Agile is hot. It seems like every organization is trying to become Agile nowadays. It’s not just large commercial organizations trying to maximize their profit, it’s also hospitals, casino’s and even the police trying to increase its Agility.

Many organizations start their Agile journey by focusing almost exclusively on the teams. They set up  multi-disciplinary teams with Product Owners and Scrum Masters, and ensure that every team member is trained on the Agile mindset and the chosen way of working (usually Scrum or Kanban). Agile coaches are hired to support the teams on a daily basis, there is budget available for team building events and every free spot on the wall is quickly covered with colourful sticky notes.

The first few months of the Agile transformation are usually quite promising. Teams enthusiastically embrace the new way of working and there is a lot of energy as things finally seem to be changing for the better. Then the change often slows down and energy levels drop. Teams start complaining about impediments they don’t seem to be able to solve and there is this feeling that the new way of working is not really changing anything.

Why do Agile transformations come to a stop after a while?

This pattern occurs a lot and I have seen a number of reasons for this to happen:

  • There is no clear vision for the team and priorities are constantly shifting, causing a lack of focus;
  • The mandate of the Product Owner is not respected and teams are directly instructed by management to work on things that are not on the backlog;
  • Teams are not stable as people are regularly moved to other teams as the organization still creates teams around specific projects or topics instead of bringing the work to the teams;
  • Teams don’t have sufficient freedom with regard to the tooling, technique, architecture etc. to allow them to increase the value they deliver. Or teams are given way too much freedom and lack the structure, tools and direction they need to deliver value;
  • There is no cooperation between the teams, because every team is focused on achieving their own goals and there doesn’t seem to be any overarching goal stimulating them to collaborate;
  • The culture of the organization is not supporting the agile mindset. For example when something goes wrong, focus is on who to blame instead of what can be learned from it.

These are just a few things that can block a successful Agile transformations, but the common denominator is that they often have to do with the way an organization is lead and thus management. For an organization to become truly Agile, management also needs to adopt the Agile mindset. Or as Kotter already told us years ago, sponsorship from management is key to every large change.

Unfortunately there is often little attention for (senior) management in the first phase of an Agile transformation. Contrary to the teams, managers are usually not thoroughly instructed and coached on what the Agile mindset means for them, nor are they given an Agile framework or other tools to support them in implementing this Agile mindset in their day-to-day work. In addition, team managers often feel sandwiched between the teams demanding the freedom to self-organize their work and their senior management that is not sticking to the rules of the new game by constantly changing priorities, by-passing Product Owners and demanding full status updates frequently. Add to that, the fact that most managers have little or no experience with Agile working and it’s not very strange that they are struggling to create the right circumstances for their teams to become Agile.

Agile Interim Management

To overcome this hurdle is greatly helps to have one or more experienced managers that strongly believe in Agile and are able to be a driving force behind the Agile transformation. These managers are agile leaders able to create the right environment for their teams to become high performing teams. When an organization doesn’t have that kind of Agile leaders (yet), it makes a lot of sense to hire such experienced managers to boost the Agile transformation and allow the other managers to learn how to become an Agile leader.

The added value of an Agile Interim Manager is that they have the experience and mandate to change the structure and culture of the organization. In addition, they can inspire and coach other managers to become Agile leaders by setting an example. That makes this concept much more powerful than hiring an Agile coach, who is experienced in coaching teams, but not management. Or a management coach, who has experience in coaching managers, but can’t enforce change or be a role model.

Therefore, I predict that Agile Interim Management will become the next trend in the world of Agile. Do you agree?

1 COMMENT

  1. I completely agree with the transformation you described. A big part of managers don’t even understand that there is an issue with their personal mindset. They are deeply convinced they don’t have to change.
    I hope and strongly believe that your proposal of an agile interims management could help. But as you quoted there must be someone who sponsors the whole thing.

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