Love as an Agile Transformation Strategy

EPISODE 9

Whether you’ve been going Agile for years, or you’re just now starting the transformation - an organization’s journey into Agile is not an easy one. In this episode, we talk about what makes an Agile transformation so difficult and what every business should be focusing on to really make Agile work. Spoiler alert: love might have something to do with it.

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Feel the love! We aren't experts - we're practitioners. With a passion that's a mix of equal parts strategy and love, we explore the human (and fun) side of work and business every week together.

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Jeff Ma
Director

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Maggie McClurkin
Producer

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Frank Danna
Director

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ChrisProfile

Chris Pitre
Vice President

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Transcript

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Jeff Ma
Hello, and welcome to love as a business strategy, a podcast that brings humanity to the workplace. We're here to talk about business. But we want to tackle topics that most business leaders shy away from. We believe that humanity and love should be at the center of every successful business. I'm your host, Jeff Ma. I'm a director of software, an agency based out of Houston, Texas that specializes in digital transformation, culture, and branding. Each episode here, we dive deep into an element of business or strategy, and really test our theory of love against it. And today, we want to talk about agile transformation. Now in Episode Three, we had already talked about digital transformation, and we broach this topic a little bit and intentionally kept it high level and away from it so we could have a separate episode just on this specifically, and even this one probably won't cover the vast, vast of agile and agile transformation. But for now I want to zoom in a little bit more on one major aspect that makes digital transformations work, which is the Agile component specifically. With me. I have a couple of usual suspects. And also, we were bringing back Maggie. So Maggie was is the is our beloved project manager and producer of the show. And she joined us last episode, and we loved it so much. We invited her back. So I'll start with Maggie. Welcome, Maggie.

Unknown Speaker
Thank you glad to be

Unknown Speaker
back.

Jeff Ma
And your icebreaker question is, what's the best piece of advice you've ever been given?

Unknown Speaker
Hmm.

Unknown Speaker
Um, I wrote this question and I don't even have an answer. I think the thing that just keeps coming to mind is when I was a kid, my parents just instilled into me just be kind To everyone no matter what you don't know their circumstances or you know what they're going through so, kindness be kind no matter what is probably the best advice has gotten me this far in life. So

Jeff Ma
I love it. Next we have Chris Peachtree vice president soft way, Chris, welcome.

Unknown Speaker
Hi. Good to be here.

Jeff Ma
I love just truly I read these questions for the first time as I love it. I love it so much. As a child, Chris, what did you want to be when you grew up?

Unknown Speaker
So I have phases so I'm gonna it's a three parter for me. So the first aspiration was an anesthesiologist. But this is where I learned that following after people is not really my, you know, thing. So I had a friend and it was Catherine, I won't say her last name for sake of privacy. But she was like, I'm gonna be an anesthesiologist like, well, that would be an anesthesiologist. And then I was like, wait, I don't want to stay in school forever. So then I was like, I'm gonna be a very Marian. And so my first job was actually at a vet clinic. And then when I sat in my first surgery, and I realized that I could never cut into an animal, that's when I was like, okay, new mission in life. And that's when I decided on advertising. And so it was a three phase

Jeff Ma
thing. And all that was as a child. Yes. As a child, I didn't know anything about what I wanted to be. That's impressive. The three things you wanted to be

Unknown Speaker
Muhammad on.

Jeff Ma
Muhammad Anwar presidency is also here with us. Welcome, Muhammad. Hey, Jeff. So your question is, what's the best book you've ever read?

Unknown Speaker
Oh, I think I don't know what the best book but the book that's had the most impact on me was what millennials take over. So that's a book that was very transformational for me to read.

Jeff Ma
Awesome. Yeah. That comes up quite Quite a bit and how we formed, how we got here today as a company. So,

Unknown Speaker
Mo, are you a millennial?

Unknown Speaker
I was born in 1982. So

Unknown Speaker
I think you're a cusper.

Unknown Speaker
Yeah, he's right on

Unknown Speaker
Gen X.

Jeff Ma
Is it an age or is it a mindset? Yo, come on.

Unknown Speaker
It's both. I'd say it's both. Okay.

Jeff Ma
I guess I need to read the book to know more about it. Okay.

Unknown Speaker
like Beyonce is on the cusp, too. So Oh, she's still included

Unknown Speaker
in that. Did you find it from 1980?

Unknown Speaker
Yes, it's nice and 80 and Bianca was 81. You're 82. Right? I mean,

Jeff Ma
like, we made it, we made it. How many episodes without Beyonce reference, but

Unknown Speaker
from far too long.

Jeff Ma
Like the floodgates are open, I'm fully

Unknown Speaker
Make sure to tag her in the show notes.

Jeff Ma
That'd be awesome. If you're listening. Chris is a super, super, super fan.

Unknown Speaker
A healthy obsession is what I say.

Jeff Ma
borderlining on But yes. Let's dive into this. And mo I'm really gonna actually put you on the spot here because, you know, obviously software and agile, you know, we have a relationship. And you've been at the at the helm of that. So please help us kind of understand this two parter. What is an agile transformation? And why is it important?

Unknown Speaker
Sure. Before I go into defining agile transformation, I want to talk about how organizations predominantly are structured. They're structured to be a command and control type of organization with a very top down approach, where all the directives in the organization come from the top level executives, going down to the rest of the organization to go do stuff. And in an agile transformation, that's the act where the companies are transforming from that command and control mindset or top down mindset to become an organization that started and flexible collaboration, self organizing and changing environments. And the biggest thing I take away from there is changing environments, given very are in the state of COVID-19 and 2020. There's so much uncertainty and so much change happening around us. That it's, it's, it's a way for organizations to be able to embrace the change that happens around them. You know, agile transformation allows companies to be able to operate in times of uncertainty, and deal with the ever changing things that are constantly happening around us. And it allows them to have a competitive edge or other businesses if they've embraced agile in the right way. So agile can be very powerful for organizations to survive in a highly competitive environment, this ever changing nature of business or uncertainty like the COVID-19 situation. Those could be some of the benefits.

Jeff Ma
Awesome. That's great, and I kind of I want to move into, you know, when we talk about agile transformation, I think it's important to try to share what we think is the key to a successful agile transformation, because it is a transformation, you're trying to go from point A to point B. So, Maggie, let me pick on you, as a project manager, I see you, as you know, in the trenches at the front lines of, you know, being agile, and with people and you know, can you kind of give that perspective, like what you've seen, what is the key that you've seen at that level of a successful agile transformation?

Unknown Speaker
So I think

Unknown Speaker
the thing for me, so it needs to start with your leaders, of course, which I think we all agree with, but not just the one time saying that we're going to go through this transformation, but it's the constant reinforcement, and the constant reminding of, Oh, no, where we used to think this way, but now we're going to think this way. We To do things this way, but now we're going to do things this way. Because as humans, we're resistant to change. It's just natural. We don't naturally enjoy it or and we don't like to gravitate towards change. We like to do what we've, we've done forever. And so it's when you don't have that example to look to, in your leaders, it's really hard to remind yourself of, to even go through the process, but even to, to decide that it's worth it. And so, for me, as a project manager, I look to my the leaders above me, because I know people on my teams are looking at me and I feel that responsibility of trying to remind teams Why, why it's even important in the first place. I think that's the first hurdle you have to get over.

Jeff Ma
It's a really good point. I think, I think if you if you google agile transformation, you get like a 10 step, regimented kind of process on how to get through it. And I think it paints a picture Like it's this, yes, you have to be, you have to plan for it and have a strategy for it. But I think many leaders especially higher up might get the idea that they can just kind of take that framework and apply it to their their business and see some results. Right. And I think what we're going to explore today more so is is why that that might be a problematic. So let me just dive right into that. Then, you know, we just talked about successful agile transformation. Does anyone have anything else to add on that? Sorry, before I move on? No, it isn't. Yes.

Unknown Speaker
No, I think we're gonna get to move on.

Jeff Ma
So in, in the opposite spectrum. Agile transformation, statistically fails quite often as well. Studies have shown that it is a I'm sorry, I don't have the number front of me but a large portion of companies who attempt this fail. So can we dive into why that is Maggie open when leaders anyone want to add with add into that

Unknown Speaker
Yeah, I, I can speak firsthand. Having to try agile transformation at softly over the last nine or 10 years I've made I've had several different failed attempts at transforming the organization's ability to adapt to agile. And one of the biggest things that I've learned through the series of failed attempts is that it really came down to even how I was embracing agile when I first started I it was all about process. I came in like he I heard agile is like this great thing that can help her business have this competitive advantage and get things done faster and, and like tackle change and, and where I think I personally may have, you know, had a big learning there was that I never took the time to really understand that agile had to start with me, the mindsets and the behaviors that go with an agile argument. And while I was pushing our teams to go do projects in an agile framework, like Scrum, I was still operating the business from a non agile lens, I was still operating from a command and control mindset and expecting my teams in their pockets to be able to adapt agile and be successful. And what I realized was that I was becoming the biggest obstacle in my teams being able to adapt to agile, because I was pushing them to go adapt this framework and these processes. And here I was still operating from an old mindset of command and control. I remember that I think it's learning.

Jeff Ma
I remember those days very well, too. Because the funny thing about that is that at the time we don't, it's not easily easy to identify that. At the time we were just struggling with agile and wondering why it wasn't working.

Unknown Speaker
Yes. And I think the other thing as far as how it could fail is if you are in a situation where you you're being told to go agile, you quickly We can become a victim. We're just like, wait, why me? Like what did I like? I don't know this, like nobody trained me. No, I just like, right and you, you quickly find all the excuses as to why you can't move forward or why it's gonna fail or why it's not gonna work or why the client is not going to be successful or right and you start reaching for straws, because as we said before, change is scary, right? So I'd rather show you why it's not gonna work, then actually understand and embrace the change and sort of adapt or at least just test it out. Right? Try it once, right? And like, for me, I know that I personally, you know, have heard about agile, but it was always from the software development lens. I was like, I'm never gonna have to worry about that. I'm not, I'm not it's a little bit. I'm not a technologist. I don't do that. Right. And so, in looking at how agile can benefit even non software development functions inside of an organization, it's been, for me transformational and just, like interesting, you know, if you're a fan of social experiment is just to see what's possible when you just embrace a mindset, even if you're not doing all of the practices and ceremonies that you hear about full out, you can still understand that, hey, there's actually a better faster or an easier way to, to learn how to get to an outcome versus, you know, this linear waterfall. You know, let me go and wait till it's perfect before we release it. And then once it's perfect and released, then we get feedback. And by the time we take that feedback and apply it, everything is stale. The world has changed, you know, I'm older, right? Like all these things have happened. And it's, it's, it's one of those things where like, even if you're not in a software or an IT role, seeing a an HR team become agile, where we're looking at how we can sort of build things with teams and with the actual employees versus creating all of these procedures and policies. It helps to really shift how we can support Serve the employees that we have we have in all of our offices.

Jeff Ma
This, this reminds me of, you know, we do a lot of, we've done a lot of consulting around this for clients and with clients. And and we would go in and we'd ask about their struggles. And you get a laundry list of reasons why they're struggling with agile. And what we found is that it all ladders up to kind of the same two things, right? It's leaders, and it's mindsets and behaviors. And in fact, it's leaders mindsets, behaviors. And that was just the start. Like even when you talk, some people would say, oh, agile transformation won't work for us, because our legacy kind of process and systems are just top down. And that's how we input our stuff. And that's how it outputs. It's been like that for years. And so trying this agile stuff just doesn't work. And when you really think about what they're saying is they're saying that they're being asked to be agile by leaders who are not letting go of a system that works. Work with agile, right? And there's a mindset that they have to change leaders to let go and be willing to try something completely new and different to make that successful as well.

Unknown Speaker
Another thing, Jeff, what I've learned through this series of attempts is, even when I did begin to understand agile at its core, and I took the interest to learn it, and adapt it, what would happen is when I would see our teams being resistant to adopt it, I would go back to my old behaviors unknowingly. Because I was then becoming very forceful or impatient, and, and going back to what my old habits are, to be top down, and like be command and control. So, you know, like, intent wise, I knew the benefits, I understood it. But behavior wise, I couldn't. I couldn't really embrace the right behaviors to create a conducive and vironment for the rest of the organization through their motions of transformation.

Jeff Ma
So Mo, how did you fix that? Like, how did you turn that around?

Unknown Speaker
I, I, this is the last transformation.

Unknown Speaker
And I had to be fully invested into it from a mindset standpoint and recognize how my behaviors as it pertains to not just agile but behaviors in general together with my team, how to be empathetic towards my team, how to love my team and care for them and have a true empathy towards what they're going through, get started to give me a lot more patience, and recognition that everyone goes through their transformation in their own and the process of their own way. And my job isn't to come in and just expect that to like, you know, be embraced overnight. I have to be the coach. I have to remove all of them. impediments and their issues and the problems that they're going through to, to embrace agile, what can I do to remove those impediments? Is that more training? Is that more coaching? Is that more examples? And how am I leading by example to begin with?

Jeff Ma
Yeah, one thing I really stands out to me in the last success that we've had, has been the change in like kind of what we would call the servant leadership approach. And all of this where I saw you, really understanding what you're asking other people to do, and in fact, rolling up your sleeves and doing it yourself to its fullest extent. And that that act of demonstration and kind of leading by by by example, really, really stood out to me as someone whose fault who's following you through that.

Unknown Speaker
Thank you.

Unknown Speaker
I think, just a little bit of a different perspective. I agree with everything that Moe just said, especially about the empathy for your teams, and I'm in an interesting position where Chris and Moe and Jeff are all To me and pouring into me, and then I have to take that and pour it into my teams that I work with day to day, which is interesting. And I think, you know, for me, I had to figure out how do I practice empathy with them, because at the end of the day, like, I, you know, I am in a different spot on my transformation journey than they are. So what can I do to help them? Because there's a lot of fear, we talked about that earlier, fear of change. So how, how can you help them kind of work through that on their own because you can't force it on them? You can't do it for them. They have to work through it on their own, but how do I facilitate that for them and, and for me, that's really looked like just sitting down and listening to what their fears are and trying to help them process through them in their own ways and in figuring out what is blocking them even mentally from from making this shift in their mind because once they're bought in, it's great and And we are able to be aligned as a team. But if one person even on the team is still not bought in yet, the whole team suffers. And it's, it can be really subtle even to it doesn't even have to be someone who's just blatantly saying, I don't believe in this, this doesn't make sense to me. This isn't gonna work, it can, it can be very subtle. And so you have to just be able to pay attention to your teams and see how they're struggling with the transformation. That's been, I think the biggest thing for me as a project manager, for sure.

Unknown Speaker
And I think another sort of reason why agile can fail teams is the expectation of knowing what the end is and how every step is going to come into play before you even start. I know that, you know, as you mentioned, being a leader on an agile team, you try and like okay, this is not about raw. This is not about titles, this is about roles and coming together. But when questions arise, they're still looking for the answer or for a very clear path and so you know, practicing that Empathy to help. Like, actually, the question that you you're asking me is your direction, right? Like, I think if you apply like that thinking that's making you ask that question, you can actually find your own path because you, you will naturally see that what you're asking is really a risk mitigation is really a chance to think through what the next step should be. And you might be the best person to figure that out before I come and tell you what to do and prescribe to you the best way forward. And so I'm also learning how to be a leader that empathizes in a in an agile team, without always feeling like I have to have the answer, even if I know the answer, right, but not prescribing something that may create a stumbling block or become an impediment down the path.

Unknown Speaker
Yeah, and with that, too, like if you're if you're someone who's never been in a position of leadership before, and has never had to take full ownership of even a deliverable because your organization has been so top down. It's really scary to to kind of step up and say, you know, I'm going to own this, and I'm going to make decisions on it, even if it's small, like, even if it's, it's not something that's going to make a huge impact. But it's really scary to kind of step up and say, You know what, I think I can do this. I think I know what's best. So let me give it a shot. That's really scary.

Jeff Ma
That's a great perspective to add. Because that's, that's why these things take years for companies to get through. Because even when you get the mindsets of the elite, let's say you get perfect mindsets across all your leadership. It doesn't change the fact that everyone's scared, you know, out of their minds to make decisions when they never had to before and it takes iterations of people making mistakes. And seeing that it's okay, and being having leaders focus on the learnings and not the failures. They have to see that experience it really trust that it's a real thing and move on in order to build that agile muscle and that just does not Come through force, right? Like, I think that's a great, great point you just made their value.

Unknown Speaker
So Jeff, I think it's, it's ultimately coming down to how you look at agile and their frameworks like Scrum as a, as a process and implement the processes are we going to focus on being agile, which is clearly about the mindsets and behaviors. And so I think it's important that we also talk about why some organizations fail in Agile is because they make it all about the process and tools like our JIRA, we're using Confluence are we are we following the step by step process of the ceremonies. And if they get stuck into the process and the tools and forget about the people and the interactions, individuals and interactions and the behaviors around it, you're more than likely going to be doing agile but it's not going to garner you the benefits of being agile.

Jeff Ma
I love I love you know I really feel for Maggie's position because we've seen this play out where the top down does a little bit of googling or research or gets hurt, knowing a word that agile is the way to go. And so they go, Well, there it is. It's all laid out in black and white, how to do agile and they they pass it down to the next layer leadership, especially in large organizations. Let's do agile. And then that layer goes All right, everybody beneath me, let's do agile and you reach this point where that that middle kind of management or leadership, you'll always find that pressure point where everyone above them is working top down and expecting not to be part of this transformation. It's like you guys down there, take care of this get agile. And everyone beneath them is like, okay, we get it. This makes sense. And we're trying but when they make mistakes, everyone above them is like, why are we failing? I thought we were doing agile. I thought we're supposed to have figured this out. And it's so interesting to see that when you go back to, you know the manifests Those, and the documentation that really really defines what agile Scrum all these things are they everyone kind of skims over the very first page, which is that these are always founded in what they call values or principles. And what they're saying is culture. What they're saying is that your mindset comes first none as other stuff matters, if you're not thinking about this the right way, so compelling feel for that middlemen management layer that has to balance that.

Unknown Speaker
Yeah, I totally agree. And I agree with you, Jeff, that it ties, ultimately down to culture. If you're looking to have an agile transformation rollout inside of your organization, you cannot be successful with that strategic initiative unless your culture is in the right place. And as you know, we've spoken about this in multiple episodes. it all ties down to behaviors, individual behaviors ladder up to the culture, and if you don't have the right culture in place, your agile transformation is more than likely going to fail.

Jeff Ma
Go ahead. Sorry,

Unknown Speaker
I was just gonna say if I didn't trust the three of you guys and the other leaders that were pouring into me, it would be really hard for me to turn around and say in earnest, you know, the things that my team needs to hear in order to transform themselves. Now we just come across as disingenuous. And it wouldn't it wouldn't work. So I commend the leaders that soft way because they they kind of they walk the talk, I guess, is what I'm trying to say. They're not just telling us to go do they, they're teaching us and coaching us and that's been it's been helpful for sure.

Jeff Ma
Thanks. Yeah, I think we're tying it or kind of already moving into this territory. But every episode I like to tie back to love with what we've already kind of walked on this path but let's make it official. What's, what's the time to love? what's the takeaway for the listener here? on when it comes to agile? transformation, that connection to love.

Unknown Speaker
Who wants to crack at it? I

Unknown Speaker
like most things really eager. So I don't want to get in the way of that.

Unknown Speaker
So I just want one Chris stardust. Oh,

Unknown Speaker
yeah, go ahead, Chris.

Unknown Speaker
It's like, are you sure why I don't want you to come after me later. Oh, no, we don't do that in an agile company. There's no

Unknown Speaker
no. So I think, for me the biggest, my biggest takeaway when it comes to agile and sort of thinking about it from a love angle, is that when you really understand what an agile team does with each other and how they operate, like there is no way you are successful without the components of love, right? Like you truly are in a loving environment when you're operating an agile whether that be hearing tough love, which comes in the form of you know, quality, critical feedback, or it's that support that you get when you're struggling or falling behind or can't figure something out. And you know, you have a team of people that are they With you, to help you to figure it out to drop what they're doing right? Like, you never feel if you're truly in an agile team alone. You never feel excluded. You never feel like you know, your silence is the only way to get along, so to speak. You really are in a loving environment.

Jeff Ma
Yeah. You actually set it really, really. I like waiting for Mohammed's big thing and you nailed it. They, I, I've always said, Show me a truly high performing agile team and I'll show you love being practiced. Like that's, like it's just this weird thing that people don't connect all the time. But it's true. Those really high performing agile teams. There's just a real love in the air for them for each other.

Unknown Speaker
And I think the other like just critical ingredient that you also see in a truly high functioning and high performing agile team is levity it's not all the serious work where you're just you know, doing rocket science and like you know, heads down. There's you know, I mean, like, You're laughing, you're joking, you're teasing each other, you're throwing shade at each other, right? You're you're experiencing, you know what it means to really sort of have all those levels touched when it comes to, you know, the jokes and the laughter all the way down to the critical, tough love that helps the team get better as as you know, a performing unit.

Jeff Ma
That's great. And so how about this? So for so for leaders that are listening, Mo, from your perspective, what advice or what's the takeaway you'd give you want them to take away from this specifically?

Unknown Speaker
Sure. So from a leader standpoint,

Unknown Speaker
everything that Chris said, it's still applicable right? The components of love as a leader, you also have to be able to demonstrate that towards the teams that you are leading. And for that the best way to lead with love is to become a servant leader. Very servant. Leadership is about putting the needs of 15 before yours and your job is to remove their impediments and issues and problems. So, as a leader, the best thing you can do is get out of the way of getting your team think of agile, you, you are more than likely the biggest obstacle in the Agile transformation. And not only do you get out of the way, but you also help empower your team by providing them the support and the necessary guidance and giving them the resources to be able to be successful in their agile transformation. And by virtue of that you're being a servant leader. And that is something that I would advise all leaders to consider.

Jeff Ma
And Maggie from, I guess, the perspective of, I guess, kind of middle management, or just people who are caught between worlds. Do you have any thoughts on love and the takeaway here?

Unknown Speaker
Yeah, I think

Unknown Speaker
I think it comes down to a lot of trust. Like if you trust your team, to me, that's a big component of it. is trust and so if you can trust your team, that they're gonna do what it takes to get an outcome achieved, that team is going to be successful and what that practically looks like what that trust practically looks like is a lot of times you know, asking someone to step in, if if you get sick that happened this week with one of my teams, someone got sick and so someone else on the team was like, You know what, I'll take her stuff off her plate, so she can take a rest day and not have to worry about it. Or, you know, team members moving meetings around because other team members have kids at home. Like that's, that's a big piece of being able to trust your teams in order to in thinking about your team's needs, like most said before your own, because if you are if you're being selfish, you can't jive with a team, like you just can't put yourself first. You can only achieve those outcomes if you are working as a unit as a team. So I think trust me is a big one for me and unselfishness. So selflessness or servant leadership are to two major ones. Nice. Yeah, love is never selfish, right? By definition. So it's actually really, really pointed.

Jeff Ma
Awesome. So in closing, you know, agile transformation is a topic but as you can see, there's just so much to talk about when it comes to the role that culture plays. understated by many and we know we've seen it we have a lot more to say on it I foresee future topics and episodes further diving into like how this actually plays out. But for the time being, thank you guys for joining me. As always, it was a pleasure for our listeners out there. We love the feedback. Every Friday we post these these episodes and we we'd love to hear what you'd like to talk about any feedback you have software comm slash labs l abs and if You like what you heard today. It would be really helpful if you left us a review or subscription on Apple podcasts and make a big difference. So, with that, we'll see you all next week.

Transcribed by https://otter.ai

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