clock back to the good old times.

As part of the transformation, many things are turned inside out. The primary purpose of the management in an agile world is to enable the teams, break down barriers and minimize friction through the organization.

This process takes longer than the time horizon considered by typical managers today. As today’s problems are much more urgent and need to be solved immediately, there is no time to transform … but enough time to define some KPI’s, perform measurements and produce slides.

More I read which got me thinking

Over half a year has passed since posting What I read got me thinking. It’s time to update the list with other great books – ones which made me think, find fascinating and thought-provoking.
Inspiration is a source of engagement which is key to reach goals and new things. Inspired by Marty Cagan is a great book on inspiring products and product management. Marty helps teams to discover and build outstanding products at the right time for consumers. In today’s fast-moving world it requires empowered teams which have experiences and deep insights to innovate and produce products clients love. The managers’ main duty is to enable and foster such teams rather than performing short-term labour arbitrage for income polishing.
Maybe you are tired as well of yearly performance management processes and feel that such processes do not produce any value in the current time of change. Measure What Matters by John Doerr gives a lot of insights into the operational key results (OKR) based approach adopted by many of the most successful companies today. Not all companies are ready to adopt this as it requires an honest and transparent culture from the CEO down to all the employees to get the organization aligned with what really matters.
Many companies have lost their innovative power which attributed to their past success(s). Many started to preserve their brand and sustain by iterations of the same products lacking any real innovation or change. Iterations are a sign that a company is on the way down and that it may need somebody to revitalize it by hitting the refresh button. Hit Refresh by Satya Nadella shows how Microsoft did this by aligning the employees and the company behind common goals. Such a refresh action will eliminate a substantial amount of the bureaucracy/overhead in many organizations today.
Zurück an die Arbeit‘  is another great read where Lars Vollmer relates as though he is an employee of the company you are working for. In a world of fast changes it is key to give the people the option and the authority to decide and move. In his newest book ‘Wie sich Menschen organisieren, wenn ihnen keiner sagt, was sie tun sollen‘ Lars outlines with great examples what happens when people just start to organize themselves based on shared objectives and how incredibly powerful and engaging the results can be.
Many people define goals without reflecting enough and get frustrated if things do not work out in the way they imagine. It becomes key to understand one’s own motivations and priorities to identify what really matters. The Subtle Art Of Not Giving A F*ck by Mark Manson explores this in a direct and immensely thought-provoking style.
The amount of great knowledge out there at your fingertips is amazing. I wonder how many people think they are too busy to take the time to read, think and reflect.

Motivation and the need to disrupt yourself

Mark Murphy recently published an article on Forbes titled What Motivates You At Work? He lists five types of motivations:
  • Achievement: People with a high need for achievement seek to excel.
  • Power: People who are driven by a need for power as they do want to be recognized for being influential. 
  • Affiliation: People with a high need for affiliation want harmonious relationships with other people and they want to feel accepted by others. 
  • Security: People with a high need for security look for continuity, consistency and predictability in their job, work, and pay. 
  • Adventure: People with a need for adventure are motivated by risk, change, and uncertainty. They thrive when the environment or the work is constantly changing. 
There is an online self-evaluation to help you identify the things that motivate you. I did the evaluation and it suggested that I’m motivated by adventures, by trying out new things and move forward.
But man is a creature of habit. And it is hard to get out of habits built up over years. I noticed that I stopped moving forward in my former life which finally triggered a decision. We, a group of colleagues started a new company named YAPEAL. A month is not a long time but I think there is one big change I feel each and every day. Maybe not the best way to phrase it, but I started to feel myself much better again. The work before was interesting but somehow had little impact, reactions were always similar and any change felt impossible or at least difficult. Now everything matters – this is challenging but very motivating.

Who is leading?

Our post Next stop – FinTechGiants touched on the three structures existing in any organization:
  • a formal structure of power, required to perform business and ensure regulatory compliance
  • an informal structure of social networks and communication paths
  • a value creation structure which solves problems and produces the values 
All three structures exist in each and every organization or company and each has its own leaders. Leadership is one of the often used terms. But what is a leader? What is leadership? 
  • Leadership is the result of a social process 
  • It is something which happens between people
  • It is typically the result of a bottom-up process 
  • And it often requires passion, inspiration and motivation to jointly achieve a goal
Leadership is something which cannot be actively assigned – it needs to be earned or gained. It is about being respected or accepted as a leader. 
The roles in the formal structure are assigned. They are 
  • typically the result of a top-down assignment
  • they give position power 
  • they allow controlling a group to achieve a goal
  • they come with clear expectations by those with more power who made the assignment
  • often results of internal politics used to secure or gain assigned power
Having such a formal position does not imply being a leader – it just implies control or management power. While a good leader typically also has management skills there are many managers which are no leaders. Individuals with important formal roles in companies often start to separate themselves from the rest. They become an elite in an organization and lose the contact with the base. Many of them also have no vision to share and hence focus on managerial or material aspects driven by the fear to fail. This is not sufficient in the current time of change where companies need leaders to move successfully towards a shared vision by giving direction.