Picture of Stephan van Rooden

Stephan van Rooden

The Agile Transition Stand-off


If you are about to start changing your organisation to become more Agile or if you are right in the middle of an Agile transition, you should read this story! It might prevent you from making an expensive mistake.

Traditional Organisations

Let me paint a picture of how organisations used to operate. There is a (project)manager and this manager has a couple of resources (usually people) to his disposal which he tells what to do. This has been the case for decades. Everytime I enter an organisation, I am shocked to see how effective organisations can be in demoralising and reprogramming these highly educated people. Efficiently punished with stick and highly motivated by carrots to perform the tasks assigned by the manager.

However, nowadays these ‘resources’ are highly educated and fully trained to be capable of bringing something extra into an organisation. And this is where it is starting to get painful.
Often these people completely forget who is paying their paycheck. It’s (and this might surprise you) not the manager!  It’s the customer!

This is usually the state of the people in an organisation I am hired to help. I see people so focussed on doing what they are being told that they are almost willing to fight not to change anything. Luckily more and more managers and executives see that this is no longer sustainable to survive as an organisation. This way of working is actually putting their organization at risk of being run over by small, fast and agile organisations.

Awakening professionals

When organizations choose to become more responsive, they usually call in the help of an agile coach and nowadays most organizations choose to adopt the Scrum Framework. This, easy to learn, but difficult to execute, framework will offer just enough structure to enable your professionals to regain confidence in their capabilities and to be of value to the organization. The longer these professionals have been treated by their managers to stop thinking, the harder it will get to break away from this.


The Stand-off

However, in every transition, there is one moment that will determine if your transition will be an easy one or long, painful and very expensive. And the solution to this is astonishingly simple! But how to recognize this moment?

The Agile Transition Stand-off usually becomes visible between the first and third sprint planning. Everybody is started to get used to their new role. The Product Owner, new to his role because they have never been operating this close to a bunch of developers. The Development Team, fresh out of training and struggling with the freedom the Scrum Framework offers them to display their technical excellence. And the manager still getting used to the idea they are expected to show servant leadership instead of being the ‘boss’.

So what happens during the sprint planning. The product owner, also newly trained, explains what he would like to achieve and asks the teams if they understand it and have an idea whether this is possible.

This is where usually the Development Team asks: “Hmmm, but how do you think we should do this? “

The product Owner steps back saying, “I am not the expert, you are the experts on how to create the value. I Just address what is valuable to me.”

…..Silence begins……

This is that moment! That moment which determines if you are going to have a smooth transition or a difficult one.

This is where usually the team hears the voice of their manager telling them what to do. But the manager doesn’t say anything. What now?

…..silence continues…..

Now the Manager is starting to get nervous. He knows what the team should do and starts doubting if this transition is a good idea.

…..still silence…….

And this is where it usually goes wrong. The team starts looking at the manager or looking at their feet and no one speaks up. They are afraid to respond to the impulses from their brains. And then…..the manager start talking!!! Which usually involves parts of sentences;

“You must….”

”You should…..”

”Start with…..”

No questions, but orders.

Followed within a second a sound of relief. The team still doesn’t need to think. The result of this will be a lot of work for the Scrum Master or Agile coach in learning the team to start thinking again.

Kickstarting your transition but shutting up!

Knowing this will happen is a large part of the solution. You can instruct a manager or former team lead not to speak when this moment occurs. If you know it will happen you can take measures to prevent it from happening. And if you are too late and the manager does start talking, you can interrupt him/her and referring the question back to the team. Over and over until they start taking ownership of the work they are supposed to do.

So there you have it, the solution to make your transitions kickstart!

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