Doing vs being: practical lessons on building an agile culture

cultura agile subacqueo

Since 2015 MOLO17 creates innovative digital solutions with a 30-people strong team, about 20 of which are related to software development. At date, we have in our portfolio banks, universities, small international startups, but the fil rouge is always the same: winning together technologically advanced challenges. That is what we can do better, fully aware that technology isn’t everything.

We propose below the synthesis of the article “Doing versus being: practical lessons on building an agile culture”, published by Nikola Jurisic in McKinsey’s blog in August 2020. The provocative title underlines, with regard to agile culture, the difference in the interpretation between operative roles merits, measured on obtained results, and the directional roles ones focused on professional’s univocal human qualities.

Why is this article on agile culture interesting for MOLO17

The author deeply describes the three principal needs that generate the request for agility in an organization: improving the operations, speeding up the processes and increasing the quality perceived by the customer in his experience.

Then continues with a definition that tries to create a framework for being agile: a summation of strategy, structure, processes, people and technology that has to be integrated into many small independent teams supported by stable, centralized foundations.

Therefore proposes an interpretative key of the entire agile philosophy, sustaining that the main challenge involves the people, especially the evolution of their culture. According to his experience, it is the biggest obstacle of all transformations, so it requires a dedicated and careful effort.

Agile: defining from where to begin and where to arrive (from-to)

Every organization is unique: because of that, it is fundamental to start from the comprehension of the current culture at the moment of the organizational analysis. The key point is to understand the negative behaviors that could be used as a starting point, from where articulate three to five specific mentality and habits changes. The secret is to not be afraid of habilitate radical alterations to the structure, the processes and the technology.

The creation of consensus and appreciation becomes important to help the employees to perceive the new model, creating comportamental and valorial enablers.

It becomes crucial, in this process, the understanding of the mindsets of people involved, in all their details: afterthought, belief and emotions – not always expressed – contain the reasons  that explain people’s behavior.

Discussing these flows of work weekly, by dedicated transformation sessions, is functional to the incorporation of the from-to in all corporate design, communication and operative choices.

Agile: making change a personal question for everyone

Inviting colleagues to share their experiences and personal difficulties can grow into a great impulse to the transformation and unlock a great amount of energy in this direction.

Helping leaders to change their mindsets from bounding and reactive to enabling and creative can really help the entire procedure.

Learning how to change a traditional organization devoted to command, control and capture value towards an organizational model based on innovation, collaboration and value creation is very important in certain scenarios, as is understanding that individual thoughts and feelings always manifest themselves in the architecture and culture of the organization itself.

A case study from Roche (122 years old corporate with 94000 employees in 120 nations) is reported: instead of forcing leaders to put into practice the learned agility lessons, they were just invited to do so. Without a commanding tone, the initial expectation of a positive response (5-10%) has grown to an order of magnitude (95%).

Agile: engineering culture into organizational architecture

To gain success, cultural change has to be cabled into all ordinary and daily organizational elements, as well as the operational transformation.

A practical example consists of the use of QBR (Quarterly Business Review) to support themes as activity and retrospective focus, it deals with a common element of an agile operative model for planning business activities and resource allocation. QBR usually involves stakeholders from the most important areas of the organization in order to define priorities and manage the organization and employment.

Helping employees to focus only on value-creation activities, while they are taught to recognize the ones that do not generate value, permits them to give them the power to manage priorities in an autonomous way.

Moreover, including retrospectives is precious to understand and learn from previous successes and failures in a formal, structured and highly visible way.

Agile: monitoring obtained results and learning from mistakes

Continuous learning and improvement are two pillars of agile working. They apply to the culture in an equal manner. Agile successful transformations have demonstrated the value of monitoring progresses, evaluating behavioral changes and their impact in performances, as well as realizing regular retrospectives.

This time a case study of ING was reported: in order to track performance, time-to-market and involvement of the employees, it was developed a 40-questions survey, repeated five times over two years. ING has discovered that product owners were the most important actors capable of influencing the final result of the transformative action.

Maintaining the performances and between-colleague dialogues monitoring framework updated, to understand if they were implementing the expected behaviors, permitted to fully comprehend, in real-time, the effective result obtained day after day.

Using the results of the interviews in a variety of ways, including an academic partnership, ING has been able to measure progress in corporate culture by establishing appropriate correlation with performance, resulting in a new, data driven, agile operating model.

Conclusion: MOLO17 is open innovation, sharing and confrontation

With this showcase, MOLO17 wants to tell which themes are affecting the evolutionary strategy of the company. The aim is to share with an open approach the sources considered most valuable, the most interesting information and the approach with which the company interprets innovation.

If you like this kind of article and you have similar topics to talk about, ask for an e-coffee with its author, Riccardo Mazzolo.

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