Sunday, January 24, 2010

Tackling Agile Organizational Change

I'm just about to start a new project where I will have the chance to assist a client in setting up a "software solution factory" based on Lean principles.

The client has had some serious challenges relating to software delivery in the past, and is supporting systems with a significant backlog of defects which don't seem to be getting any smaller any time soon. The client is also in the initial stages of some very ambition systems replacement initiatives, and would like to get things right this time.

Using a mixture of lean and agile principles clearly can offer alot of value to the client. But historically the organization has many elements that could make lean change challenging, a tendencancy to rely on buraucracy and collective bargaining are a few examples.

The client wants help in the typical things that are part of any transformation effort,
ie: establishing a vision, communicationg the urgency of the problem, listing challenges, developing a target, and developing a plan.

I see a number of potential ways to tackle this problem, and would really appreciate other people submitting thoughts and ideas. The more fresh eyes I can get on this problem the better.

It should be noted that these ideas are not mutually exclusive to each other. But there is a limit to what can be accomplished during this engagement, so I've tried to bucket options in a sensible way.

OPTION 1: Realist and Careful

-In this approach the initial effort would be focused on carefully cataloging the current state.

-Structure, work habits, technology, HR, would all be reviewed and assessed.

-These inputs would be used to identify the biggest issues and realistic roadmap would be created that would show target states over time (1 year, 3 years, etc)

This approach has the benefits of being easy to scope, and allows the client some time to prepare the message in a way that minimally disrupts the way things currently work.

However this is my exact issue with the approach, if things are broken what exactly is wrong with disrupting them if a better outcome is the result. A conservative approach has the most chance of becoming shelfware. Disruption is a critical part of any change, we need to test the organization's resolve at some point, and in my mind the sooner the better.

OPTION 2: Idealist and Disruptive

In this approach I would

- spend much less time collecting empirical evidence, but do the minimum necessary to give me contex.

- create an idealized vision of the way the organization should work. Every article I read on organizational change and lean seems to indicate that the idealized vision motivates people to stretch themselves toward excellence. This intuitvely makes sense to me.

- quickly identify groups that could benefit from agile lean rught now, and coach them to some degree of success.

- set up a "supply chain" of analysis, education, and adoption. The idea is to get a repeatable process instantiated that would allow my client to increase internal capability as quickly as possible.

- instrument adoption on as many parts of the organization as possible. Then learn from the experience, then optimize the education supply chain. Plan, Do, Check, Act

I really like this aproach as it has the opportunity to offer real value, and it is inherently lean. (use lean to bootstrap lean) However this client is conservative, and may not be able to move this quickly. This approach is also really hard to scope, so much depends on the client stepping up to the table.

OPTION 3:Educate and Participate
- get context, focusing on skills and ethics gaps
- create an online education forum where practices, principles, and other educational material can be posted and improved in a structured and collaborative fashion.
- create a repeatable practice around self serve education, slowly releasing the training reins to the client
- hold a organize wide conference with the dual purpose of education and collaboratively developing a transition roadmap

This approach has the benefit of involving or attempting to involve a large portion of the organization. It also can help spread the message far and wide accross the organization. My main issue with this approach is that education becomes quickly stale if it's not used. Also education alone is not sufficient for adoption, hands on mentoring is essential as well.

Again insight from the community would sincerely be appreciated. I promise to post updates on my progress in the hopes that this will help others who are on the same journey. I am also hopeful that this level of public discourse will help my client get the most they can out if going in a lean direction.

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