Chapter 7: Enterprise Agility – Collaboration as a key success factor

I would like to mention one of the main characteristics of an agile enterprise as I understand it, a characteristic that differentiates an agile enterprise from a traditional bureaucratic company: the radical culture of collaboration among the people within the company. Do not forget that companies are built by people, not by teams, departments, functional areas, etc.

A culture of collaboration implies breaking with some traditional behaviors promoted by old-school managers. I am going to mention just a few of them to provide you with some context:

  • Micromanagement: if you want a thing done well, do it yourself.
  • Hierarchy is law: ask for permission and validation for everything you do!
  • Protect what you know: sharing knowledge means losing power.
  • Tell the people what to do and how and when: “why” is too important for them.
  • Failure is a bad practice: it must be hidden and those responsible blamed.
  • Be aware of your own goals even if they are in conflict with the company’s goals.

Agility fights against all such previous behaviors and looks to create an open-source culture with the following characteristics:

  • The more you share, the more recognized you are.
  • People are empowered to talk with anybody in the company, regardless of who is their boss.
  • People’s goals are aligned throughout the entire organization, giving priority to global goals over individual goals.
  • Failure is part of the job and it is accepted as an opportunity to learn and share better ways of doing things.

It is well known that cultural change is the main challenge during agile transformation initiatives. However, resistance to change is an impediment to achieving anything that involves a movement from the current way of working/living to a new one. Therefore, when focusing on the collaboration between people that is essential to making any agile initiative a success, we should be patient with people and give them the time and support they need to adjust their current behaviors to the new ones.

There are several ways to face cultural change, but I prefer to make it happen as part of the daily activities, not force it as a goal in itself. Collaboration can be improved through sensitization workshops, team-building/team-growing activities, etc. However, in my opinion, all these initiatives are a waste of time/money and are quite frustrating for people if they don’t agree with a real collaboration approach to their daily activities.

I prefer a pragmatic approach, based on real assignments that have to be handled in a different way and that require open collaboration between individuals. People should be supported during the journey until they achieve success (or failure) at the end of the process when the pros and cons of the new way of working can be analyzed. When trying to work in this way, we need to analyze the delivery process – what teams/functional areas/departments are involved, how many decision makers are in the flow, what are the silos, what issues are related to a lack of communication/information, what are the individual and group goals of the people involved in the process, etc.

A tool that can help us to identify and gather all this information is Value Stream Mapping (VSM). I use it to build a value stream with all the people involved in the same room, and it is amazing to see how simply being together and sharing thoughts and concerns with the purpose of doing things better has an impact by itself, before anything is changed.

Anyway, not changing things is not the purpose of VSM. Rather, its purpose is to define the process and identify the people that add value to the product/service and those who do not, and in this way, empower them to make things work better. Sometimes, a change in the process can help, but the biggest changes will come once empowered people start to work together.

Chapter 1: Enterprise Agility – Agile 4 All
Chapter 2: Enterprise Agility – No value, no party
Chapter 3: Enterprise Agility – Finding and managing business process boundaries 
Chapter 4: Enterprise Agility – Help me help you!
Chapter 5: Enterprise Agility – Agile teams, those who make the things happen
Chapter 6: Enterprise Agility – Prioritization, taking an economic view