Organisations succeeded with agile methods when they had a balanced view of change

Many of you have heard already that my dissertation has been accepted by Henley Business School for the MSc in Coaching and Behavioural Change. I appreciate the support so many of you gave me while I was interviewing, gathering background literature, and generally talking about this project non-stop. Now that the work has been accepted and I’ve finished the programme, I can report my approach and findings from the project. This is the first in a 3-part series on my research findings for what makes organisations’ adoption of agile methods successful. An executive summary of the report findings is available on request

I can guess at what you’re thinking now: why do we need another report on the success and failure of our initiatives to be ‘agile’? Many of our initiatives are aimed at changing role descriptions, applying a new process, or licensing new tools. If these initiatives were successful, we wouldn’t be spending thousands on change programmes only to find that we didn’t really capture the hearts and minds of people to make them a success. After years of work as a coach and trainer supporting your initiatives, I wanted to know what happened after my clients went back into their organisations with their new mindsets and skills. In other words, what else should I offer as a team coach to support your success?

McKinsey 7S
McKinsey 7S

First defined by McKinsey consultants Robert Waterman and Tom Peters in 1980, the McKinsey 7S framework defines seven aspects of an organisation that should be attended to, when attempting to change culture. The problem, they identified, was that many business leaders believed that a strong strategy, and the processess to implement it, would create the change they wanted. A balanced view of organisational change, they argued, needs to address also the people, systems, and capabilities. Moreover, understanding the organisation’s values is foundational to all of these.

In ‘Making Sense of Change Management’, Esther Cameron and Mike Green describe 7S as an approach for examining an organisation’s culture to prioritise areas for change. They provide definitions for each of the aspects:

  • Strategy – organisational goals and plan, use of resources
  • Staff – important categories of people within the organization; the mix, diversity, retention, development and maximizing of their potential
  • Structure – the organization chart, and how roles, responsibilities and accountabilities are distributed in furtherance of the strategy
  • Skills – distinctive capabilities, knowledge and experience of key people
  • Systems – processes, IT systems, HR systems, knowledge management systems
  • Style – management style and culture
  • Shared Values – guiding principles that make the organization what it is

Having analysed the topics discussed by my research participants, I identified the most commonly discussed themes into categories defined by the McKinsey 7S framework. This gave me a view of their organisation’s culture based on where they focused their discussions with me. The focus of participants overall showed a high focus on Systems and Style.

All Research Participants
Categorisation of Research Participant topics in the McKinsey 7S framework
Agile Manifesto
Categorisation of Agile Manifesto topics in the McKinsey 7S framework

When compared to the map of 7S aspects for the Manifesto for Agile Software Development, the recommendation is that teams should increase their focus on Strategy and Shared Values, and reduce their focus on Systems and Style, to be more effective with agile methods.

In Part 2 of this series, I will discuss the specific success factors of teams that had more balanced implementations of agile methods as compared to the average across the study. Follow my business page on LinkedIn for updates – just tap the LinkedIn icon below.

2 thoughts on “Organisations succeeded with agile methods when they had a balanced view of change”

  1. Hi Laura – this definitely resonates with the coaching conversations I’m having with leaders and senior managers. Over-focus on Process to the detriment of attention to full undertstanding of, and alignment with, strategy and values at all levels of their organisations stifles agile responses and growth. Definitely a need for ‘Both, And’ thinking rather than ‘Either, Or’ thinking.

  2. I think we could almost make an argument for, at least initially, a no process implementation of the Agile ways of working. By this I mean that you need to establish an Agile team that believe and trust in one another and let them develop the processes that work for them. Yes we need a clear understanding of strategy and a Framework to work within but learning and developing what works for the team is surely the most important thing. Support from Senior Managers needs to be there but results are the success factor at the end of the day.

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