Agile Culture: Impacts to the Organization

In previous blogs, we reviewed the implications of adopting an Agile Culture on management – learning to trust the teams, understanding the new aspects of teamwork and the reality of more transparency.  In this blog, we are going to address the impacts to the organizational structure.  Jim Highsmith, one of the original signers of the Agile Manifesto recognizes the evolution of organizations and has presented a webinar titled “Stop doing Agile.  Start being Agile.”

ChangeWhen we think about that phrase – to start being Agile – we have to dig deep into our culture and organization to truly examine how things currently are and how they ultimately should be.  What we typically find when we start coaching an organization is that they are open to fitting Agile into their existing structure.  But that isn’t enough.  There has to be a willingness to abandon the existing structure in favor of one that is truly Agile.  This is a much bigger shift and much harder to accomplish and in many cases (unfortunately) this is where Agile implementations are compromised.  Let’s look at some examples.

An Agile Review Process

When we talk about the review process, we are referring to appraisals or annual assessments of an employee’s performance. Perhaps today, we review every employee individually on their service anniversary date and the manager completes the review.

Okay, now we are Agile.  What needs to change in this process?

We could add 360 degree feedback, that is a start. 360 Feedback is an exercise where peers, subordinates and superiors provide feedback on a particular employee.  The feedback is often anonymous and is consolidated to create a more comprehensive picture of how this employee gets their work done.  If an organization is not incorporating 360 feedback already, this is definitely a step in the right direction, but that is really just adding an Agile component to an old work process.

If we want to be truly Agile in our thinking, maybe we need to change the weighting of the review components.  Could the success of the team be 75% of the review with individual performance only counting for 25%?  How would the organization digest a change like this?  Does 360 degree feedback come from the scrum team only?  Include the product owner?  Include internal stakeholders? Vendors? Customers?  Is there value in shifting the whole process to an annual event so feedback can be collected once, so it is easier on the feedback providers?

These are just some ideas to start the discussion.  Sit down with your HR department and brainstorm different alternatives.  I am certain that creative suggestions will result.  The bottom line is – Don’t figure out how to make your Agile work in your organization.  Figure out how to make your organization Agile.

The Agile Project Management Office (PMO)

Another great example is examining the Product Management Office (PMO).  In a command and control environment, the PMO calls the shots.  They ‘own’ the project plans and they hold people accountable to their deliverables.  This is very valuable work in a waterfall environment.

You can make the PMO be more agile by shifting the responsibility of tracking the development items from the project manager to the scrum process, but perhaps all other activities beyond development are still under the purview of the PMO. This is small, incremental progress and could be the correct first step, but again, this viewpoint is really asking Agile to fit within the current definition of the PMO.

Some Agile implementations go so far as to blow up the entire PMO.  All of their traditional responsibilities are spread to the Scrum team and Scrum Master.  This includes all tracking and reporting, risk management, resource considerations, etc.  If your Scrum team is competent and ‘mature’ in their understanding of Agile, they can take on these responsibilities easily and still maintain the appropriate communication and oversight required by the organization.

This is not to suggest that the members of the existing Project Management Office no longer have a place at the company.  The individuals in the PMO are typically highly skilled individuals with a great deal to offer.  The most common role that Project Managers assume is the role of Scrum Master and many can be quite good at it.  The challenge for project managers is to shift from being command and control to allowing the team to self-organize with a Scrum Master that serves the team.

Is this uncomfortable?

Does this notion, or any of the previous posts on trust, teamwork or transparency, make you uncomfortable?  If so, that is a great sign.  Agile is all about Inspecting and Adapting.  Hopefully this blog series is forcing some of you to inspect and maybe now you are thinking, “Hmmm, I really didn’t think this Agile thing is a big deal so perhaps I am holding back.”  Now it is time to Adapt.

If you need some help getting started, here are three things that you can start doing immediately:

  1. Trust the team.  Do not tell them what to do.  Let them display their intelligence and (much harder), let them fail.  It is the best and most effective way to learn.  Give them a hard problem to solve and then back away.  See what happens.
  2. Ask the team to be a team.  The next time they come to you with a problem or roadblock, instead of offering a solution, ask questions.  “How do you think the team could solve that issue?”  “Have to talked as a group about this situation?”  “Did you discuss this in your retrospective?”   It will only take one or two instances of you pushing the problem back on the team for them to figure out that they need to solve their own problems and you will support them.
  3. Let go of the details. Know that you cannot and should not know everything that is going on with the team.  Let go.  Pry those tedious details from your cold (hopefully not dead) hands.  Know who should have the answer and let them run with it.  Ask to be kept up to date as appropriate – which is not daily and not every time something changes.  You will know that you are progressing on this action if you get a question from your boss that you cannot answer – and you are okay with that.

I hope that this information has made you uncomfortable because that means that we are discussing the right stuff and sharpening ourselves to be better than we were yesterday.  Inspect and Adapt – and yes – that means we have to take a hard look at the organization as well.


To learn more, please reference the book Change, Inc.: An Agile Fable of Transformation available on

One Response to Agile Culture: Impacts to the Organization

  1. Kristin:
    The 3 bullet points in the summary truly echo the simple foundation of my leadership philosophy. See you around the office 🙂

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