For an Agile transformation, activate the right people

by The Smartsheet Team

Let me ask you a question. If you were on your way to the airport to catch a flight, but you knew there was a chance you’d need to fly out of a different city at the last minute, which type of transport would you choose: a passenger train on a rigid schedule or a zippy little Mini Cooper that can make a U-turn at a moment’s notice?

I think I know which one you’d choose.

Agile methodology is project management’s version of that Mini Cooper — a methodology that helps teams meet the changing expectations of clients and respond to fluctuating requirements, without creating overages or delays. But making an enterprise-wide shift to Agile methods is much easier said than done — especially if your team is already overtaxed to begin with. 

Where most Agile transformations go wrong

Too many Agile transformations end up creating more chaos than they dispel, simply because they fail to consider the impact of relational networks on how work gets done (i.e., who has influence and why). To make an Agile transformation stick, understanding the relational structure of your team needs to be the first consideration. Fortunately, there’s an analysis tool for that!

The best way to understand the impact of relationships on how work is accomplished is through organizational network analysis (ONA). Rob Cross, Edward A. Madden Professor of Global Leadership at Babson College and co-founder of Connected Commons, is one of the foremost experts on ONA. He recently delivered a webinar on the topic to leaders on the brink of their own Agile transformations. Here’s what he shared.

Understanding networks is vital to Agile transformation.

Put simply, ONA graphs patterns of collaboration by examining the strength, frequency, and nature of interactions between people in relational networks. This information can be used to:

  • Identify high performers with the most influence
  • Track the flow of information between people
  • Identify points of overload and dysfunction
  • Balance demand across teams
  • Locate the highest revenue-producing collaborations
  • Measure levels of innovation, inclusion, trust, and overall energy across the organization

Network analysis typically reveals a small set of influencers who have a disproportionate impact on how work is performed and how information is dispersed. These people are worth their weight in gold; they are also at higher risk for burnout. 

Cross says the challenge is that Agile transformation efforts often “over-rely on these same high performers to assist in the transition,” while simultaneously neglecting people at the edge of the network. This only stands to increase the engagement gap between the two groups and puts the entire Agile effort at risk. 

“Too often we’re grabbing technologies, or we’re grabbing processes like Agile, and we’re assuming that it’s going to promote connectivity. What I see is the more successful leaders are more intentional.” 

- Rob Cross

It’s possible to rescue an overburdened workforce.

Fortunately, leaders can act with intention to redistribute demands on high performers and equip tertiary players to adopt influencers’ best attributes (e.g., high efficiency, positive mental framework, active approach). Here is some of Rob Cross’s advice for how to accomplish this:

  • Challenge root beliefs: High performers often take on more than they can handle in an effort to earn the respect of colleagues, be perceived as an expert, or demonstrate a willingness to jump in and help. But these triggers don’t always yield positive results. Help these people re-examine the way they create value in the workplace and implement processes and norms that help manage their overachiever tendencies.
  • Impose structure: Strategically shift ownership farther out into the network so that leadership tasks don’t automatically fall on high performers. This creates new point people, reduces demand in the center of the network, and creates a more agile enterprise overall. 
Example of hierarchical structure vs. network structure

Things get easier when you invest in the right work management tools.

Good technology takes a lot of the guesswork out of project planning and can provide a great deal of added clarity to organizational leaders who are responsible for implementing large-scale change at the enterprise level. In fact, using a common tool is one of the most effective ways to introduce and then scale Agile practices in an organization. 

When determining how work is accomplished, it’s wise to let data — rather than just the instincts of your project managers — decide. A collaborative work management tool can help accomplish this by providing an unbiased view of who has the bandwidth to take on new projects and aligning the work at hand with the people, technology, and resources available. 

Look for a solution that facilitates organizational agility, increases performance and productivity, and unifies cross-team collaboration, workflows, and content management in one place. The innovation opportunities gained by becoming more efficient will blow you away!

Succeed in a fast-changing world with Smartsheet.

Finally ready to make the switch? Consider Smartsheet for Project and Portfolio Management. With Smartsheet, you can break free from disconnected tools and build user-friendly solutions that help your organization move quickly and stay ahead, all while creating a happier workforce. 

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