“A brittle Culture can doom even a great organization.” – Curt Cuffman
Breakfast is the Most Important Meal of the Day
It’s said that breakfast is the most important meal of the day. But why is that? Breakfast kick starts your day – you want to embark on your day with a healthy, nutritious meal that sets your day up for success. I know from experience that coffee for breakfast seems like a great idea for about an hour, but when the caffeine boost wears off, the rest of the day becomes a drag.
When thinking about implementing Agile, we want to start by thinking about what we’re having for breakfast – what will start our Agile transformation with the sustaining energy to propel the transformation in the right direction?
The 4 Pillars of Agile
There are 4 major pillars of Agile: Culture, People, Process and Tools. These are the key tenants for an Agile transformation that are so important, I’ll be capitalizing them throughout this blog. When starting an Agile transformation, we should start by thinking about these pillars.
Culture consists of all the intangibles that answer the question: "How do things get done around here?" Culture shapes the environment and ecosystems that will, or already exist, within organizations that drive behavior, feelings, and output.
Agile People are the essence of an organization. People will either thrive or diminish within an organization’s culture. When staffing, whether a team or a whole organization, it’s critical to think through the strengths, attributes, and skills needed for People to be successful.
Processes outline how People will take ideas from discovery through fruition. Processes should assist with the journey from Point A to Point B. It’s important to remember that Agile Processes are meant to be light weight, allowing People the flexibility needed to be successful.
Tools should be implemented to support efficiency and sustainability within a process. Before implementation, tools should be assessed to confirm compatibility with a process. Agile-specific tools incorporate fundamental attributes of Agile processes to ensure synergy.
Drawbacks of Skipping Breakfast
If we know coffee won’t get us through the day, why would we skip a healthy, nutritious breakfast?
When beginning an Agile transformation, there are serious drawbacks to focusing on other Agile pillars besides Culture.
Drawbacks of Tools
If we start our Agile transformation by selecting Tools, we run the risk of picking a set of capabilities that are misaligned to our organizations process(es). If we bring a football to a tennis match, we probably won’t have a successful tennis match. Perhaps we shouldn’t have skipped breakfast?
Drawbacks of Process
If we start our Agile transformation by establishing Processes, we run the risk of implementing workflows and techniques that render our People useless, preventing our organization from achieving its desired outcomes. If we guarantee 24 hour turnaround, then it would be ill-advised to implement an approval process that takes 72 hours to complete.
Drawbacks of People
If we start our Agile transformation by assessing People, we run the risk of hiring and aligning talent that won't thrive within our organization's desired Agile Culture. If we’re building a salt-water fish tank, we probably shouldn't put fresh-water fish in the tank.
Culture is Breakfast
We want to make Culture our Agile breakfast – the first thing we focus on to set the rest of our journey on the right path. Defining what your organization wants to achieve and how you'll go about achieving it is a critical step that many organizations completely overlook. Yet if an organization is going to have success in their Agile transformation, they should answer this question first: "How do things get done around here?"
It seems like such a simple question to answer, but pause, and try to answer that for yourself. Can you answer that question or these follow-up questions?
- Do you really understand how things get done? And why you do them?
- Do you have core values that are embedded into daily activities and drive quality in work and People?
- Is the mission of the organization visible to everyone and does the output of the organization align to that mission?
- Has the power been given to the people to self-direct and manage?
- Do you look around and say, "this is a thriving business?"
Focus on Culture – The Time is Now
Regardless of where you're at within your Agile transformation, or if you haven't even started the journey, it's time to shift the focus to Culture. Culture truly is breakfast - it is the foundation that drives successful Agile transformations. Culture will drive the strategic direction that should align with the desired outcome of the organization.
Having a solid base of Culture will create a solid foundation to support the other 3 Agile pillars. A thriving Culture will promote hiring of People who are aligned to what you're trying to achieve. A successful Culture promotes better Processes that assist and guide your People toward desired outcomes. Finally, Culture will guide your organization to the correct Tools with the right capabilities needed to support Processes, further setting your People up for success.
How to Promote a Thriving Culture
Hopefully you’re now convinced that Culture is the bedrock of successful Agile organizations. In my next blog, I will be describing examples of successful Agile cultures that I’ve seen across multiple organizations and some tips for promoting that healthy Culture. You will find that blog here once it’s written.