The following Interview between Darrell Rigby and Sohrab Salimi
We have some questions from the audience and I also have a few questions for you.
But let's start with questions from the audience.
Now the first question: “To what extent do you need faith before you embark on one of these journeys?”
(00:41:17,11) — Darrell:
Yeah well, I think you always need some level of faith, but the beauty of agile is, it doesn't require excessive unsubstantiated faith. Because we're going to test things, we're going to prove to the CFO, we're going to prove to the CEO that these things actually work before scaling them.
I think one of the problems with people who believe in Big Bang transformations is that you have to instill extraordinary faith because we're going to change everything in the organization at once. “Oh my goodness it better be right or we're going to destroy this company”.
No, we're going to do this in an agile fashion, we’ll test, we'll learn, we'll prove, we'll adapt and it is less of a push strategy and more of a pull strategy.
It doesn't have to come from just the top down. The bottom-up will create a groundswell of support for this approach.
So it's very similar to a startup founder. They would also do that. A venture capital fund would not give them a billion dollars right away. They would give them a bit of money, see where they take this and then basically build up faith. They need initial faith but then they build up more faith over time based on the results that come in.
Right. There was another question now. At some point you mentioned there might be like 50% teams or people working in agile teams. And the rest, the most would be working in a different way or in the same way that they're working today.
Now the question that came from you was: “Do we have articles, are we going to have different mindsets?”
And already a conversation started on the chat that an agile mindset already means that you can shape or shift your own mindset. I want to get your perspective on this.
(00:43:10,5) — Darrell:
It is a great question. In fact I think the most important question. The answer is we believe that you're going to need an agile mindset. And by that I mean common values and principles through the entire organization. And when I think about agile values and principles, I mean some things, like being customer obsessed, because every activity should have a customer.
This is one of the things I've spent a lot of time talking to people at Amazon. And the one thing about people at Amazon is that they will say: we are truly customer obsessed. It may not always be an end user. It may be an internal customer, but we all have customers and we are customer obsessed.
So there are things like this mindset. We all have a customer who is my customer. How do I keep them satisfied? Things like avoiding multitasking. Things like prioritizing and sequencing. Things like whenever possible trying to work in smaller teams. Even if it's just for a part of the time during the day. Treating people with respect, treating people with kindness.
It turns out people are happier and more productive and we're all happier and more productive when we just treat people with a different understanding of what their potential is as opposed to I'm the boss. You do what I say you're not capable of thinking.
So the real answer is: Everybody in the organization should have an agile mindset. Not everybody in the organization will be following agile methods every single day.
That is we're not all running in agile sprints or daily stand-ups or sprint retrospectives. We're not doing all of those practices every single day, but you may get pulled onto an agile team for some period of time and then go back to your traditional way of working.
But that's the difference. That I'm trying to highlight. It is: common mindsets, different practices for different activities. So on a metal level it is actually the same thing. And it's then the awareness to what extent we can predict what's coming. Because we've done it several times and if we can't predict then embrace the fact that we can't predict it. And then approach it in more frequent feedback cycles than we would usually do.
So there was another question and they were asking: You showed the slide about the best and the rest and that 40% difference in over 10 years, 30x difference.
Now they were asking: Can one take one of the rest to become one of the best and can this be done with the same people? And if yes, whether you have examples for how they did this?
(00:46:08,48) — Darrell:
So again, I think one of the most common misperceptions is, that if we're going to create an agile organization we're likely to need new people and we're likely to need a whole different organization structure.
What I find most fascinating about this guy during the Covid-19 pandemic is that it is disproving that notion with real natural experiments. It is disproving that notion because we have the same organizational structure, we have the exact same people. And yet, suddenly we're finding people that we just thought were everyday run of the mill. All they can do is run this machinery.
Suddenly figuring out how to change the machinery from making automobiles to making respirators to making masks and so on. You know that these people are turning into real life corporate MMA givers right in front of our very eyes. These people were always capable of doing this. So one of the things that, as tragic as this pandemic is, one of the things that I truly love about it is, that people are learning: My goodness, my folks can do this now.
How do we bottle it up? How do we keep them thinking this way? I'm shocked. I never knew that and they were capable of doing this.
So yes, I understand that. Over time you may need to do some additional training. You may need to bring in some kinds of people. But I think the greatest discovery we're making right now is that the innate capability of most people in most organizations is much higher than many of the senior executives ever imagined!
Yeah I love this corporate MacGyver. I'm going to steal this one there. It's very interesting because you mentioned the absurdity and irony and a lot of things and I think it's really absurd from senior managers or I mean even like you and I might might fall into the same trap that we look at someone and just define them by the job that we've been observing them doing but not seeing the whole person because that person the moment they leave the office of course they're going to do other stuff.
They have different hobbies and so on and so forth. So they can take those capabilities and their ability to learn into the work and actually do some new things. And the organization facilitates that learning process or catalyzes this.
We have another question: How many high level executives want to change their calendar? You showed how they're going to spend their time towards more strategy and away from operations and are they skilled enough in strategy versus operational management. Because as you know, a lot of organizations hire other companies like Bain for their strategy part.
So that could also be a sign of the lack of strategic know-how in their own leadership.
(00:49:09,87) — Darrell:
Yes it's an important question from somebody who was obviously seeing some senior executives because on the one hand I often get phone calls. One of the most common calls I get is: I just read your article on the agile C-Suite in the Harvard business review.
Very intriguing. I am really frustrated with our meetings. We just spend so much time in meetings, after meeting after meeting and it's dull and it's not accomplishing anything. Can you help me fix our meetings?
It's a very common call.
And so the first thing you do is to look at their calendars and look at the meetings and they're absolutely right it's overwhelming. But if you say ‘well let's take away all of these operating reviews that you're doing’ their first inclination is ‘But that's how I spent the last 10 or 20 years of my career! If I'm not doing what I know and how-to-do and I'm good at that,
What in the world am I gonna do?
And I say well you're going to spend 40% of your time on the vision and on the strategy and they say how could I possibly spend that much time on strategy and on empowering teams.
And frankly they have a hard time even imagining how they could do that much of it. And so we have to make the transition rather gradual. And you will recall that I said that's over three years but we gradually start saying let's just take this thing off of your schedule.
You do not need to do this meeting. Let's add some stand-up meetings in the morning, where you are meeting with agile teams and they're saying here's what are barriers and could you help us to overcome this? And that's the easiest way to get started.
You get the senior executives listening to these agile teams. What's getting in their way and they start solving problems. So that they turn from people who are managing all the problems to people who are saying ooh that is tough.
What do you recommend that we do and how could we test it? Then their lives start getting fun and then it takes on a momentum all of its own.
(00:51:33,86) — Sohrab:
Yeah I get the same thing when I work with leaders and tell them it's all about decentralizing decision making. They're like okay what am I gonna do? You're going to discover new things that you can do and it's going to be exciting also for you and everyone has to learn.
So I'm going to be selfish and I'm going to take the last question to be one of my questions now. You work with a lot of executives. I'm sure you also work with boards.
Now my experience has been that a lot of people say the CEO doesn't get it and so on and so forth. But my understanding is that a lot of CEOs, executives in general have to follow the perspective or the longevity. Longevity of perspective that it's set out and if they have a short term focus. Very few organizations I believe are going to make the necessary changes to become more agile.
So first of all, what is your perspective on the role of the board? And if you believe it is as important as I believe, how would you address the boards?
Well the first thing that has to change is the senior executive attitude towards boards. Because you're right I deal with a lot of management teams. Their first priority is to get the board off of their backs. They just don't want to have to deal with it.
So I think the first thing that they have to do is explain we're creating an agile enterprise. Let me tell you what that means. That means we're going to need more of your help in sustaining these agile efforts and we're going to focus more of our time on strategy and vision.
Long term objectives, not the short term things that you often get involved with. And so to tell you the truth. I've seen board members that get very excited about this, most of them that are agile doing agile in their own organizations. Can't wait to see executive teams getting excited about this but some of them do need a fair amount of education as well.
Yeah perfect Darrell. Thank you so much for participating in this conference! It was a pleasure having you and hearing your insights and I'm sure we will connect again soon!
Terrific. Thank you so much.