The Intentional Organisation - Issue #24 - Scaling Transformations
1. Scaling Transformation Intentionally
In its 2021 Report, the Business Agility Institute examines the status of the journey of several companies towards Business Agility. The report has been assembled through the results of self-assessment of 254 organizations on their jounrey towards agility.
The report has many interesting facets to examine, but I was particularly interestes by the hurdles these organizations are facinng through their journey. Ten themes emerge.
The list, visible in the above image, is not surprising. We can see factors that each of us would identify as challenges to any change initiative. The report comments on the fact that all elements were present already in previous reports, but that there has been a shift in what is seen as more pressing.
Challenges to Transformations
The top challenge to business agility adoption is resistance to change from within the organization. While leaders of change adopt a plan, its implementation is resisted because of the significant shift in way of working that it represents. According to the report, the fact that this element is top of mind for respondents is a sign that the responding organizations are actively on their path towards Business Agility transformation.
Leadership is also a top-of-mind challenge (which came first in the previous report), as it is in many change initiatives, both in terms of sponsorship and leadership of the actual transformation.
The element I wanted to focus my attention on, though, is the third: Difficulty in Scaling. This is a challenging factor in many organizational changes and this survey underlines an element that is often forgotten when planning an organizational transformation. Especially when we import models from the outside, and we apply them through a pilot, we need to think at an early stage about the challenges posed by expanding the results to the rest of the organization.
Scaling: why is it an issue?
There are many examples of organizations that tried to implement some forms of Agile organization, or project-based organization models, or other forms of more flat-working approaches. A big challenge has been in the scaling piece.
Part of the problem can be the difficulty in finding the right people (seen as skilled personnel in the list of challenges identified by the report). It's easy to find one agile coach to start the first scrum team, a lot more difficult to scale it across a much larger organization.
This element links well with another aspect that the report outlines very well. Company size correlates with Business Agility, with smaller companies being able to exhibit more agility than larger ones. The effect plateaus near Dunbar’s number at 200 employees, beyond which their average maturity drops by 15 to 22% depending on size.
An initial conclusion could be that smaller companies have fewer issues in scaling, which makes agility more easily achieved in smaller organizations.
Being intentional at scaling
I think this however needs to be put in perspective. When we talk about scaling, besides the talent issue we have seen above, companies typically have their largest issues being communication and coordination. These are the elements that traditional hierarchical and silos-oriented organizational models have been doing well for centuries. How do we cope with them in an agile way scaling in larger organizations?
The Spotify Model has been widely advertised as a possibility, but it is a model that is difficult to replicate. Every organization needs to take at the core of its transformation journey concrete and actionable plans for communication and coordination. These will make scaling ultimately work.
Incidentally, these two elements are also the two pillars of intentionality, as they allow the flow of information and the seeking of consistency across the modeling and architecture of the organization.
Building Communication and Coordination in your plans.
Scaling Change needs to become a critical part of our transformation plan, and needs to insist on developing two critical organizational capabilities with new tools and new models. Too often failure appears because we underestimate the importance of the above elements, and allow communication and coordination to simply "happen". This leads to the old, traditional ways of working to sneak back in immediately threatening the transformation process along the way. An example is the pervasiveness of budgeting control processes also in agile teams. Why does this happen? Alternative funding models are not pursued, the idea of focusing on this essential coordination mechanism is seen as secondary, which leads to defaulting to the more traditional process. Which alone can create an enormous burden in bringing up the scale to an agile methodology of work.
Setting up intentional coordination tools and communication mechanisms is therefore critical, questioning each single of them through the same lens we look at the entire transformation process. Because they will be critical in not hitting that "effectiveness" ceiling that too many see when applying radical transformations in action.
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