It is highly regarded among many in the Agile community that:
- One of the most common causes of Agile transformational failure is due to either the lack of focus on or lack of effective change of the middle management layer.
- One of the more common successes of Agile transformations is when small, incremental or evolutionary change is encouraged (rather than what I have termed “legion” style transformation which includes massive roll-outs of training and sparse support).
But I wonder if there is a better way, a way that combines these two points together for more successful, albeit slower and less Agile Coaching consultative heavy model –
Rather than trying to teach Agile inside of an organisation day 1, instead work with the middle management layer to re-introduce learning as one of their key practices.
If middle managers spent one to two days a week learning what do you think that would do to the organisation? I think it might kick start the organisation in all sorts of unbelievable ways. I think middle managers, rather than being forced to have these new approaches thrust upon them, would instead be the most passionate advocates for them. They might not choose to try Agile, they may want to try something else, but at least they are experimenting and thinking wider than just the day to day firefighting.
I know some managers already do this, but it is the exception and not the rule. But why is this? Do managers stop learning because they think it ends at university? Do they stop learning because they think it ends when they finally get into a leadership position? Or is it because they no longer have time anymore? Always in meetings or always fighting a fire?
Maybe the only way that managers will have the time to create a learning culture is if they limit their work in progress and begin to trust and empower their staff more? Now if managers start to trust and empower their staff more because they have to limit their work in order to learn, it is sounding like a win-win to me.
What do you think?
One thought on “A Learning Culture: the unknown secret sauce for Agile Transformations?”
Experience shows me that very few people, if any, are willing to set aside the time from their ‘day job’ to invest in learning. This goes double time for middle management, who are pushed and pulled from above and below which means that they are usually very time poor. Most people struggle to see the benefit of putting time aside to learn. Unless their manager allocates them dedicated learning time they will focus their efforts on the day to day issues that have immediate pay back. Learning is investing now for a longer term pay back.
I agree that establishing a learning culture is beneficial, however I fail to see how you could kick start a transformation by asking middle management to spend time of learning.
What I have seen work is a ‘Transformation’ Scrum team that involves some middle management (as from Mike Cohn’s Succeeding with Agile book). Their participation in the Transformation Team gives them some base knowledge, and importantly gives them permission from their manager to spend time on learning.