3 necessary management mindshifts in a fast-changing world

3 necessary management mindshifts in a fast-changing world

Changing an organization (irrespective whether big or small) into being Agile and Anti-fragile in a world changing at an exponential pace requires such a radical paradigm shift that no successful transformation can happen without a top-down approach, in terms of Company values, Management culture, Vision and Business goals.

Nevertheless it is far too easy and far too common to fall into temptation that becoming an Agile organization means making a bunch of development teams work with Scrumand that managers, well, they are clever enough that can handle themselves.

But, given the importance of the top-down part in the enterprise change, the very first step is actually starting from managers, for them to understand the why, be able to share and communicate the Vision, embrace the Agile values and be ready to support people with a new leadership style.

Based on the empirical evidence I collected both in the organizations I coached and in others I observed, below are the three top management mindshifts needed to create the right conditions for people and teams in the trenches to succeed and get astonishing results.

I will also offer some hands-on suggestions to change agents and coaches about how to trigger the different mindshifts.

1. FROM Excluding themselves from the change TO Taking onwership of the change

Many managers (especially senior managers) think that Agile and Scrum is just for development.They seems not to understand all implications, especially what for instance Scrum really means for them. They often think that transitioning to Agile is just the umpteenth process improvement program, which can be delegated to process people: they have just to allocate some budget, in the worst case.

So they create a team of people (often with no experience in Agile SW development), who come up with processes which they try to deploy to the whole organization via targets, KPIs and traditional project management techniques.

Possible approach to trigger the mindshift

Challenge your management team to ask themselves why they want to change, what is the problem that they are trying to solve. If there is no “why”, they’d better not start the journey at all. But if there’s a why, this is normally very much related with business goal: so if Agile is needed to help them achieve their business goals, they cannot avoid truly understanding it and being on board.

Try to make them understand how much they should know that they do not know, thus moving from unaware unawareness to aware unawareness 🙂 This is a necessary starting point.

Encourage learning in different ways: training, Management Communities of Practice, self-study. Something which works pretty well is a Reading club to create a bit of social pressure to read more and a sense of identity and pride to learn. This is usually quite critical for upper managers, because they feel very uncomfortable to admit they need to learn something. Books are a great source to let ideas emerge about different things to experiment in the organization.

Knowledge is important so that managers are prepared to address the challenges that Scrum will quickly expose, otherwise teams will not be able to succeed.

2. FROM Command-and-control TO Servant leadership style

Servant leadership is required for teams to be really empowered and self-organizing, but it is really hard for managers grown up in a traditional environment to transform their leadership style.

They are afraid to let things and people go, most times because they do not know how to contribute in a different way. They are usually afraid they can become useless and by doing that, they actually threaten their own success, by not allowing people to contribute at their full potential. They are sometimes even more scared and frustrated by being said too many times (usually also by some “coaches”) not to do a lot of things, without being helped in what else to do instead.

This mindshift is somehow related to the number 1: they are so used to push things, that they push Scrum as well, without caring about clearly communicating why they are doing this change and what they want to accomplish.

Possible approach to trigger the mindshift

Try to listen to managers’ fears with compassion and offer them to try different behavioral patterns instead, in the light of Agile values and principles.

Try to visualize the benefits of running things differently, also via organizational retrospectives or collecting feedback from people.

Work to build mutual trust between management and developers: for instance I encourage them to being present (practicing Gemba) and try to create a common language for managers, business and developers.

Since they probably never had a real example of Agile leadership before, I usually look for some innovative manager who might be more open to work closely with me, so that she can act as an internal change agent in the Leadership team. I encourage peer support and peer coaching and, of course, I commit myself to “walk the talk”.

3. FROM Focusing on resource efficiency TO Focusing on end-to-end flow

Traditional managers have an idea of SW development as a production environment and miss completely the fact that it is more belonging to the complex domain of creative activities.

That’s why they tend to organize the work stream in silo-ed compartments which reflect the product architecture, instead of looking at the whole; then they try to maximize the efficiency of each single box, believing that high utilization of highly specialized resources can maximize the output of the process. The only result they achieve is sub-optimization, which leads to the exact opposite.

This resource optimization creates very fragmented work, task switching and silos thinking, which usually leads to continuous fire-fighting and very demotivated people.

Most of the traditional managers I know were previously traditional project managers: so they tend to have project thinking. They are very much short term focused: they aim at closing action points, instead of building people and organizational capabilities.

Possible approach to trigger the mindshift

Offer thinking tools (like the TOC-TP tools) to support their decisions and teach them to see the flow.

Encourage the use of Value Stream Mapping and Kanban based portfolio management to visualize bottlenecks and (usually high) levels of work in process, which harm productivity.

Challenge them to understand the value they deliver to make their customers happy and organize the operations accordingly.

Suggest the use of proper metrics to shift the focus on things which matter to achieve the business needs, away from doing things generated only by internal needs.

For instance, in order to encourage an organization centered on cross-functional teams, I propose a performance management system based on team self-determined goals and team results.

So, let’s start changing the world of work by changing the world of management!


You may also find interesting to read: Installing Scrum effectively: Upgrade your company´s Operating System!


Original post

Giuseppe De Simone

Giuseppe De Simone is a Lean and Agile coach (now lent to being a manager) with 15 years’ experience in SW development, half spent also in driving/supporting complex organizational changes.
He is one of 60+ Scrum Alliance Certified Scrum Coaches in the world.
Having served several teams and organizations, he has first-hand experience about how Agile practices and Scrum in particular can work with success.
Giuseppe has been dedicating a big portion of his 8000+ hours experience as Lean and Agile coach to develop professional 21st century managers, by supporting Leadership Teams and managers in different sites within Ericsson. As a trainer, he organized and taught several classes about Agile and Scrum all over Europe and in 2011 he designed his own Lean and Agile Leadership program, he has been teaching and continuously improving since then.
You can read about his thoughts on his blog (R)Evolutionary Agility or on his Linkedin profile.