Fixing Agile Transformations – 1

Wow, what a big topic!

Jon Jorgensen put up a post on LinkedIn.  Here:

(Jon has lots of good posts. Recommended.)

I have not asked Jon exactly what he meant by his question.  I suspect a bit of mid-western sarcasm is involved.

Here is my reaction, which is meant to be of some partial help for those involved in “fixing agile transformations”.  It is a big topic with many possible situations.  A book is probably not enough space to deal with it, really.

My Response

Most of the following is a quote of how I responded to his post in LinkedIn, somewhat edited and expanded.

First, obviously, as we well know, you cannot MAKE someone motivated. Motivation for knowledge workers must be intrinsic (not extrinsic).

And, if they (the team members) are not motivated after 1 year, THAT is a big problem.

To over-simplify, motivation has two factors.
1. Desire to build the specific “product” for specific customers. (Purpose to Daniel Pink. See his book: “Drive”)
2. Other motivating factors. Fun, no mushroom treatment, camaraderie, autonomy and mastery. (The last two Daniel Pink focused on.)

In Scrum the PO must articulate the Vision. In such a way that it MIGHT be motivating to team members.  The PO should get to know his/her Team, and make comments specific to each person.

In Scrum the SM should work on the other factors.
Other people can also talk and influence.

Results that I expect:

1. Some people will not be excited by that product, but likely by another product.
2. Some people will not be excited by those customers, but likely by other customers.

Note: Yes, some people will be motivated by the combination of product and customers.
3. Most people will like Scrum, if the Team is winning and/or they mostly like the people in the Team (and other factors are not bad).
4. Some people do NOT want to be in a Team. Any Team. Don’t force them in a Team. Forcing would be just mean and wrong.
5. Some people will not like Scrum.  (I might argue that most of those people do not want to be in an egalitarian Team. But some other reasons too.)

Actions: Lots.

1. Managers, the PO, and perhaps others should discuss why a product or project should be motivating. And expect some people NOT to be “into” that specific situation.
2. Unhappy people should be moved to another Team. Often that works out fine.
3. Some people do NOT want to be on a real Team.  There is some room for individual contributors. (Think of these as chickens to Teams, that help, commonly, multiple teams, but are not in a Scrum team.) Decide how many chickens you want/need. Excess people would likely need to leave the company. THEY ARE NOT BAD PEOPLE.  Do that humanely.
4. Chaos. Chaos or dysfunction or other de-motivators come in many flavors. Especially with an “agile transformation”. So, take feedback, and try to minimize those.
5. Try to build on success and volunteering. Others see a successful Team, and say to themselves “I want to do that!” And the next Team can be started.
Let me repeat: SUCCESS and VOLUNTEERING.
6. Engage the people in the process of transforming the company. They have ideas and agency.  If they want to help, they can be very effective (with perhaps a little help).  If they feel at least heard, things will go better.  If they help “design it” (at least for their own team), they tend to like it a lot more.

Daniel Mezick and others talk about this last one as Open Space and Open Space Agility.

Jon’s Four Choices

IMO, all of the choices listed by Jon (see just below) are open, and might happen.

This is what Jon wrote:

People who still aren’t motivated after 1 year of Agile Transformation support, trust & improvement efforts should be:

laid off, demoted, managed out
inspired, incentivized, trained
given time/space to think/grow
found, coached & transformed

[END of his quote]

Those were the four choices he would have you choose from.

General Comments

Before we get into the four choices, let’s discuss the 1 year of work on Agile Transformation. Again, there are so many situations.  And people invest widely differing amounts of energy, money and effort in the Agile Transformation.  And transformations can be of widely different sizes (number of people:  say 50, or 500, or 5000, etc).

Let’s say you have 150 people. In the first year all are trained (CSM or similar).  Let’s say you have 5 agile coaches and an Agile Transformation lead.  Pretty big investment.  Let’s assume your culture is somewhat agile-friendly, better than usual at least.

In that case, in general, most of the people should be fairly motivated. Otherwise, you have wasted a lot of money.  If 5% are under-motivated, that is one problem.  If 15% of the people are under-motivated, a different level of problem.  If 30% are under-motivated, another problem altogether.

General Employee Engagement

Jon refers to the Gallup study of employee engagement.

In general, employee engagement is terrible, very low.  Gallup says only 34%.  There are many reasons why.  You saw many reasons in The Office TV show.  There are many other reasons.  A lot of it is regardless of agile or non-agile.  We might hope that a real agile team is more engaged.  There are also plenty of “agile-in-name-only” teams; not sure engaged would be high.

BUT: With knowledge workers doing new product development, you really need motivation (and that includes employee engagement).

I think what we want agile people to be is best called motivated.  And that is somewhat different than “engagement” or “engaged”.

Still: Asking for an agile transformation when the tide of employee engagement is out (low) is not a good situation.  You can immediately see that as very challenging.

And I hope it is also obvious:  if your engagement numbers before you start are low, then an “agile transformation” initiative is not likely to be enough to really change things.  An Agile transformation might help. And for some people, maybe help a lot.  But we are talking about a bigger cultural issue.

You know this: “Culture eats Strategy for breakfast.” (Attributed to Peter Drucker.)  Changing culture is very hard.  Not impossible, but very hard.

Specific Comments on Jon’s 4 Choices

I might quibble with the wording or attitude or emphasis of Jon’s four choices (see above). But all four can happen in a legit way.

Still, the idea that any ONE of these (or these without other factors) will “cure” your agile transformation by itself — that is magical thinking. I do not recommend it.  (And I doubt that Jon was proposing any of these as “the answer”.)

Ex: Demoting people will basically never be useful IMO.  For knowledge workers.  Might as well fire them in a nice way (a package).
Power games generally do not work well with knowledge workers. Motivation is key.

Ex: Some wording of Jon’s choice (see above) implies (to me) the idea that one person can MAKE another person motivated. That is just wrong. “He’s just not that into you” was an entertaining movie, but the idea is importantly true for motivation.  For ANY given product/customer set, some people will not be into it!  So true for our work. You can explain, but you cannot force it. (I think Jon was teasing us with the option of “inspired, incentivized, trained”.)

Closing Comments

This is a BIG subject.

I think I said some things that might help some people.

There are so many situations. Surely I did NOT deal with every situation. YMMV.


Your comments are welcome.


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