Transparency is critical for agility, but often the power of transparency is challenged by long-hold cultural norms. This article shares examples of the power of transparency and how it can be used to create breakthroughs in performance. Continue reading “The Power of Transparency”

Many organisations have adopted agile but how many ask the obvious question: What is the ROI on our investment in Agile and how will we measure it?

There are two ways I’d like to explore this topic: from the perspective of delivering an initiative (a product or project) with agile, and from the perspective of scaling this to an entire organisational (Enterprise Agility).

The ROI of Agile Delivery

fast agile

On a project or product level, the ROI on agile is without doubt orders of magnitude greater than traditional methods. There have been a number of studies, the most notable by the University of Maryland, all of which provide extremely compelling evidence.

The University of Maryland study found that agile projects were 20 times more productive, had five times better cost and quality and had a 7 times earlier breakeven point. Furthermore, agile projects had an 11 times greater ROI, 11 times higher NPV, and a 13 times higher ROA when expressed as a percentage.

This research has been backed up by several private studies.  Without doubt, the ROI on agile projects is compelling and an order of magnitude improvement over traditional methods.

The ROI of Enterprise Agility

Naturally, this has led companies to want to scale these benefits beyond single initiatives and reap the organisation-wide benefits. Who wouldn’t want significantly improved breakeven, ROI, time to market, quality and NPV – and the ability to change course as required!

At an organisational level, the ROI becomes harder to measure. This is because Enterprise Agility is about improving the entire system for all future outcomes, not just one specific project. In other words, this is a core infrastructure investment, and these types of investments take many years to pay off.

An investment in Enterprise Agility tends to yield the following benefits:

  • Customer engagement – putting the customer front and centre of our efforts and testing the validity of our assumptions by regularly releasing work and obtaining their feedback.
  • Better solutions – when complex problems are solved by interactive, cross-functional teams, the solutions tend to be more robust and of higher quality. This is because we have taken in many different perspectives on the problem – technical, sales, marketing, quality, commercial, operational, plus we have baked quality in from the outset and tested it every iteration.
  • Culture and engagementthe research on intrinsic motivation is compelling – when teams can shape the work and work in a self-directed way, engagement, creativity and productivity go through the roof.
  • Adaptability – the ability to continually adapt our strategic direction, based on evidence of what we see in front of us. Agile brings transparency and empirical data. We can use this focus on only what is important and limit having too much work in progress, thus creating the ability to pivot.
  • Value – When the above four benefits are combined, we can focus on only delivering what is of value to both the customer and our business. While this seems obvious, what is often overlooked is our ability to cull a significant number of features we assumed customers wanted. Research into feature usage shows customers often only use 25-50% of the features delivered. Imagine if you could cut your investment in features by 50%!
  • Reduced Total Cost of Ownership – TCO accounts for the lifetime cost of the product, including maintenance, enhancement, and support. In many cases, this accounts for 60-90% of TCO, making the development cost looking minimal. By only developing features customers care about, we can repurpose investment into more product places.
  • Market share – combining all the above effectively tends to result in increased market share and eventually market dominance if done well.

Clearly, these are all long-term investments in the infrastructure of our businesses, based on designing it for agility.

long term investment view

ROI on this sort of investment take years to measure, not months. But this doesn’t mean we shouldn’t measure it. On the contrary.

One useful approach for measuring the ROI of Agile is Evidence Based Management (EBM). Many organisations lose sight of the real goal of agile ways of working as they get stuck focusing on improving activities and outputs instead of business outcomes.  Agile is a means to an end, not the end itself! EBM helps prevent this by focusing on the value delivered to the organisation from an investment in agile. This enables organizations to make rational, fact-based decisions, elevating conversations from preferences and opinions to empirical evidence,  logic, and insight.

If you are interested in EBM, please contact me.

Otherwise, you may find the approach and the metrics as a useful way of considering how you are going to measure your Return on Investment in agile.

Good luck!

Forward thinking firms are realising that in order to thrive in a world of uncertainty they need to fundamentally rethink themselves beyond the tactical “doing” mindset (processes, frameworks and methodologies), to an adaptive mindset, based on a culture of collaboration and a team-centered approach to problem solving.

Culture, HR, intrinsic motivation & emotional EQ are converging with agile, servant leadership, the growth mindset & customer empathy to fundamentally reshape what it means to be a modern organisation.

The winners in the current climate are not just embracing modern technology; they are fundamentally redeveloping their core DNA in order to detect new opportunities. And this change is increasingly being led as a culture-first initiative.

Much of the work we are currently doing is less about responding to a particular crisis, rather it is more focused on creating new capabilities to enable our clients to continually adapt and respond to almost any situation. We call this agility. In practical terms, what does this involve?

From years of working at the coal face of adopting agile ways of working, we have learned that a holistic approach radically increases your chances of success. We therefore approach it as two interrelated pieces – Business Design and Transformation, with the overlap, validation, playing a vital role in road-testing the change.

Business Design

Business Design is about designing the business to help it best achieve its strategy. It is vital, yet in our experience many organisations skip this and leap straight into “implementing agile”. The result is a transformation with no real substance, no compelling call to action, no North Star. And firms wonder why so many transformations fail!

At Radically we take a very pragmatic view:

  • First, understand the core strategy. What space does the firm play in? What unique combination of drivers enable it to win in this space?
  • Design an Operating Model that will enable this strategy, empowering and aligning all the key business functions towards the same outcome.
  • Get explicitly clear on the target culture required to achieve this. What does it look and feel like? What will leaders do to role model this? How do we reward and recognise people demonstrating the desired behaviours?
  • Review and align the Organisational Structure to support the above. If our Operating Model is strongly agile based, then a different org structure is often required. What does this look like and what changes are required to get there?
  • Ways of Working – clearly design how we will approach our work. What work should be approached with an agile model? What work should be delivered by a traditional model? How will these interact? Who will do what? How will we measure success of this?
  • Funding & Governance – an agile enterprise tends to adopt an experimental mindset, delivering quick iterations of value that can be quickly tested with customers, resulting in continual course correction. Traditional funding and governance models tends to focus on adherence to a fixed plan. So how should a more modern funding and governance model work?
  • Leadership – given the above, what should our approach to leadership look like? How will we live the values as behaviours each and every day?

Sadly, most agile transformations we have seen in New Zealand completely fail to consider these fundamental building blocks. Instead, they tend to take an “agile practitioner” approach, focusing on frameworks, methodologies and processes. In our experience, these firms are unlikely to achieve their desired business outcomes.

Transformation

Transformation is the art of moving the business to the new model.

This is when the ‘people aspect’ of change truly kicks in. If you think about what we are actually transforming, it is people and people are the trickiest part to change; processes and models are relatively easy. The human shift must be designed with a human-centred approach. We find that by taking a leadership and mentoring approach, our job is to guide all levels through the change and build the capability and mindset within the staff to be self-sustaining into the future.

Validation

In our experience, no design is perfect. There is low value in trying to design a perfect design as no such thing exists, and secondly it will change as you implement it through transformation. Transformation validates design, yet transformation without design is folly.

In summary, we urge you to take a strategic focus when embracing agility. Are all the pieces of the firm aligned to the same vision, model and approach? Are we all completely clear why we are doing this and what outcomes we want to achieve? If you can’t answer yes to these foundational questions then it is time to re-think what you are doing.

Don’t “go agile”. Instead, design your business for agility, break the cycle of failed transformation and realise the true benefits from your investment.

“Leading is not the same as being the leader. Being the leader means you hold the highest rank, either by earning it, good fortune or navigating internal politics. Leading, however, means that others willingly follow you—not because they have to, not because they are paid to, but because they want to.” – Simon Sinek

If your employees were all volunteers, would they still follow you, or would they up and leave? The days of leading from position are long-gone – it’s not enough to have title, rank or authority as a platform to lead. As the battle for talent takes center stage in this digital age, leaders have to actively grow and intentionally practice their leadership skills if they are to thrive and succeed. A good test for this is to ask yourself, would your team follow you if they didn’t have to?

It goes without saying, that in order to be a leader, you have to have followers – A leader has followers if they truly believe that their leader has their best interests at heart. For this to happen, employees have to feel safe to be who they truly are. Then, and only then, will they trust, follow and fully throw themselves into their leader’s cause. This is true follower-ship.

With disruption in technology today, there is also an exponential rise of confusion within leaders, many of whom find it difficult to connect with a changing digital workforce. This culture can be impatient, fast paced, ever-changing, experimentation driven and information rich. While this could be mistaken as the millennial effect, a recent Forbes article which surveyed leading millennials, gives us an insight that regardless of generation and environment, common sense leadership principles prevailed.

The article captures four key principles to leading millennials:

  1. Empower your team
  2. Think long term
  3. Acknowledge what they do
  4. Treat them as individuals

What is interesting is that the principles above aren’t at all unique to the environment or types of employees being led. Distilled to its core, the type of leadership required in a digital organization is simply genuine leadership. Despite the changing times, the core skills of leadership have not changed. Employees will follow leaders who have their interests at heart, understand them as individuals and sometimes even make decisions at their cost.

What we see is a rise in employees who are hyper-sensitive to genuine leadership. We often hear employees don’t leave organizations, they leave managers. This couldn’t be more true. It is this that showcases the vital role genuine leadership plays when finding and retaining great talent, which can make or break your organization.

So what makes a Genuine Leader? Here are four characteristics to reflect on,

Genuine Leaders take time to understand the individual as a whole

So much of who we are, how we think and behave is shaped by our past experience and how we have grown up. A conversation I had with my CEO recently went like this:

“Hearing how you grew up in Singapore and the environment there, helped me understand how you make decisions and what you are influenced and shaped by”

It’s easy to fall into the trap of focusing on the tasks at hand, simply working through what needs to be done with employees. The problem with this is that when conflict arises, most of the time it’s due to individuals looking at a situation through different perspectives. Their perspectives are shaped by who they are, and we often don’t take time to understand those who we lead fully, in order to stand in their shoes and see their perspective.

How often have you been in the situation where you can’t seem to get through to someone and no matter how many times you try, they just don’t seem to be on the same page? In these situations, we can be tempted to resort to leading with authority out of frustration.

Take time to understand individuals as a whole – we expect them to bring their whole selves to work, so why not take the time to know them as a whole?

Genuine Leaders are front-stage and back-stage leaders

It’s easy to spot leaders who aren’t genuinely for the individuals in their team. In front of an audience, they say and do the right things, but behind the scenes when the individual isn’t there, their actions reflect different intentions.

Being a leader is not about prestige, nor should it be a status symbol – simply put, leadership is a choice, and that choice comes with a weight of responsibility. Individuals that follow you believe you will create a safe environment for them, and have a desire to add value to add to them. When leaders see their job at hand as a weighted burden, their perspective changes from “How can I get Bob to do what I want him to do”, to “How do I help Mary be the best she can be”.

When leaders adopt that kind of mindset, their actions naturally reflect that positive intent regardless whether they are in front of a stage, or whether they are working behind the scenes.

Genuine Leaders understand that people learn at their individual pace

Giving feedback is an important part of leadership. People should never be uncertain of how they are performing, good or bad. At General Electric a culture of candor was an important part of who they were, so much so that if you saw your manager in the bathroom, it would be normal to have a quick chat around performance and progress. It was not seen as a formal thing that happened once a year, rather something natural that represented who they are.

That said – giving effective feedback is a skill, and sometimes giving direct feedback too early can rob individuals from getting true value out it. In my time leading, I’ve found that the timing of giving feedback is just as important as giving the feedback itself. Sometimes the time-pressures of a day leads leaders into feeling that giving feedback is a task to tick off. Genuine leaders take time to understand the growth journey of an individual, and understand that individuals might not change immediately not because they don’t respect or want to listen to your feedback, but simply because change is hard!

This is where understanding the individual as a whole is so important – sometimes coaching over a longer period of time is much more effective, and you’ll find that when the individual realizes their blind spot, they end up “getting it”, being a bit embarrassed, and become exponentially more committed to real change.

Genuine Leaders give context, understanding that why is more important than what

I’ve seen leaders fixated on the “what” – a decision or outcome that they want their teams to buy into, and forgetting to communicate the “why”. When we are focused on the outcome, we tend to focus on the “what”, but when we focus on leading the individual, we take a more holistic view and focus on “why”.

This is why conversations are often more important than the actual outcome. Two leaders deliver the same message, with totally different responses – one with high-performers in their team feeling demotivated, and the other who created buy-in and support from employees. Whether it be policies, constraints to work within, or simply a difficult task at hand, genuine leaders who focus on leading the individual naturally focus on the “why” and not the “what”.

If you are leading from a place of authority of position, it’s likely you’re communicating “what” you want employees to do. The next time you are struggling to get buy-in, take a step back and reflect on the conversation. Try leading with “why” before giving direction and keep your focus on genuinely leading the individual.

In a time where more and more buzz words are being created to tackle the fast changing nature of adapting to a rise in being digital, it’s important for us to understand that leading in a digital culture isn’t all that digital.

Whilst new digital tools may aid us, nothing beats genuine, authentic and real leadership.