We wanted to publish this article to assist with employees who are in an Agile Transformation, to understand how to navigate the change successfully. We have worked with thousands of people in hundreds of teams, and see it happen a lot.
So, this article is for you – the employee.
Not for the leadership team implementing change. They will hopefully have benefited from understanding about ‘employee-centric transformations’ and already have structures in place to support you.
Agile transformations can be difficult for team members impacted by the change. Transformations can bring about uncertainty for people who usually have control. Agile transformations require a change in behaviour and mindset for team members, and this can bring about unexpected challenges for some. Change at scale can be particularly hard.
BCG stated in an article in 2019, “One factor we have observed is that as companies strive to increase the speed with which they generate and implement solutions, they tend to overlook a critical limit on their transformation efforts: the speed at which employees can absorb and internalise change.”
While some employees will thrive in this environment, many will not. Change can be hard, it is usually full of uncertainty and everyone will have different challenges and ways of approaching them. If you know someone, or perhaps you yourself are struggling with the change, it’s certain there will be others who feel the same and people do want to help.
BCG says that an ‘employee-centric transformation’ will have a far greater chance of succeeding.
Workplaces and leaders that approach a struggling team member the right way, will always have far better results with their Agile transformation in the long term.
IT’S OK TO FEEL THAT WAY
Firstly, understand that it’s 100% okay to feel that way! It can be a significant change. In an ideal workplace, there is psychological safety to speak up to their team, coach or Product Owner. (Later in this article we will go through the list of people we recommend you reach out to.)
In our The Backlog podcast episode with Frank Kazas (Product Director with Hyatt Hotels Digital Team), he describes the need for “creating a safe space to test and learn”, and discusses the importance of psychological safety.
Fiona Royall is a senior consultant in Australia. She says, “Talking to someone about it helps if you have that safe space. Learn from what others are doing in the business and beyond. Look at those who are being successful and reflect on why, what, and how, to see if there are elements you can pick up and learn from.”
If you have a struggling team member who looks to you for solutions, one of the best ways we recommend is start with showing empathy. Look to understand the reasons behind the struggle.
Andy Koh, a project lead from our Singapore office gives this advice, “Suggest going for a coffee or tea break away from the usual office working environment. Doing this will help the team member feel more relaxed, plus the walk can be calming.”
“Once some trust has been built up, whether from the first or subsequent regular breaks, ask about the problems that the team member is facing,” Andy says.
Sometimes it can help just to have someone to offload to. After gaining a better understanding of problems, options can then be explored to help alleviate the situation.
FOCUS ON THE WHY
Don’t sweat the ceremonies. There are no extra points for style or adherence to any particular technique. Ray Freeman, our project lead in LA says, “Focus on the why. If your why is because you need greater transparency and visibility, then make sharing a priority and create an environment where sharing is easy to do.”
Mina Gurgis, senior consultant in Sydney agrees. He suggests, “Ask “Why” the agile transformation is needed. When we lose sight of the purpose, we struggle with ‘how’ and ‘what’ is happening.
Rest assured, any change is difficult for everyone as they navigate through the unknown to get to the destination. When we buy into the “why”, we’re able to find our way around the struggles better,” Mina says.
KEEP THE END GOAL IN MIND
Once we focus on, and understand the ‘why,’ we then recommend keeping the end goal in mind. Understand that the result trying to be achieved is worth pushing through the struggles now.
Karen Chan, our senior consultant in Canada says, “Changing how we work is hard, but once we figure out and adapt to the new way of working, we’ll be more productive and happier because we’ll be doing more value-added and satisfying work. Transformation isn’t just about changing how to work, it’s about changing to a better way to work.”
COMMUNICATION IS KEY
“Communication is key,” says Benny Ko, consultant in Melbourne. He says, “Ask your agile coach or scrum master for help, don’t be afraid to ask for help. Talk about having ‘introduction to agile’ sessions for example.”
Steve Walton, principal in Australia says, “My advice for anyone struggling is to talk to someone to let them know that things are hard for you. They may not know.”
If you are struggling with an agile transformation going on in your organisation, who you talk to will depend on the relationship you have with them.
Assuming you can talk openly and safely, we have created this small guide on who can reach out to.
Can any of these people help?
- Your line manager – they hopefully know you and can help you reflect on what they see is happening
- Your team – they are on the same journey. They may be experiencing the same impacts. So, together you are more likely to come up with ways to make it better
- Agile coach – coaches want to understand what is going on. Where coaches are from outside the organisation, they may be able to provide you with advice. For example, on how people in other organisations deal with your issues
- A senior manager – there are many ways to raise an issue with a senior manager. It could be a question in a forum or in a “townhall meeting”, you may reach out directly. Be aware that these people are busy. So have a good idea what you want and expect to happen in raising your struggle with them – be realistic in approaching them
- Employee Assistance Program (EAP) – most organisations have access to an employee assistance program. If you are unsure, your HR team will direct you. This is a great way to talk through what you are experiencing and feeling with someone separate to your workplace and family. This is a very private way to talk through where you are at and help work out what you want.