In the book I talk a lot about how agile thinking and principles (and not just Agile doing) can be applied in the service of supporting fundamental change in the organisation. To enable a far more responsive, customer-centric way of working. To enable a shift away from the entrenched processes and practices that are holding companies back in the digital-empowered age. Everyone gets how important change (do we call it ‘digital transformation’ anymore?) is. What most businesses that I talk to really need is pragmatic application.
One of the foundational elements of this application is resourcing. The principle here is that small teams, empowered by the right ways of working and new technologies, can drive big change. My approach with many of my clients is echoed by Eric Ries’s phrase ‘Think big, start small, scale fast‘. You always need to begin transformation programmes with a compelling vision of the company that you want to become, with advocacy from the top of the business, with sufficient impetus to create a positive sense of urgency and kickstart the shift. But the process of transformation to becoming more agile should itself be agile. So you start small, with focused programmes tackling critical business challenges or customer problems, using small multidisciplinary teams to iterate and innovate and build new value but also new ways of working. And you of-course scale fast – using the learnings you get as you go to expand this approach, these ways of working, and to influence culture change, and support a shift in mindset. The number of small, multidisciplinary teams solving customer problems and working in agile ways increases as the programme for change gains momentum, maintaining a good balance between the need to deliver business as usual whilst still generating completely new models and value in new ways.
A number of large organisations (including some that I work directly with) are utilising this approach to resourcing as a centrepiece of transformation (digital or otherwise). ING Bank is a particularly interesting example since they have been doing it longer than most (their programme has run for several years now), made a significant commitment to agile working from the outset, and so are probably one of the most scaled examples of how this works. Based on the famous Spotify model of Squads, Chapters and Tribes, they have organised in a way (at scale) that enables end-to-end ownership of customer propositions and journeys, focused delivery against customer objectives, heightened levels of employee autonomy and engagement, and organisational responsiveness. I’ve written up a more detailed case study of what ING are doing here. But they are not the only ones.
In all the talk about transformation there is precious little discussion and insight into the practical application of new ways of thinking (unless, that is, you hire McKinsey for a boat-load of cash). In all the focus on customer experience, and the horizontal challenges that that brings, there is precious little talk about how we need to rethink approaches to asset optimisation and resourcing to tackle these very real problems. I think there are critical opportunities that companies have to do this in the right way, and some very real difficulties that can arise if they don’t. Not least is a sensible approach to where you apply these new agile ways of working and where you don’t – characterised by the three domains that I talk about here.
But it’s hard to under-play how important this. This is potentially one of the most significant shifts in organisation design in decades. I’d welcome a wider discussion and of-course, your own observations and ideas.
Don’t forget there is much more about agile transformation models, thinking and practical application in my book.
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