In our previous post, we covered how to get started with implementing virtual agility. This blog will focus on the first key principle of virtual agility in greater detail.
As organizations move to a new way of working that isolates each worker, everyone involved will need to adjust. Some will adjust better and more quickly than others. With any change like this, there will always be those who feel they have something to lose, and those who feel they have something to gain. Regardless of whether it’s real or imagined, these feelings have an impact.
Trust is particularly important when it comes to acknowledging the change. Actions, words, and behaviors that imply things like “I’m not sure that this will work,” or even worse, “I’m not sure you will be able to do this,” acknowledge the change, but in very unhealthy and distrustful ways. For example, don’t start to “virtually hover” over people by checking in with them excessively for status updates, or audit time charging applications or chat tools that often display a real-time notification that someone is at their computer.
Three Key Stages of Transition
In her work on The Twelve Failure Modes of Agile Transformation, Jean Tabaka talked about three key stages of transition. These stages are relevant to this discussion, because the move to virtual agility is a true transformation.
The three stages are:
Endings. People can find themselves disoriented and disenchanted. Guide them to let go of what they’ve believed about themselves and how they see themselves in their work environment.
The neutral zone. To move forward, accept the reality of what was and what may be. It’s like standing in the middle of the street. You can’t stay there forever, but you know you have to be there to get to the other side. Here is where you begin to craft a new reality.
The new beginning. You finish with a new beginning. How do you know you’re moving out of the neutral zone? You begin to gain greater clarity, and a sense of emerging engagement and dedication to success.
The stages will affect individuals, teams, and even the organization as a whole. It is important that everyone, especially leaders, be mindful of this and help their people navigate the new waters.
Don't Focus Too Much on Process and Structure
Another natural inclination during a time of rapid change is to focus too much on process and structure. Yes, the ways of working are changing, and as we will see in the other principles of virtual agility, it is important to make sure that these changes in process and structure are carefully and effectively documented and communicated. But don’t overdo it. Remember, it is the people who will ultimately determine the success or failure of this move.
The focus on process and structure are natural, because those are tangible things that someone can read and understand. As underlying anxieties about whether the person, team, or organization can continue to produce and deliver results, grasping at the tangible seems reassuring. We can touch it, rewrite it, reconstruct it. Dealing with the messy feelings of people is hard, but so important.
Bring people back into the equation by engaging them fully to understand and guide changes to process and structure. Give them a sense of impact and control. As Jean Tabaka said, “Transition must start with empathy: you must invite ideas that depart from the normal mode of creating and executing.”
Connect Work at all Levels of the Organization
One key is to help people establish a firm sense of “why” they are working in the first place. Why does the team or organization exist? This is alignment.
Mission statements and corporate values seem like a logical place to start, but a more effective way is to connect the day-to-day work all the way back to the value that it provides for customers. Work management tools will definitely help with this. Advanced tools can provides views that show the linkage of work from the user story level that individuals and teams deal with all the way up to the highest level strategies of the organization.
When people first see these types of views, they typically nod and say something like, “Alignment is very important!” But I wonder, do the teams and individuals really know how to do this? Do they actually do it? Do they have a visual representation that shows how the work they are being asked to do contributes directly to the value that the organization is providing to customers?
It feels like the answer is often “no.” They are usually heads down, working away on the user stories that have been committed for the latest sprint.
Remember to Come up for Air
In the new world of virtual agility, encouraging people to “come up for air” and see the big picture, and how it all aligns, is a powerful way to acknowledge the change. It helps people understand that even working apart, they are part of a greater whole that is important and worthwhile.
To recap, the virtual agility principle of acknowledging the change means that people should be considered first, before process and structure. It means that trust, empathy, and alignment should drive the transition to this new way of working. This will lead to a more successful adoption of virtual agility.
Ian McGinnis is an architect of agile solutions with over 30 years of experience in software development. At Rally, he serves as an Executive Advisor, working directly with Fortune 100 companies to help them adopt true business agility. Ian is passionate about helping organizations figure out how to make business agility work for them, so that they can put their customers first and meet their business objectives in this challenging and disruptive time
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