Agile Transformation is a collective effort requiring much work and dedication from all levels of the business. It’s no wonder that some people become very attached to it, whether it’s a VP, a coach, a manager, or team member. Carlo Bucciarelli, senior manager at Accenture, reminds us that “this transformation is not your baby.” Further, he says leaders fall into the trap of forcing top-down changes on their reports, which can create resentment in individuals and team. Because the transformation belongs to everyone in the organization – as well as the trainers, coaches, and consultants providing guidance along the way – empathy, inclusion, a powerful guiding coalition, and tons of humility are all necessary on the path to success.
Accenture | SolutionsIQ’s Henrik Gruber hosts at the Business Agility Conference in Vienna, Austria.Read the full transcript
HENRIK GRUBER: Welcome to another edition of Agile Amped. I’m your host, Henrik Gruber, and we are podcasting from the Business Agility Conference in Vienna, Austria. Today, my guest is Carlo Bucciarelli. Welcome.
CARLO BUCCIARELLI: Thank you.
HENRIK GRUBER: Carlo is a Senior Manager at Accenture. He’s been working in information technology for 19 years. He has been involved in various initiatives adopting Scrum and SAFe for larger clients in Italy and Central Europe.
Again, thank you for joining us. Now, on to the conversation. Carlo, thank you so much for taking time with me to record today for this session. Your topic is about This Transformation Is Not Your Baby; that’s what you call it. So, I’m curious about how you’re going to tell us a bit more about this.
CARLO BUCCIARELLI: It’s definitely not my own words. I mean, these words I heard from a CIO of a client that I’d been working for, and it was really fitting very well with my personal experience about the transformation because, in general, we have learned through lot of mistakes things that I wouldn’t have even expected five years ago. Behind this title, there is a lot of interesting facts. For instance, we start from the transformation not being anyone’s baby. What does it mean? It means that there is no individual that can lead and drive and own and win by itself in a transformation because this is the typical mindset that you adopt when you are running a traditional project, but it seems organizations are living organism. Probably it’s nearly impossible to own a transformation by yourself.
There is a lot of lessons learned behind this title. So, not being my baby, it shouldn’t be a hero, shouldn’t be a superman leading the transformation. It should just be a community of people working as a system, but this is very hard, obviously, to understand when you are not into agility at all.
HENRIK GRUBER: When we start … because a transformation obviously has a start. How do we start a transformation, then? Shouldn’t be there a single person who actually drives the transformation?
CARLO BUCCIARELLI: We have learned that it’s key, it’s crucial, to find the right coalition of the willings, which is probably the first group of people that starts from day zero as an enablement team, but what we have learned and what I am basically understanding is that this coalition of the willing is sometimes not strong enough, and more specifically, sometimes too small so that the impact that they have on an organization, maybe it seems good in the very early stage because they start typically from quick wins that are effective, that can create very good momentum, and this is what we have learned anywhere.
I mean, it’s good to start with a good success to show to the leadership that you are, I don’t know, delivering faster, and that this will create the momentum, but then it comes to the point when such a small team of willings is not enough, is not sufficient. In this experience that I am specifically telling about, this coalition of the willing was too small and probably the ego of the people in the coalition of the willing was a little bit biased towards a hero, heroic, I mean, approach, which in the end didn’t work very well. We came to the point when it was definitely crashing. It was definitely going to an end because the storming phase was so strong, and we almost gave up.
HENRIK GRUBER: Can you give us a few examples what went wrong?
CARLO BUCCIARELLI: Yeah. For instance, there was a wrong approach to taking decisions. Taking decisions was … I mean, in the beginning it was a extremely fast process, and that this was the key to succeed, but after the very early period when we started moving into the scaling of the transformation in this client, we realized that we were becoming too much as a monarchy. I mean, every decision was taken by the enablement team, and specifically by one person, the Agile Transformation manager, that was just shifting her approach from day one when she was entirely open to listening to understand to a second part when she was totally selfish and trying to protect her own position and to build her own glory rather than really working for the transformation.
So, basically this was really the disruptive element. The behavior of the individuals that fall in love with their own creature just as much as a mother does with her baby, so that’s why this transformation is not your baby. It’s not yours, and the big lesson learned was that you should really, from day one, make this a collective achievement, not an individual’s achievement.
HENRIK GRUBER: That’s a good point, and to elaborate a bit on the topic of what does happen when you involve the team. So, where are the positives in involving the teams in decisions?
CARLO BUCCIARELLI: Absolutely. There is a lot of positive insight because whenever the team is taking a decision as a team, they will very much likely apply these decisions with consistency. I have a lot of examples where this was not done. For instance, in defining metrics, metrics were defined at top-down, and it was defined as a means to control and measure performance rather than as a means for the team to improve by inspecting and adapting. So, this was an example when the team didn’t feel those metrics as their own metrics, and they’re still rejecting these metrics. They don’t feel that this is useful. I’ve learned that it’s impossible to win the heart of a team if you push any kind of decisions, from the most simple decisions, like, I don’t know, for instance, creating a new field in Jira up to the most important in the long-term decision. Sometimes, for instance, in SAFe framework, there is a mention about long-term decisions needed by the management.
Carlo B.: I still don’t believe that this is 100% true. I think that even the long-term decisions should have some kind of involvement by the teams because these decisions are important for the teams. I can give you a lot of examples, but in general, it’s all about the system. It’s all about the organization being an organism. Really, I enjoy very much also reading a book about teams being like organism, and I think that’s absolutely one very interesting way to look at the transformation. It’s like changing a huge organism which is complex and cannot be guided or driven by the brain.
HENRIK GRUBER: I see. What is your point of view in terms of organism, that it evolves kind of time after time, and it takes a while to evolve?
CARLO BUCCIARELLI: Yeah, that’s the reason why transformations are so long. In general, in coming across different clients, I realized that it’s often a matter of, I don’t know, three to five years, or even more, because as Peter Drucker say the strategy is not strong enough as a culture-
HENRIK GRUBER: Eats culture for breakfast.
CARLO BUCCIARELLI: Culture eats strategy. So, the point is if you accept that it will take a lot of time, you’re going to probably accept that it will emerge rather than be intentional. The fact is that many organization, they make a big mistake. They believe that they can manage, monitor, and control the transformation, and sometimes even consultants, as I am, we are bound by objectives which makes the overall effort doped; I mean, doped in a way that we are trying to follow the plan.
HENRIK GRUBER: Is there any experience you have in terms of you turn the sentence around and say culture eats strategy for breakfast. You have a plan; you want to involve the teams, but what if teams feel all of this involvement just leads to more work to them?
CARLO BUCCIARELLI: Yeah, that’s absolutely another learning. I mean, whenever teams feel that their involvement is additional work for them is because they don’t believe that this involvement can bring any value. It’s like, I don’t know, for instance, if you are refurbishing your house, and your workers come to you and ask you for your time, and you refuse to go and answer their questions, it’s probably because you don’t really care of the house they are refurbishing. I mean, if you apply this to your personal life, this is impossible. I mean, they are refurbishing my house. I should answer their questions, but here, the teams don’t want to answer questions by someone that is refurbishing their organization. This is strange. Probably it’s because they don’t believe that their contribution will be heard.
HENRIK GRUBER: You were mentioning never fall into the responsibility trap. Are there any suggestions how to start? You were mentioning not too small, not too big. How would you start a transformation so not to fall into responsibility trap and to involve the teams?
CARLO BUCCIARELLI: I figure that the first key decision is how to set up the enablement team, which should be representative of all the layers of an organization. Sometimes we create an enablement team simply collecting people from different departments, which is not bad in itself, but we forget that there are also horizontal layers in the organization chapter. We should make sure that in the enablement team we have all of them; in a way, that the enablement team is larger; fine. I mean, we can still coordinate more than 10 people in a larger enablement team, but to clarify to a very wide extent that there is no boss because my personal takeaway from this experience is that the boss of the transformation, if it becomes a selfie and it feels like … selfish, sorry, selfish, and if he or she feels like this heroic flavor, it will fall into the responsibility trap, and he will start to believe that no one else can make it except him or her. This is what I’ve learned.
HENRIK GRUBER: All right. Regarding control, do you think still some control mechanisms should be in place, and if so, which should that be?
CARLO BUCCIARELLI: I think the most important mechanism is visibility and alignment and transparency, obviously. So, basically, I think that that’s very strong because … and it’s not easy to achieve because we’ve been talking about metrics before. Metrics are sometimes not even easy to collect, and then it becomes clear to management that they still need some sort of control. If you are good enough setting up the visibility and transparency and alignment in your organization, probably control is not needed as long as everyone is intrinsically control it. When you are under complete visibility scheme, you probably don’t need to apply a common and control mechanism because the trends become visible.
I’ve been studying for many years traditional project management, and I remember the rule of the seven. The rule of the seven in traditional project management is when you have a trend where for seven times in a row the same behavior occurs, and they say that this is no longer a random thing, but it’s simply a clear demonstration that there is a problem. I think that’s enough in Agile. If you can really have the rule of seven applied that to all the multiple levels of your organization from retrospective level up to, I don’t know, a value stream, KPIs, these will give enough insight, and clearly the decisions should be a taken in inspect and adapt workshops and never taken by the leadership in isolation.
So, it’s maybe a little bit expensive because maybe takes more time to detect problems, but it will pay back because problems … when problems are sort of face in the right way, probably the teams have also enough information to solve on their own.
HENRIK GRUBER: You mentioned if a lot of words based on Scrum and SAFe coming from frameworks, how important is it that people understand the basics and the principles from these frameworks which are in place?
CARLO BUCCIARELLI: Yeah, it’s absolutely crucial because I see a lot of attention to process. It’s really mania. It’s really mania about process, and I get so many questions about, I don’t know, that solution intent, how should the solution intent, and this is probably a sign of potential failure because people are really focused on the process much more than on the principles. I’m afraid that powerful frameworks like SAFe are not helping because they are so intrinsically complex and interesting in a way, that’s probably the focus of people is biased on the complexity of the framework. That’s why I believe many organizations are nowadays really evaluating other frameworks like LeSS.
Obviously, it’s a little bit difficult to imagine an organization of a given complexity run with a framework as LeSS, but at the end of the day, it’s all about the principles. If you are able to reinforce the principles, it will be easier to build your own organization after that, but if you start from the framework, might be really too much of a risk.
HENRIK GRUBER: Okay. Coming back on one more follow-up question regarding frameworks. Do you think there is a difference in terms of starting with small teams or with a scaled environment? Would these frameworks then help?
CARLO BUCCIARELLI: General, I will always believe that the best was to start with very small teams, co-located, and possibly with teams that are already are cross-functional because these will … This shows to anyone the power of agility, and in general, for instance, in my current experience, there was a very good start because all the best people were coming together to create this pilot, and it was a really very, very big success. But after some time, we probably realized that this was not really scaling, especially feature teams because it was not possible to continue creating feature teams. So, we have been evaluating an alternative approach based on component teams, which is something that also in another client in Central Europe I seen them, actually in Switzerland.
I think that if you look at this approach in a longer journey perspective, it might be interesting because as you start your transformation on a solid basis, you can scale up more rapidly, even create PI plannings, and then hopefully one day you will be able to rotate people from component teams to feature teams. Still I haven’t seen the end of the journey, so I don’t know if this will work best or not, but if you asked me the same question two years ago, I would’ve told you “No, I would never work with the component teams,” but probably in large organizations, especially when the knowledge is spread across many different vendors, it might be an option.
HENRIK GRUBER: Okay. Is there kind of, to sum it up, if I read through the title again, This Transformation Is Not Your Baby, is it fair to say but it should be our baby, and we need to have a common vision which we strive towards?
CARLO BUCCIARELLI: Yeah. That’s a perfect sum up of the topic. I mean, that’s probably the big learning, and it has to be baby of many people, as many as possible. Ideally, the entire organization should feel the organization as their own baby. That’s easy to say, but very hard to achieve.
HENRIK GRUBER: Carlo, thanks a lot. I appreciate your time with me today.
CARLO BUCCIARELLI: Thank you.
HENRIK GRUBER: Thanks again for listening to this edition of Agile Amped. If you learned something new, please tell a friend, coworker, or client about this podcast, and subscribe to hear more inspiring conversations.