The Top 3 Challenges for Agile Adoption in Indonesia
Last week at our Agile Impact 2018 conference, I ran a workshop about the top challenges for adopting agile in Indonesia. I asked the participants to discuss a set of challenges I had printed on cards. There were some 20 cards and we had 6 teams doing the discussion. The interesting thing was that there was a unanimous consensus about the number 1 challenge: C level support. The second challenge: fear of failure. The third was blurry since every team came with a different challenge.
While I had expected the first, I hadn’t expected the second. I’ll start with explaining my own top 3 and will then discuss the 2 the teams came up with. My top 3:
I’ve written several articles about monkeys, so I won’t do that again here. The key idea of a monkey: they represent ‘responsibility’. Any project has goals we want to achieve. To achieve these goals, we need to take different actions. The ‘next action’ or ‘next step’ is the monkey. Now the main issue with monkeys is people don’t take them. First of all, people have difficulty coming up with their own goals. If we run a project in a team, we’re expecting the ‘leader’ of that team to set the goals. He should know what we need to achieve. Second, we also expect the leader to assign tasks to us. We have a hard time coming up with the actions we need to take. Ideally, the monkeys are assigned to us by the leader.
Now if we want to become an agile, self organized team (or company), we must address these monkeys. The spirit of our people needs to become one of ‘everyone is a leader’. We decide our own goals (aligned with those of the company or team). We decide our own monkeys. And we execute them by ourselves (as a team). Without that mindset, it’s very very hard to move towards agile, self-organized teams.
Bosses have an influence on Agile adoption in many ways. First of all, they must recognize the story about the monkey above. As a leader, I should become ‘servant’. I’m a coach and I help my people to find their own goals and assign their own monkeys. I stimulate responsibility and encourage people to execute and grow. As long as I keep assigning goals and monkeys, nobody in my team will become a monkey-mover.
Second, I need to recognize that people should do work for themselves, for their own growth; not for me. Now the bigger a leader’s ego and sense of status, the harder this is! It’s gratifying to be in a power position. We’ve worked hard to get there. Now we want to stay there. If someone higher up tells me we’re going agile and with that, we’ll destroy hierarchy and we’ll remove layers of management, where does that leave me? Essentially, by stimulating agile in my company, I’m in the longer term, removing or at least substantially changing my own role. That’s a problem for many.
Third, as the outcome of our workshop shows, agile transformations need C-level support. Without this, it is very hard to move. Ideally, the ‘agile sponsor’ is the CEO or one level down. In such position, blockers can be removed (for example rules and policies); conflicts between people can be resolved; energy can be poured into the transformation to keep it moving and to keep people moving. So we need the bosses to move things forward!
The larger a company becomes, the more rules, regulations and policies we create. In a way, we need them for specific purposes. But the issue is we tend to create more of them over time. We tend to create a new rule to ensure mistakes don’t keep happening and people are ‘controlled’. Most companies don’t have a committee to ‘kill rules’. And that’s a problem if we want to become more agile. In a factory-model, people execute small, specific tasks. Ideally, they do that following standard operating procedures. The more they stick to that, the easier it is to predict the outcomes. But in an environment where we want ‘creativity’, innovation and agility, these rules constrain us.
I am personally very sensitive to rules. Everywhere I go, I always wonder ‘why is this person doing this’. If it doesn’t make sense to me, I want to start breaking the rules. Most people don’t have that inclination. If we want to create agility, we need those rule breakers. We need people to question why we’re doing certain things, why we have certain procurement rules or standard operating procedures. And then we need them to discuss what we can change in order to stimulate agility.
Now the interesting outcome of my workshop is ‘fear of failure’. I do see this around me in Indonesia, but I believe it’s even deeper than meets the eye. Apparently, people are afraid to make errors, afraid to get ‘punished’ or maybe even ‘fired’. Looking at the reasons above, the main thing we need is: bosses supporting a ‘safe to fail’ environment. As leaders, we need to make sure that people get the confidence to experiment and make mistakes. Without mistakes, we don’t learn; if we don’t learn, we can never change the way our company operates and we won’t become agile. I have seen in many companies, that people are even afraid of starting a first agile pilot. People are afraid to ‘move the ball’, just moving a small thing forward so they can say ‘I did my job’ without really pushing agile forward. So what we need is a safe environment where we don’t punish people, but rather encourage them. And we need more heroes.
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