Agility : An all pervasive need
"Organizations on the route to being agile generally see the framework as a silver bullet to efficiency and employee happiness whereas with my experience I see the framework more as an enabler. Lot more is needed along side practising the defined operational mechanics to be a fully agile high functioning team (Team could be a project team, an organization or your partnerships with agencies) for we rely on one another for movement, growth and life while being in a non-linear world where change is inevitable."
Last week I attended PMI organizational agility virtual conference, 2018 focused on what can and should be doing right to ensure organizational agility. Following excerpts in quotes are from there
"Project manager of the future will be valued above all for creativity, flexibility, agility and emotional intelligence" - Something that was and is inherently expected 20 years back and even now, why does this need to be stated explicitly? I can closely relate to this for above is something that I found most missing in my reporting managers and something that I have been wanting to practice day in and day out with my reportees.
"Delivery rates have improved 5% over the last 20 years" - Very true for we are better than earlier to use models and frameworks that are skewed towards collaborative creativity by design. Waterfall methods though good for some projects no longer serve majority of needed project dynamics dictated more by a need for discovery and uncertainty and risk spiking.
"93% of UK CIO's interviewed and said agile had failed them" - The data that caught my attention for this is something I have also witnessed in my interactions with leaders and founders of small, mid sized enterprises and even agile consultants and trainers training in fortune 500 companies. Something that I witnessed in my own company as well. "Something was missing".
"Agile IT project failure estimated to cost 37 bn" - We know practicing agile frameworks has its own overheads (though I do not quite like calling them overheads) for it and ceremonies being heavily dependent on extensive collaboration, communication and co-discovering by the entire team. We use frameworks on projects when not needed or fail to apply it successfully.
Coincidently ten days before the conference I took a session on "agility" in my company to identify, acknowledge and empower on the missing pieces to be calling ourselves really agile. We have been practising framework mechanics for quite some time (while also successfully delivering projects per customer needs, keeping them on highest priority business values, and all such) but unconsciously we have been spending a little more energy than what perhaps was/is needed.
We needed to eliminate the mental blocks to accepting and acknowledging the need for change which could come from anywhere in the system (including customers). This is so that we organically evolve with the needs while being in project constraints of cost and timelines.
The challenge we recognized - Do we really understand agile? Do we know what it means? Do we know why it even exists? What is it that we need to know more? Are we really agile? Why is the word relatable but also disturbing?
While working with project teams as a manager in past, I have always felt the need for team members to be demonstrating a greater emotional maturity, a commitment to communicate while communicating differently, focused more on team than self, and being open and transparent to give and receive feedback. This is important because team members are expected to be active co-architects and decision makers. Yes, the teams do need a coach and a mentor to help them channelize their energies to come back to the meaning attractor should there be a noisy bifurcation. Besides this the team members are expected to be highly self aware to be the "building blocks" of an agile or futuristic high performance team.
Majority of organisations and agile training providers focus on the operational mechanics and hows, more like having a validation checklist, to confirm and re-confirm that if the checklist of activity adopted is 90% in practice, we are close to being a fully agile company or a team. "A myth it is". The challenge is to relate to the word and the world around it, the flux it carries and flux it needs. I strongly feel a different flavor needs to be added to the agile trainings and certifications for no certifications I have taken focus on checking where "we are" as agents of the system. Trainings need to be add depth while focusing on the underlying science to the principles and value statements. Such tangent is completely missing.
Organizational agility is generally understood with the following keywords
Index cards and user stories
Catchphrases – KANBAN,YAGNI, IKIWISI
and with the assumption that if followed religiously, you have a complete solution to needed outcomes (employee happiness, efficiency !! , cost savings !!). This is the major cause of failure to successful agile adoption and organizational outcomes as desired. An important question arises - Is there really a challenge with the framework? Does the framework need be to re-engineered or us - agents who are practising it day in and day out?
From my personal experience for one of the highly complex projects, complete agile operational mechanics was followed and it was a successful delivery. But with extensive efforts from the project manager to really needing to micromanage at places. The reason provided: Even thought team is following agile, there is reluctance and resistant to accept change and if accepted team is overwhelmed to implement the change : causing frustration.
Agility means to be flexible, to be adaptive, giving yourself the permission to align with the systemic needs, manoeuvre yourself if it resonates with your core frequency (here passions) and bifurcate to a different route with collaborative decision making if the system demands. Driven my your passions and being a part of the system, one needs to be willing to learn and adapt to bring life to self and the system if the meaning (the attractor) resonates.
This further means not just learning more about yourself but also your environment consciously to be aware of the system of which you are a part. Simply participating in ceremonies defined by the framework will not help. One needs to make an effort to establish coherency between self and the system. One needs to let go of limiting beliefs that block self and hence the system of which you are a part to allow for needed change.
Sometimes (actually majorly) it happens that few understand the need but other team members in the system do not (generally comes as a complaint), but should that stop us?
The challenge is not just with project teams but also with functional units in organisations that become siloed for the belief systems of their leadership. Being into operations as COO, one major program then becomes to design operations such that it not only serves it purpose but also keeps the "systems organs" glued together.
It has to be understood that non linearity is inherent in the world we are living in. And that behavior of systems to which we belong are determined by multiple drivers. Any change in a driver can move the system to a different point of stability. So "change in the route and sometimes even short term and long term goals is inevitable". Being an agent of the system , co-architecting its behavior one needs to move along with other agents on the changed (perhaps) more stable route. Again this can happen only if the systemic goal and mission statement resonates with you. To know more on the physics of how this behavior manifests in our universe, specifically in space, refer the manuscript and simulations here.
For a project system, one of the drivers could be changing customer needs. We need to be empathetic to understand that customers also belong to a system which has its own drivers (say market forces, competition, opportunities,...), and any needed change there, will need service providers and hence members belonging to the service provider to accept and accommodate the change. This again has to happen within project constraints defined in the contract which itself supports such fluidity.
The agents (which in project team are team members) that define the system demonstrate collective - self organized - intelligence to meet the goal via self adaptation and agility. Agents (we, project teams, employees in the organization) influence the system and system influences us.
Further, we are not siloed but connected to influence directly and indirectly the outcomes of the system to which we belong and hence the other agents forming the system. We rely on one another for movement, growth and life (circle of life) even with our individuality and autonomicity. This further increases our accountability to be agile. Individual and collective emergence being the end goals.