Was Da Vinci the first Agile coach?
Leonardo Da Vinci was a brilliant man and a keen observer. He focused a great deal on observing the natural world and even developed theories on the four powers of nature: Force, Weight, Movement, and Percussion. He also developed what he called his “Rule of Trees,” which states that the combined cross-section of all branches at a certain height was equal to the trunk or the cross-section of the branching point below it.
This theory held up for 500 years until it was disproven at a microscopic level this year. However, its basic premise was studied and applied in areas such as engineering, architecture, and biomechanics.
It has been theorized that trees grow in this manner to better withstand the forces of the wind and transport water from the base to the branches. This balance is crucial for the tree’s stability and longevity. Two famous structures, the Eifel Tower in Paris and the Willis Tower in Chicago, follow these principles and easily withstand the force of wind.
As organizations undertake agile transformations, they can draw powerful parallels to Da Vinci’s rule of trees. The “trunk” represents the core change management strategy crafted to guide teams and the organization through the transformation. The trunk also represents the amount of time and attention senior leaders give to the transformation effort and the size of the organization’s investment to ensure its success. The “branches” are the many portfolios/divisions/departments, products, teams, and people affected by the changes brought by the agile transformation.
For the transformation to have the stability and longevity to create lasting change, the change management plan, leadership engagement, and investment size should appropriately match the scale of the teams and people involved.
The transformation will be unstable when the trunk is too small relative to the branches it must support. A few of the ways this can be seen are:
- Leaders can move too far ahead as front-line teams struggle without the tools, training, and communication channels they need to adopt new agile ways of working.
- Teams and mid-level leaders can get the wrong understanding or expectation of the transformation without the right messaging.
- Undercurrents of dissatisfaction can work against change efforts in underinvested transformations since not enough experienced coaches are working at the team and product levels.
- Aggressive and passive resistors can undo months of work if leadership is not engaged, provide cover, and show support for the new agile ways of working.
- Common practices, policies, and standards are not created for teams to coalesce when Enterprise and senior-level coaches don’t have the time and support to establish a COE that would create and communicate such guiding principles.
To determine the right size of the trunk, leaders and Enterprise coaches should examine these four aspects of the transformation:
- The cross-sectional size of the agile effort, in other words, how many portfolios, products, teams, and people will be impacted.
- The desired speed and approach to the transformation. Can the coaches use a stable and steady rolling approach? Do they have the luxury of first building a foundation for the transformation with a proper strategic planning and readiness phase, or will they need to use a shotgun approach and bring agile everywhere all at once?
- Is there a needed focus at the portfolio level or heavy product coaching? Is funding, prioritization, or PMO practices in scope?
- The starting place and the vision of the end-state
As mentioned, a healthy trunk has the right investment, leadership engagement, and change management proportions. Below are a few ways organizations can build strength, stability, and longevity at the base of a transformation.
- Based on the size of the transformation, there need to be enough Enterprise and senior-level coaches to thoroughly support the effort. Consideration needs to be made to determine how many high-level coaches (Enterprise, Senior, STE), mid-level (program, portfolio, RTE), and lower-level (team coaches, senior Scrum Masters) are needed prior to the start of the transformation.
- The organization needs to prioritize the crucial beginning phase of the transformation so the coaches can establish a proper foundation. In this case, time is an investment, so coaches do not have to use a shotgun approach and start introducing too much change without underlying structure. The Strategic planning and readiness phase should represent about 20-30% of the overall transformation duration.
- Consideration of the proper application lifecycle management (ALM), collaboration, and continuous integration and deployment (CI/CD) tools, and supporting roles, such as Jira or ADO admins, Dev Ops engineers, technical coaches and SDETs.
- Dedicated resources rather than shared resources across several teams or products. Dedicated resources can carry more overall expense, and they may not always be utilized at 100% capacity for the one team they are aligned with, but this investment earns the organization speed and built-in quality, not to mention higher customer and employee satisfaction.
- Every transformation should be preceded by a warm introduction email, video, or mention in a town hall meeting by the CEO, CIO, or other similar high-ranking officer of the organization. People need to know that top brass is excited and fully endorses new agile ways of working. A huge red flag for any Enterprise coach is when senior leaders don’t feel they have the time for this or don’t see its importance.
- The overall transformation sponsor should include updates, exciting developments, and success stories in their updates to the organization. They should be the co-face of the transformation along with the Enterprise coach and be seen as a partner to the coaches. This conveys that the sponsor has the coaches’ back, is involved in the strategic decisions, and is vested in the transformation’s success and the longevity of the new ways of working.
- Leaders need to be actively involved in the guiding coalition of the overall transformation. This means they must prioritize it and consistently attend guiding coalition meetings. They should also make it a point to participate in other sessions and discussions led by the coaches, such as workshops and training sessions.
- Leaders should empower coaches in the COE and actively endorse new standards, policies, and ideas that come out of the COE.
- Every transformation should have its own change management swim lane; it’s that important. A full-time change practitioner should be considered depending on the organization’s size.
- A fully developed change management strategy should be one of the first things developed in the beginning phase of a transformation. This should not be rushed and needs to precede most other activities.
- If the transformation uses a rolling approach, with the identification of early adopters and viable pilot teams, the change management strategy should also employ a rolling approach. This means certain activities should happen at the organizational level, such as an introduction and endorsement from the CEO and other change management activities designed to introduce and activate the strategy for the early adopters and pilot teams.
At CC Pace, we carefully craft each transformation to ensure we have the right balance of trunk to branches. We have 20 years of experience designing agile transformations and leading agile coaching engagements. We have the experience to help your organization successfully change for the better. Across dozens of engagements, our clients have trusted us to bring change that has both stability and longevity.
Image Credit: British Library