Agile transformations are all about knowing what you are doing today and whether it aligns with your strategic goals — so you can respond to perishable opportunities in the marketplace. To do that, you need visibility.
Once an organization is aligned behind its vision for each Agile transformation, which is the first dimension of every successful agile transformation, visibility comes next. It is important to address these two dimensions in that order, because visibility without alignment may provide clarity into what the company is doing, but little insight into whether it is the right thing to do.
What Goes up, Must Come Down
As I discussed in my first blog in this series, visibility is most productive when it is bi-directional. In other words, the c-suite and leadership team should be able to easily track how objectives are progressing so they can understand how resources are being used, and step in when problems arise.
Conversely, project teams need clear visibility up through the organization to ensure the choices they are making align with the broader strategic vision — and whether changes in that vision affect the work that they choose to do. Achieving bi-directional visibility requires a culture of data-sharing and transparency where employees are rewarded for their efforts, and problem-solving is viewed as a joint activity to achieve common goals.
This may sound like common sense, but in Agile environments, it is not always the case. Agile teams are self-organized and self-directed, rapidly generating outputs with little time for oversight. The fewer people they have to answer to, the more efficiently they can work — at least that is the theory.
While less visibility may seem like it leads to greater speed, it also puts teams at a higher risk of making the wrong trade-off decision, and missing opportunities to generate more value. It can also cause executives to make mistaken assumptions about what their employees are doing and why they aren’t generating the desired results.
For example, I recently worked with a healthcare analytics company that lacked visibility in either direction. The audit team was choosing projects based on their perception of what would drive value, yet they weren’t moving the needle on improving productivity.
In response, the executives (wrongly) assumed that the auditors must not be busy enough, so they gave them more work. This caused the audit team to become so overloaded that they couldn’t make progress on anything, and productivity suffered further.
What’s The Objective?
When we came in to consult, we suggested they start by increasing visibility into every objective on the operational team’s agenda. This helped the auditors and leadership team understand where they were investing their time and their mindshare. The operational team came up with a list of more than 100 objectives, which was far more than they could manage.
This is a common problem for many organizations. We all have lots of great ideas for how to transform business and generate more value, but we only have the time and resources to achieve a small subset of those ideas. That means that no matter how good ideas are, you have to hone in on the few that are most promising and let the others go.
We did this by breaking the audit team’s objectives into three buckets:
Must do: The 10 most important objectives that best aligned with the goals of the company went into a ‘must do now’ bucket
Not yet: The next 10-15 good ideas went into the ‘defer to later’ bucket. These ideas wouldn’t warrant mindshare today, but will be revisited when other objectives are completed
No capacity to do it. The rest went into a “we aren’t going to pursue these” bucket. It doesn’t mean they were bad ideas, they just weren’t good enough to make the short list
This framework gave the operational team a way to prioritize their activities and to make tradeoffs based on what would generate the most value for the business. It also gave them terminology to discuss their objectives with each other and the leadership team so they could have more productive discussions about the best use of their time.
Unless there is bi-directional visibility into the activities of teams and how they link to the desired outcomes of the business, no-one has the tools or language to make agile choices about how to use their time and resources. Visibility creates agility by ensuring everyone knows what to do and when.
Learn how to enable innovation skill-building at scale here or download our free ebook Kickstart Innovation: A Guide for Organizations.
Andy Czuchry Jr, PhD is a proven business transformation leader with extensive experience driving strategic and operational transformations that significantly increase business-value outcomes for mission-critical objectives. Over the past 10 years of his 25+ year career in business and technology innovation, Andy has led nearly a dozen organizational transformations in national and global organizations spanning across all disciplines, both within and beyond the traditional agile core.
Andy earned Ph.D. and Master’s degrees in Information and Computer Science (Artificial Intelligence, with a minor in physiological psychology) from the Georgia Institute of Technology. He earned his bachelor’s degree from Dartmouth College in Computer Science and Mathematics with a focus in applied algorithm development. Andy maintains numerous certifications in the domains of Agility, Lean Six Sigma, and Program Management. He is the holder of two patents issued by the US Patent Office, as well as a recognized global leader with 20+ peer-reviewed papers published in elite business and technology journals and conferences.