Agile transformation: how to identify the key role and choose the right people

Disclaimer: this text is inspired in part by the article from Harvard Business Review, source identified at the end of the text.

Nowadays, agile methodology is well known and used broadly throughout organizations. However, claiming to be agile and actually being it are two different things. In fact, according to the HBR article that reports on a survey conducted among 112 companies, nearly 90% reported that they had struggled with rolling out organization-wide agile transformations, even after succeeding with initial small-scale projects.

Where did it go wrong?

To identify unforeseen obstacles, the Harvard Business Review used an organizational network analysis to understand and improve how people collaborate. The major discovery is that traditional practices for framing, staffing and executing agile projects are ineffective in company-wide initiatives. Therefore, there are three typical mistakes that undermine agile teams almost right from the start.

  • The company staffs teams only with star performers.

In other words, when star performers are assigned to an agile project, they are often sought out by colleagues who request their help, and before you know it, your star performers are stretching themselves too thin and become easily overloaded, which increases the risk of their burning out or failing.

  • Agile teams are kept apart from the main business to protect them from being contaminated by status quo thinking or killed off.

This approach has been popularized by Clayton Christensen, but complete isolation doesn’t work either. In fact, a team need to interact with others to pull in expertise, get the big picture views of problems, and understand nuances in different geographies or clients, for instance.

  • All members of an agile team are dedicated 100% to it

Even though total commitment is necessary in order for team members to cope with a demanding schedule and short sprints while maintaining a laser-like focus on key goals, it is unrealistic to expect this from all members. For instance, think of the specialist whose early opinions might shape a project or the cyber expert who alerts the team to data-privacy threats. Their input is important, but they don’t have to be assigned full-time to an agile team.


How to get agile projects right

Resist the temptation to assign recognized star employees to key roles. This a major “aha” moment that was uncovered through the research. As mentioned above, the star employee can be overexposed to requests from colleagues and set up for failure. Instead, tap hidden stars who possesses talent and skills needed to develop and roll out such an initiative (and therefore are less likely to be overloaded). Plus, choosing the less obvious people for this kind of project would allow the company to build a deeper talent bank. To help identify the right person, you can use the ONA (Organizational Network Analysis) approach.

Identify highly connected potential resources. Most agile projects require occasional input from contacts outside the core team who have complementary expertise. Knowing the right person to consult and when, can be challenging.

That’s when the “Brokers” come into play. They don’t necessarily hold formal cross-silo positions but can help the agile team acquire ideas, expertise, equipment etc. Brokers instinctively look for ways to connect ideas across the company.

Then you have the Central connectors, these people are deeply embedded in their area of the organization – they could be individual contributors as well – and have extensive working relationships with peers, subordinates and managers. They are central to their networks.

Domain experts have subject-matter knowledge that an agile team needs temporarily to tackle challenges. The agile team should seek out these highest-profile experts only for must-have input.

Agile methods can accelerate product development and process improvements. They can also help engage some of the most valuable employees, deepening their connections and experiences in ways that pay off for the company. But agile teams are not stand-alone entities; they are embedded in broader collaborative networks. By taking this reality into account, leaders can design them so that they make the most of talent inside and outside teams, avoid overload and burnout and achieve their objectives faster and better.

At Pyxis, our leading experts in organizational transformation and key productivity process improvement can support your management team and your company in an agile transformation. We can help you build productive, efficient teams that will directly contribute to business objectives and drive value. To learn more about our business opportunities and services, visit our page here.


Source: Credit to Harvard Business Review.