Our latest DevOps Academy intake have now been here for about 6 weeks and are in the process of becoming experts in AWS, CI/CD and all things Cloud and DevOps over a 12-week intensive course. They’ll also be having a number of sessions on Agile and Scrum. 

Recently I presented to them about ITIL and Prince2, going over what they are and how the team will come into contact with these methodologies when they go out into the world of consulting. I noticed during these sessions that when I spoke of Waterfall project delivery there was a collective vague look of perplexion on their faces. They couldn’t really understand why anyone would want to work in this manner and even I found it hard to explain why companies still operate in that manner. Why would you want or need to have multiple levels of governance? Why would you want to try to plan everything out when you know the requirements will change? 

In the brave new world, business agility is key to being a success in the market. Companies and their CEO’s are keen to leverage the benefits of agile but too often they jump-start to technology answers: 

“We need an Agile culture and a DevOps driven technology department, working collaboratively, breaking down silos.”  

This is great but if teams still need approvals for decisions they won’t be truly agile, they’ll be the same but with cooler tools. 

So what is the main difference between the old and the new world? I have long believed that it is the empowerment that makes the difference. Granted, this is not a bombshell, but I think failure to understand what empowerment really is leads to Agile and Digital transformations failing to deliver the expected benefits. Large organisations spend a lot of money, time and effort on consultants and guru’s, setting up Tribes, Squads and Guild’s, allowing everyone access to Jira and so on, then wonder why they’re not really getting buy-in from the teams and not delivering any more value than before. 

Mindset, culture, ways of working, ways of thinking: call it what you want but as plenty have said this is the main factor that needs to change.  However, I believe it needs to be done with the teams and staff; not pushed upon them.

The legacy way in which companies are structured: Command and Control, top-down structure and decisions made by the HIPPO’s (Highest Paid Person’s Opinion) led to a huge amount of waste, delays, and systems that didn’t meet the user needs… While digital transformations are now common and organisations are introducing Agile, Cloud, DevOps and all manner of new Ways of Working, far too often old authorities and approvals stay in place. 

An imaginary example:

Manager: “My team are empowered, I tell them every team meeting”

Agile Coach: “Who makes the decisions?”

Manager: “The team do, they empowered!”

Agile Coach: “Excellent! But what is the Monthly Project Steering Committee for?” 

Manager: “The committee look at the Sprint plans and approves them”

Agile Coach: “And if they disagree?”

Manager looking down, uncomfortably: “The team replans”

Agile Coach, now crying softly: “Eh…….”

The only way to get the benefits that CEO’s desire is transformation in an Agile way. Experiment with different ways of working and delivering, get feedback and react accordingly. 

A great example of working with your team is asking them which team they would like to work in: ANZ bank has done just that through their transformation, they asked the staff what tribes they wanted to join. ANZ transformed its business, moving upward of 11,000 staff to agile ways of working and implementing the Spotify model. They still have a way to go, but throughout the transformation, they have not only kept the teams involved but actively asked them to help shape future changes. 

People bought into the process and got excited from day one because they were being listened too, helping to shape the products and services and decide as a team how they worked – empowerment

Empowering people gets great results, and is nothing new or specific to technology. 

Take The Rolling Stones for example. In 1969 they were finishing their latest album and had commissioned Andy Warhol to create the artwork. Mick Jagger wrote to him saying how pleased he was that he was on board. In the letter he gives Andy Warhol a free rein on what the cover should look like:

I leave it in your capable hands to do whatever you want”

 and also telling him to name his price:

Please write back saying how much money you would like”

When Sticky Fingers was delivered, Andy Warhol hadn’t disappointed. The album cover is now one of the most iconic covers ever, up there with Thriller, The Wall and St. Pepper’s (if you don’t know these albums then immediately stop reading, go to Spotify and get schooled).

The Stone’s trusted Andy Warhol to deliver. That empowerment delivered amazing results.

While businesses embrace the new Ways of Working, organisations need to learn to trust their teams; judging them on the value of the work they produce not the amount of work they have done or what governance they have gone through. Teams working without empowerment won’t be able to deliver faster, they won’t care about innovation and they won’t be motivated to hang around.

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