In October 2020, we—along with Conservatoire National des Arts et Métiers—hosted four thought leaders in an online panel about leading Agile transformations.
Agile has proven its ability to increase productivity and add value in a variety of developmental activities. However, one of the key challenges is scaling Agile from the team to the enterprise level. Our panelists provided guidance on how to do just that.
Edward Hieatt, Senior Vice President in VMware's Tanzu Business Unit
Edward started his career as a software engineer at a Silicon Valley–based startup founded by former Disney executives. Soon after, Edward joined Pivotal Labs as a software engineer and eventually ran its business and customer success operation through acquisition by VMware in 2019. At VMware, Edward runs services and support in the Tanzu business unit.
Franck Laurencé, Client Director, Kainos, and Associate Professor, CNAM
Franck Laurencé has been an associate professor at CNAM for the past 12 years, where he teaches in the M.B.A. program. Franck has gained extensive experience in the fields of management, organization, human resources, information systems and financial accounting during the past 25 years.
Pat Reed, Agility Consultant, SoftEd and iHoriz, and Adjunct Professor at UC Berkeley
Pat has 40-plus years of experience in leveraging cutting-edge technology, delivery and project management methods to solve challenging business problems. Her experience encompasses 15 years as executive director at the Walt Disney Company and Walt Disney Pictures & Television; five years at Universal Studios Motion Picture Group; CIO at GameWorks; and leading delivery management services and the Agile transformation of global PMO as an executive at Gap Inc. for eight years. Pat co-founded iHoriz Inc. (Innovative Horizons) eight years ago.
Sam-Sak Som, Continental Europe Practice Lead at Kainos
Sam-Sak has more than 20 years of experience delivering technology and business solutions in various industries. He worked for PeopleSoft ERP and SCM software during his early career, then in finance and CRM transformations. Currently, he delivers global Workday transformations, a unified Cloud platform covering financial management, human capital management and analytics.
Jean-Michel Raicovitch, Professor and Chair of Marketing at CNAM and Co-President
After many years holding management positions at Accenture and Accor, Jean-Michel is now fully dedicated to educating the marketers of tomorrow and his marketing nonprofit association work.
Dr. Frederick T. Wehrle, Associate Dean for Academic Affairs at UC Berkeley Extension
At Berkeley, Frederick is developing fully integrated, trans-disciplinary programs that allow students and lifelong learners to acquire the specific skill set they need to succeed in their careers in the upcoming Fourth Industrial Revolution.
Why is Agile transformation so key for a corporation’s transformation?
Pat Reed: It’s critical because of the volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity that's challenging everyone. It's vital to recognize the benefit of Agile values and principles. It's particularly important that Agile leaders model behaviors that will set the team up and create an environment where
they can learn.
Accelerated learning is the key; it's about learning faster than the market is changing to stay ahead. Clarity of purpose is really important, and so is empirical-based learning that's been validated through real data coming from those experiments.
Franck Laurence: The best way to define Agile is to see what it brings in terms of efficiency to companies or to institutions. It means anything that brings companies to the creation of more value.
Becoming Agile is leveraging tools and requires additional components—such as understanding culture, understanding people—and ensuring that you not only take that technological piece, but also develop the other aspects of those value-added components to get to value creation.
Edward Hieatt: Thanks to the modern consumer-facing software companies in Silicon Valley, all of us as consumers are used to excellent experiences with software. We judge our service providers by the software that they expose to us. We think of them as their software, in fact. And those with better software experiences tend to win. Those companies that are taking on software as core to their business are seeing themselves separate from the competition.
What does it mean to be good at software? It's about being able to hypothesize on what your customer might want out of it and then test that it's working in incremental steps. If it's not, make adjustments. If it is, double down. Then have new creative ideas.
Becoming good at Agile for me simply means, how does one create an organization that can execute in that environment?
Franck: What I've seen in transforming organizations is that you also need to instill into the organization the adequate management, governance and necessity to streamline the decision-making process inside the company.
In other words, being Agile requires not only the transformation on how you cope with a change, but also on how you anticipate the ruling of your own organization and decide on the best ways to structure decision-making processes or reaction capacities within the company. It’s also about ensuring that the people who are conducting the change are able to do so. That is strongly influenced by some factors, like internal politics, regulations, culture.
Pat, is it that easy to transform a large organization?
It is impossible to transform a large organization. They have to transform themselves. But we can set them up for success.
I have had great success at helping very large organizations to transform by starting with their cultural mindset, the way they perceive change. Our brains crave certainty. We need to set up organizations so that every single individual sees this challenge as energizing.
Agility, especially large-scale transformation, needs to have everyone co-creating new behavior and new habits through actionable learnings. It takes action on everyone's part.
You have to start thinking of Agile as a solution to a business need.
These principles that you're describing, do they work across industries?
Edward: There's innovation to be done, no matter what industry you're in. Things change. Look at the auto industry. Why is Tesla the most valued company? In banking, it's all gone online.
There's also efficiencies to be gained. A lot of larger, successful institutions that aren't under pressure of disruption have become slow moving, less innovative, inefficient, expensive to do business.
You have to start thinking of Agile as a solution to a business need. What could we do better if we were able to do it? What are the business goals? What are the measurements we want to see move? What innovation do we want to accomplish? That changes the conversation. It gets everyone in the company excited. It starts to change the thought process of what can be done. Agile is then intended as a set of practices that accomplish that.
How to get there is often confused. The individuals in the trenches doing the work often have pent-up frustration because their friends at startups can do all this cool work and they're stuck with old systems and old technologies and old applications. They'd love to break out of this box, and they hear that kind of message from the CEO. “Yeah, I'm going to go and be rebellious and do whatever.” But, of course, that is a recipe for just pure chaos.
So the middle management is stuck being the bad folks. And this is what we often call the frozen-middle problem: What does it mean for a middle manager to be successful if the goal is innovation and ability to change? That success criteria for the middle manager is no longer about a fixed deliverable. It's about business goals at some finer-grain level than just increased profits. To give autonomy at the business level further down the chain and let people innovate within that business constraint is the new thing.
Pat: The balance of Edward's point is that accountability to achieve value or to learn. It's safe to fail if you didn't achieve the value you expected but you learned more by doing it and then you adapt. It's that autonomy plus accountability for learning and delivering with real value.
What is new that would allow us to reconcile fast change with the mindset and the change management approach we were talking about?
Sam-Sak Som: We have some cloud platforms that are more flexible, more Agile. My current work is to implement cloud platform solutions that cover finance, HR and planning. We can share much more data that is actionable and provide insights.
You need to instill that continuous change, fostering creativity and ideas.
How do I know I'm ready to actually start an Agile mindset?
Franck: First, you must have a very clear definition of where you want to be. “Five years down the road, we are going to deliver the best experience ever for the customer.”
Then depending on the objective, you need to break it down into small pieces. Because, once again, the complexity of transforming touches levels within an organization. Start small based on the objective you set, and see and measure the result.
And it won’t be 100-percent success. But at least learn from it. Plan, do, check, act. As soon as you have acted, restart planning and doing. You need to instill that continuous change, fostering creativity and ideas.