"Agile Transformation with an Agile Process"
Case Study - Solution focused work evolution
Jan 10, 2021
Introduced by Maurice (Mo) Hagar
There is much to commend this case study. While the COVID crisis has proven a setback for some, forward-thinking companies like Invitech understand that such crises create opportunities for both Solution Focus (SF) and Agile. As well, Invitech demonstrates the synergies between SF and Agile, of which even forward-thinking companies often fail to take advantage.
As shown here, Invitech’s blended approach addresses and mitigates some of the challenges that organisations often face when pursuing Agile “transformation.” It is worth noting in this case study that:
- SF is resource, not deficit oriented. With SF, practitioners seek and amplify useful change and positive difference, versus the Agile bias for root-cause analysis and fixing what’s not working.
- SF pursues a bottom-up, shared, “preferred future” – as in the early days of Agile – versus the top-down, imposed future of many Agile transformations today.
- SF considers clients the experts, minimises consultant interventions and treats each case as different, versus so many Agile consultants “trying to copy-paste someone else’s business and operation models.”
- SF is “focused on the people” versus Agile’s focus on processes and tools – a shocking violation of Agile’s first and most important value.
The only thing I would add is in response to management’s lack of support. As Invitech continues to build on their success, they will eventually need management’s support to sustain and scale it. The seeds “already growing and flourishing visibly” will open the door for that SF conversation. And both the SF and the Agile communities will learn and benefit from Invitech’s continued progress.
This year has shown us already that long term plans and the customs of how we used to do things are not the most secure parts of our business to hold on to anymore. The crisis period was and probably will continue to be a time of intense adaptation on a personal and business level for all of us. A time to rethink what we are going to do and how we are going to do it - that is Organisation Development and Design (ODD).
In relatively predictable times, ODD interventions were guided mainly by external consultancy firms with six to eighteen-month projects. Starting with a long and thorough diagnosis, then new plans; from changing the operation model and organisations charts, all the way to redefining culture.
We live in a time when constant and fast adaptation is necessary for businesses to survive, so these traditional approaches are too slow to deliver results. Shorter and quicker impact ODD interventions become more and more essential, in line with new organisational frameworks for adaptability and agility. We believe that Solution Focused Work Evolution should become a competency of companies, and when supported by external consultants, it should still be short duration and high impact.
In our work with our clients, we have experienced how efficient the Solution Focused approach is in speeding up the process - and we relate here a case example of how a company decided to transform into new ways of working without:
- Trying to copy-paste someone else’s business and operation models
- Embarking on a long and lengthy project.
Invitech is one of Hungary’s leading telecommunications and ICT solutions providers with over 600 employees and with a customer base of over 6000 businesses. The internal IT department of Invitech has kicked off and speeded up its Agile Transformation during the COVID crisis.
The three leads in the project held a project Retrospective. György Pászty, IT Director of Invitech,
- Zsuzsanna Papp, Project Manager of the iCRM project at the beginning of the process, and with
- Elvira Kalmár, (Go Beyond Project) who supported the transformation as a final reflection, a Retrospective to our work together
They discussed the following questions:
- What did Invitech do differently?
- What is possible to achieve in just three months?
- How was this achieved?
What makes the Agile Transformation of Invitech different?
Zsuzsi Papp: This is a transformation, that a small circle of people on the IT Directorate, supported by the Head of Internal IT, György Pászty, started. We appointed an Expedition Team, one that has already been experimenting with some agile practices and who work on the continuous improvement of the CRM system of Invitech. We could describe the management attitude to the initiative as neutral. They were not against it, but they did not support us by backing it either. However, they allowed us to experiment and innovate. And with that, we got most of what we needed, as I believe agility is innovation. We had the opportunity to plant the seeds of agility. Though we are still on the road, the Expeditor Team went through such a development that we can say the planted seeds are already growing and flourishing visibly.
Elvira Kalmár: On our first meeting, it became evident that all three of us believe in bottom-up initiated agile transformations and the impact these have. If it works, it will spread; only to where it is needed and only to the extent it is required by the business needs.
György Pászty: When we embarked on this process, we did not know precisely how, but we wanted a transformation that focused on the people and helped to bring out their potential. The team was delivering outcomes before this transformation, but we all felt there must be a better way to do this; we just had no idea how that process would look exactly.
Why did you decide to work with Elvira and not with one of the larger consultancy companies?
Zsuzsi Papp: Together with György, we both believe in learning by doing. We see that training is useful, but to take the team on the Agile journey we were looking for support. Someone who could join us in the early steps, help us develop “Agile ways” we owned, and support us to get on this journey fast. Besides the usual procurement criteria (flexibility, professional background, references, wide range of expertise and experience) it was vital for us to have someone who does not want to implement something that worked well somewhere else. Because in an Agile transformation, no one recipe fits all; what worked somewhere else might be the road to failure at us. We were looking for a supporter who shares our beliefs that successful Agile transformations can start small.
György Pászty: We wanted to focus on our colleagues and their way of thinking and acting, so we were looking for someone who prefers to and knows how to work with the people, not just the methodology. In Elvira, we have found this combination.
What were the business needs and expectations when you started?
Zsuzsi Papp: The iCRM was a project bleeding from many wounds:
Delivery and releases were ad-hoc and slow due to the ever-changing business needs
It was not transparent for the business, on what projects the team was working
The Project Backlog was ever-growing and our time to react was way slower than people expected
We did not have the capacity to adapt quickly to changing business requirements.
There was also a lack of trust from the business towards the team when we started the transformation.
You had a key role in this process Zsuzsi; what were your experiences and difficulties?
Zsuzsi Papp: I was more than happy to take a lead role in our Agile Transformation, that brought way more things to us then we could imagine at the beginning of the process. As a person, (including personal and professional growth), a team and an organisation, the development exceeds all our expectations.
It also meant we had to face a lot more challenges during this time. For me, the biggest challenge was to support my mindset change and that of my team. I was the Project Manager at the Expeditor Team. From the beginning of the project, we used Agile elements and practices - like Product Backlog, daily stand up meetings, Kanban boards to visualise progress. Even so, we were not Agile like other teams and organisations, where you introduce them, they have done Agile, and then they relax. The change in our way of thinking did not happen immediately; we were not thinking Agile.
To change the mindset of the team, I had to be able to change mine first, radically. I had to switch from a classic project manager function, to step back, support the team and its self-organisation. I had to create a working environment that empowered and motivated them indirectly to take responsibility as a team for their work so that we could reach the goals we set together with the business.
Sometimes it meant clenching my teeth and letting the team make a mistake so they can learn from it. To support the team, I had been supporting and reinforcing them in their individual and team reflections in retrospectives. Individual and team performance very soon exceeded what I could achieve from them earlier with my command and control leadership style.
The scepticism of the organisation was a great challenge for me to overcome too. In the beginning, they did not believe in the direction of this change or that it could fulfil the performance promises we made to them.
We had to prove that this is not just a trendy thing to ‘go Agile’. We earned the trust and respect of the Business units and developed their commitment and satisfaction in only a few months, by:
Improving the transparency of our work
Adapting to the changing business needs
Delivering regularly on time
They now look at IT, not as a reactive service delivery unit but as a proactive supporting partner of the business.
So, what has become better in the company due to this transformation?
Zsuzsi Papp: Let’s use the feedback of the business unit representatives. This is the list of improvements Veronika Ódor, and Csaba Ilosvay noticed after the three months:
Faster reaction time
For the new requests during the COVID19 quarantine, we did not have to wait for months. We received the solutions very quickly without turning the agreed releases upside down.
User-friendly release of improvements
Every month the users receive a new feature or function, and the change is only as significant as they can get used to in a month before the next new function comes.
Because of the length of the sprints and exact delivery dates, we plan better, and because of this, delay rarely occurs.
We have a continuous feeling of things improving, so the participants from the business side are more motivated to work on the specifications, as they are sure it is time well invested. They know when specifications will turn into reality.
We collect and prioritise the business requirements together, so we are all aware of what is it that we want from IT. It is transparent to everyone why we prioritised them; to ensure business improvement and continuity and not to fulfil individual needs.
The PM and the business analysts are coordinating everything from the request, all the way to supporting users in using the new functions.
Leading by example
Keeping to the deadlines and releasing the agreed functions built the trust of the business units and their involvement in the process.
A robust IT department, confident of delivering, is a better partner than one always being behind schedule. The IT staff’s evident pride and the satisfaction of the business have both supported the overall mood and feeling of progress.
There is humour again- we missed it so much.
Zsuzsi Papp: There is one more great benefit besides all of these; we have managed to develop a motivated and experienced team, who can support agility to spread in the company. As Elvira many times told us, now without the support of the consultant, the Expedition Team Members can assist others in their journey of agility.
György Pászty: I agree. What makes me the happiest besides the business and performance benefits is the change I have noticed in the way of thinking of my colleagues. I have seen a significant difference in the Project Manager, the IT business analyst, the head developer and the development team members. They have discovered the potential in this new way of working and have become eager to develop it further by themselves. So self-organising of our team has started.
What makes this transformation different?
Elvira Kalmár: We have used the tools and techniques of Solution Focused Organisation Development and Design to catalyse the evolution of the company. With this approach, we minimalised the consultant’s presence and interventions with the company, while we maximised the impact and the handling of the necessary approaches, skills and tools.
This way, the organisation learns on-the-job and develops its competencies (without training) while doing the transformation and is prepared to spread the knowledge further without the support of the consultant.
With this approach, we start the work differently; we do not invest time and effort into diagnosis or figuring out the problems. Instead, we begin with defining and describing the result, the ‘preferred future’ in a very detailed way. In our case, this was:
- The CRM team to accept and fully embrace agility,
- Continue the CRM system development in an agile and self-managing way, so that
- By August there is no more need for a project manager,
- There is a visible and acknowledged successful delivery by the business, as well as raising the interest of other IT teams and the business towards the Agile way of working.
The other distinguishing sign of this approach is that we build on what works well already from the preferred future. In our case, this was the self-motivation and belief of the project manager in agility, her credentials as a solid project manager, the already used sprint planning and business prioritisation methods.
We did not plan upfront about how we are going to bridge the gap. Instead, we tried to identify the first most important steps that can take us closer to the Preferred Future. We did not plan the whole process and series of interventions, but we followed the monthly sprint lengths and defined at the end of each sprint where it would be most impactful to support the team in its evolution, building on its past development.
In the evolutionary approach, there is a massive emphasis on the team’s and the organisation’s capability to self-reflect and learn, to create the necessary environment for Retrospectives. On Retrospectives, we look back at the delivery, and this is the place where the team, based on their reflections, can suggest new and better ways to work together and make new agreements. Valid ones that people keep from the moment they make them. Keeping to agreements means there is no need for Change Management.
In this case, the role of the Project Manager (in other cases, this could be a team leader or someone else) was crucial, as her role was to support the team on this journey. First, she had to get closer and became part of the team before she could start stepping back, step-by-step.
We supported her process by coaching, mentoring and shadowing. The team only met the consultant twice, when Elvira facilitated the two Retrospectives, and for a month she was there in the background for the weekly meetings and Retrospective, shadowing and supporting the project manager. Almost right after the first Retrospective, the whole operation moved online due to COVID19. Online working has not slowed down the process at all.
The Intervention in Numbers:
- Three months (March-April-May 2020)
- Consultants involvement:
- Two Retrospective facilitations
- Four-weekly progress meeting and 1 Retrospective shadowing
- One best practice sharing workshop facilitation, together with another IT team
- Eight hours of coaching/mentoring for the Project Manager
- Planning the work (best hopes), evaluation of progress and planning the next steps with the PM and the Head of IT: four hours.
How did you notice that you do not need the consultant anymore?
Zsuzsi Papp: I would rather say what signs I have noticed regarding the team development that made me confident we are in a good way:
- The team has reached a level where they are interested in and drive their learning process themselves
- I could back out from my PM role almost entirely as the team took complete responsibility for the functions of goal setting, planning, task allocation and progress reviews. In this, of course, every member of the team played a huge role, especially the business analyst and the head developer
- Due to the strengthening tendency of self-organisation, the team cohesion has become incredibly strong- seeing that that gives great satisfaction and pleasure. The shared goals are important for everyone, and the team is ready to focus its attention and efforts on delivering them
- In Retrospectives, the team focuses on finding solutions to their problems and use these events as a space for team-level learning. We have almost run out of the things to stop doing, having moved almost everything over into the continuous category. We have found *our* Agile way.
Elvira Kalmár: The team has improved incredibly during these three months. The best signs of this were how they were becoming more and more honest and transparent in evaluating what they did and how they worked together.
For the 2nd Retrospective, they arrived with already prepared suggestions about what they would like to try to do differently and with what they might experiment. The team took over the Retrospectives from the PM more frequently; with time, they were ready to take over and share between themselves the role the PM fulfilled. She could become a mentor to them in their new positions.
What also made me confident that Zsuzsi will be an excellent person to support the others is that I heard more and more in our mentoring sessions how she used the tools and knowledge with the team that I used and shared with her earlier. She has indeed grown in front of my eyes from an excellent PM into an outstanding internal Agile Champion, who is well equipped to support others on their journey.
Last but not least, the clearest sign for me that we have reached the goals of our joint journey was when Zsuzsi stopped bringing topics into her mentoring sessions about the CRM team. Instead, she started to talk about the challenges she has now as the new project lead of the company’s most significant programme and how she could bring agility into it when it is about more than software development.
György Pászty: On my side, our joint work on this transformation has exceeded all of my expectations. Being part of it was very, very interesting and full of insights and learnings that I am sure we will benefit from in future, in ways we cannot even foresee yet.