I usually smile when I hear a statement like this: “Our culture is way too …” fill in the blank “Agile just won’t work here!”
Why do I smile? I find that people are typically referring to a common belief that in order to be “agile” an organization’s culture needs be one of “trust”. The belief is that an organization should trust its people to:
(1) make the right decisions, and
(2) do their best to deliver products and services that will make the business succeed.
All good stuff, very good in fact. But, good or not, its a really steep hill to climb for an organization’s culture to go from (a) low-trust: managing projects for performance against their time, cost and scope commitments while focusing on departmental efficiencies to (b) high-trust: self-managed delivery systems that act responsibly within the available time and budget.
As we see in HBR’s article on organizational culture “Culture is powerfully shaped by incentives”. As a result, we need to figure out how to (a) build trust, and (b) change the incentives. Doing this is actually fairly straight-forward if you are working with your business’ leadership and solving for their issues. What are their issues? In most organizations, their issues are how to make and meet commitments in a way that is within their defined budget.
Becoming agile isn’t about using this method or that method. It’s not even about trust. Its about creating a system that can respond to change in a way that creates safety for the business’ leadership by respecting their immediate needs. So, instead of trying to just go out and be agile, I think we need to start with a business need and find ways to meet it while creating safety for the individuals involved. We need to create a roadmap to go from point a to b.
Most business leaders are desperate for better ways to deliver against their commitments while having the ability to adapt their plans along the way when things change. Most leaders are absolutely thrilled to trust their people; but, remember, to establish the trust we have to be willing to first make and meet commitments in a way that shows them we can be trusted.