What is the most significant thing you have seen executive agility achieve?
In the past 12 months, I was working with an executive in an FMCG (Fast Moving Consumer Goods) company, and he was trying to plan double the work completed in 2021 for 2022.
From a capacity perspective, the executive didn’t anticipate that double the output would be a problem for the teams to deliver. The organization had money and so the executive believed that money could be thrown at the problem, and it would magically be solved.
An organization may have a great deal of money to throw at the challenge of scaling agile or simply doubling output from teams, but it isn’t that simple. There are a few challenges that you will encounter if you don’t have organizational agility in place.
In a traditional, command-and-control environment, you often have a team of senior managers or executives that make decisions, allocate resources, or provide approval for specific actions.
Sometimes, there are even committees that do that and often they only meet once a quarter.
If you double or triple the number of teams, you are increasing the volume of approvals, resources, and decision-making required from those decision-making units or committees. If they are already incapable of doing that efficiently and effectively with the teams you have in place, they are going to battle with double the workload and your delays will increase significantly.
That doesn’t just lead to frustration and loss of morale, it leads to low productivity and poor quality as people turn to shortcuts and workarounds to deliver despite the constraints.
In this particular engagement, there was a single person responsible for all the teams’ output and she was simply overwhelmed by the demands on her time, skills, and capabilities.
If you do have such a bottleneck, you often need to help others develop those capabilities and acquire those skills if you want to have more people signing off projects, approving budgets, and allocating resources for product development teams.
It requires a great deal of patience because the person teaching, coaching, and mentoring others is already overwhelmed and may not have the time available to invest in upskilling others.
In the team environments, the same thing occurs. If you have a high-performing team and want them to teach fledgling teams how to operate and perform at that level, it takes time, effort, and a great deal of patience for that to happen.
As with the executive teams, they may not even have time to teach others because the demands on production and delivery are so high.
So, if you don’t have the capability to train new executives and leadership teams to resolve those bottlenecks, and you don’t have the capability and patience to teach new teams how to become high-performing teams, you aren’t going to achieve your scaling objectives regardless of how much money you throw at it.
Executive agility in action.
The first glimpse I got of executive agility in action is when that executive – the one responsible for planning work in 2022 – accepted that the environment simply couldn’t scale at that time, and the most effective way to plan for 2022 was to, in fact, plan less work than was completed in 2021.
Why is this important?
Because scale is important to the organization, as is doing the most valuable work in the most valuable way, and so you need to plan slack into the system.
If everyone is working at 110% of their capacity, there isn’t room to grow and evolve. There isn’t room to take on opportunities that may create new customers or break into new markets.
There isn’t any slack to allow for great problem-solving, creativity, collaboration, and innovation.
Connecting strategy to execution
Sometimes, you have executives who dream up strategy that has no connection to reality. Has no connection to customer satisfaction and delight. It’s simply a strategy based on optimistic forecasts in a spreadsheet.
That can be tough for the people on the ground who produce the work.
Despite their best efforts and deepest commitment, they are failing on paper when compared to the strategic goals and objectives of the misguided executive, and it deeply impacts morale, capability, and the quality of products, services, and solutions that are being developed.
In practice, it is like throwing more cars onto a grid locked motorway and expecting that the traffic will flow smoother, faster, and more effectively. It simply can’t happen.
So, for me, that was a truly great moment when the executive planned less work for 2022 than was delivered in 2021 and demonstrated a willingness to practice executive agility and help grow the practices and behaviours that would allow capability and capacity to grow.
About John Coleman
John Coleman has deep experience and expertise working with executives, #leadership teams and product development teams to achieve increased #organizationalagility and create environments where creativity and collaboration produce high-performance teams.
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