Increase transparency to reduce scaled-agile risk

Are your agile teams telling you what you want to hear? Do you trust teams to accurately report progress? Do you trust the format of status reports to provide the necessary detail to make informed decisions?

Implementing agile at scale promises quality and productivity benefits, but also exposes the
organisation to risk. As with anything new, the ‘learning curve’ can be steep,
particularly for executive leaders more familiar with traditional ‘command-control’
management practice.

Without the confidence that transparency brings, leadership tend to fall into bad behaviours, including:

  • Over emphasis on progress and status reporting, which takes away effort from delivery.
  • Reduced trust, which decreases morale amongst staff.
  • Making decisions on instinct over evidence, which decreases a whole organisation’s ability to adapt to disruptive change, learn and improve.

Coordination challenges

Nurturing an effective, scaled-agile organisation takes a lot more than setting up individual agile teams and trusting them to ‘self-organise’. Operating at scale introduces a number of coordination challenges where teams need to interact and align with each other, as well as interfacing with multiple stakeholders and functions across the broader organisation.

Executive sponsors rightly want to know what is happening, and have visibility of work in progress, but relying on traditional project management approaches – such as written documentation – fail to inform executive decision-making because:

  • Out of date – by the time they’re written, often weeks after work is done.
  • Propaganda – it’s written to tell a palatable story to executives.
  • Obfuscation – it hides the real truth to avoid blame.
  • It’s watered down – written reports are traditionally written by project managers who are not intimately involved in the detail of delivery.

One of the biggest advantages of good scaled-agile practice is the benefit of enhanced transparency. Dependencies between roles, programs, and functions are identified and managed, ideally in a visual way, to avoid bottlenecks and blockers from interrupting the flow of work.

Increasing transparency

The best way for leaders to support and accelerate the adoption of scaled-agile practice is to become familiar with contemporary artifacts that underpin transparency and visibility. 

 

Ongoing executive training and coaching is essential for leaders to understand how best to drive their scaled-agile transformation, including:

  • Gemba – teaching leaders to go to the place where the work is being done to understand its actual progress in-person over reading it third hand.
  • Visual management – understanding how to interpret information presented on team and program boards.
  • Encouragement – rewarding teams to work in the open, keep visual boards up-to-day on a daily basis, and make all their work visible.

 

A team's visual board
A team makes their work transparent by visualising it in a physical way.

While agile teams are on the ground learning and improving their delivery practice, leaders must also continue to build awareness and learn.

As leaders move up this learning-curve, work-in-progress becomes more visible and transparent. This improves decision-making and builds trust in teams so they can get on with what they are best at – delivering value to customers and clients.

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