Interview with Madhur Kathuria

Madhur Kathuria has coached nearly 300 teams for almost 75 clients across the US, Europe, South East Asia, Malaysia and Thailand. In this interview he talks about some of the cultural challenges for agile adoption. Read it here.

Interview with Elena Yatzeck

Elena was Chief Agilist for JP Morgan Chase Treasury Services and is now a VP of Corporate Compliance Tech. Find out how JP Morgan Chase reconciles agile with compliance and risk management demands. Read it here.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

It's All About Culture - Right?

It’s all about culture.

That is the general consensus today with respect to agile transformation. But what is the “culture” of an organization? It’s certainly not styles of dance, or music, or food – some of the things that make up culture in society. So what is it?
Certainly this is not "corporate culture"!

An A. T. Kearney analysis defined corporate culture as a set of systems and practices enveloping behaviors, emotions, and interpretations. Systems and practices such as strategy, goals, measures, org structure, rules and procedures, rewards and recognition, mission statements – these all serve to drive perceptions, attitudes, and behaviors that in turn push back to reshape the systems and practices in a co-evolving cycle.

If its all about culture, then how do you change culture?

The ADKAR model developed by Prosci is one of the most widely recognized models for organizational change. It is closely related to the Prochaska & DiClemente “Transtheoretical Model”, also known as “TTM” – a model of behavioral change that is widely used by psychologists for individuals and for organizations. There are many others as well, but most of them posit a series of phases that the organization (or individual) tend to naturally go through, during which they first develop an awareness for the need to change, followed by a desire to support the change, followed by increasing knowledge on how to actually begin to change, and then followed by sufficient change that will be self sustaining.

I have seen this pattern play out in my own work with organizations. It has taught me that transformation takes time, and that one must set one’s expectations and plan one’s work based on these natural phases.

So how do you get things going? Where do you start? First of all, it is important to realize that change must address the range of factors that drive the current behaviors. In terms of a cultural model, you must identify the various elements of the culture, and find the “knobs” that you can turn that will push things forward, depending on where you are in the natural cycle of change: i.e., which “phase” you are in. For example, if you are in the beginning phase, in which people are merely considering whether agile is right for them, then it does not do much good to try to educate them on advanced technical practices: most people will not be willing to invest the effort required.

First and foremost you should talk to all of the managers and the teams to understand how things work currently, what people’s attitudes and plans are, and to identify the impediments to change. That gives you a set of obstacles something like what I presented in my prior post.

But that is only a sliver of the picture. These obstacles are not root causes. They explain things on a tactical level, but not on a cultural level. That is, they don’t explain why these obstacles exist, and what is keeping them there. To analyze the obstacles to determine root causes, it is helpful to think in terms of the culture and the places in which culture operates.

Martin Proulx of Audacium has proposed a 5 level organization agile maturity model – Yet another Agile Maturity Model (AMM) – consisting of five levels: Team Level, Department Level, Business Level, Project Management Level, and Management Level. His claim is that change needs to happen at all of these levels. This is an excellent model, and you might choose to use it, but I prefer to use a slightly different one, consisting of Team Level, Process Level, Functional Level, Executive Level, and Senior Executive / Strategy Level. If one lists these levels side by side with the systems and practices that drive behavior, then you have a picture of the nobs that you can turn, and where you might turn them, in order to adjust behavior over time. This is shown in the figure below.

As PDF: click here.

It is important to realize that many of these things must happen in parallel, and so transformation is not step-wise. Different groups reach “maturity” at different times, and you need to be plugged into them all. Change is messy: different parts of the organization do not progress together. Execution is in the details, and execution is everything.

One more thing: this picture is not a sufficient model for your organization’s behavior: it is only a kind of menu. To create a more useful model, you have to identify the actual behaviors, and the actual causes by asking the “Five Whys” (discussed in my priori post). The picture I have presented is only to help stimulate your thinking when creating your model. In fact, both the list of behavior manifestations and the organization tiers are generic – you should try to customize these to better match your own organization.

We are now ready to look at the root causes of the obstacles that I presented in my prior post – that’s where we really get into some substance. I’ll save that for next time – this post is already too long!

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