Spend any time in a medium to large business and you’ll likely get meeting fatigue very quickly. Life in a large organization consists of going from one meeting to another. Most people find themselves wondering how anything gets done, or worse yet why they are even in these meetings.
Over the last several months I’ve found myself thinking about how WebRTC will change the enterprise, and I keep coming back to a concept I call the Agile Enterprise. The idea centers around self-directed teams that assemble as needed to achieve the organizations goal. This blog will explore the idea and propose six steps to achieving its goal.
A couple of decades ago we decided the best way to run a big business was through a series of communication meetings. All business units and project teams report progress through a series of meeting with cross functional teams.
On the surface this sounds like a great way to keep people informed, but if you’ve ever endured this type of management system you know better. Early in my career I worked for the Eastman Kodak Company (long before their most recent bankruptcy issues) and they were a leader in the adoption of cross-functional teams. Back then my days consisted of going from one meeting to another. I often found myself wondering how anybody got anything done.
Flash forward a decade, and I found myself in a product management role transitioning a team from Waterfall to Agile. If you aren’t familiar with Waterfall it is a serial process that involves creating a detailed specification/plan and managing the process of executing the plan over an extended period of time.
Agile on the other hand assumes things will change during the process, so it is best to not lock into too broad a plan. With Agile, requirements and solutions evolve through collaboration between self-organizing teams. Projects gets broken down to a series of Sprints and management is done through daily scrum meetings.
A Sprint is a unit of development that is time-boxed, meaning you take on a series of tasks that can be completed in a fixed amount of time, usually 7 to 30 days. Daily scrum meetings then discuss the work completed the prior day, what is planned for the current day, and any obstacles and impediments. By taking on projects in smaller increments the team can be more adaptive to changes that occur during the development process.
Businesses tend to run using more of a Waterfall style approach. Planning is typically done on an annual basis and meetings discuss progress towards goals set in the annual business plan. The problem is that things change and often annual goals become obsolete several months into the year. When this occurs most businesses don’t adapt well.
It isn’t unusual to find management teams reviewing goals for the majority of the year that are clearly never going to happen. There is nothing like sitting in meeting after meeting discussing plans to achieve goals that everyone knows will never happen.
In order to break out of this cycle, we need a management method that is more Agile but still focused on achieving the big goals of the organization. I’d like to propose the following seven steps to achieving this goal.
- The CEO must establish a clear vision of the future state of the business.
I once got into a heated debate with another manager about where to start in developing a business plan. He believed the first step was to clearly define the current state. I strongly believed the most important thing was to know where you wanted to go.
The reality is that you need both. I take it for granted that people know where they are, but it doesn’t hurt to perform a SWOT analysis. I wouldn’t do this without first having a clear vision of a future state. I find that often the vision and discussion about how to achieve it reveals strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats.
Did you know that over 70% of employees cannot state their company’s vision? A vision should be a short statement that clearly defines a future state. It should do so in a way that is clear, concise, and easy to remember and recite. It shouldn’t talk about what the business is today or how it works, only about what it looks like in the future.
There is nothing more galvanizing than a clear and compelling vision. It not only brings people together, but also starts the conversation about how to achieve it.
- Identify four to five big challenges that the organization must overcome to achieve its vision.
Ask your leadership team what must change to achieve the vision. Again, a clear vision makes this much easier to do. Think macro changes; not micro.
The last time I did this one of our challenges was to get businesses that had been acquired working together towards a common company-wide goal. My experience has been that this is the easiest part of the exercise, as most people in the business understand what needs to change, but struggle to make the change occur. This is where steps three through seven come into play.
- Under each of the five big challenges break down 5 actions/projects that can be done in the short term to make those changes occur.
These should be project size actions (Sprints) that can be completed in no more than 30 days. Don’t worry about creating a complete list, as every 30 days you’ll revisit this and create the next group of projects.
- Assemble autonomous teams with necessary skills and authority to deliver the projects.
You want to make sure you staff the teams with the people necessary to complete them. Each team should have a team leader who has solid project management skills. The team leader should report directly to a high-level executive to ensure he/she has the proper support to ensure success. The team leader should have the power to add or remove people from the team as necessary.
- Review progress on a daily basis and adapt accordingly.
This is where agile methodologies really shine. A daily scrum consists of the team leader assembling the team to discuss three things:
- What did we get done yesterday?
- What do we plan to do today?
- What obstacles or challenges are in our way?
Everyone is invited, but the only people who talk are on the team itself. There is plenty of information on how to run effective scrums, so I won’t reiterate it here.
This is also where video conferencing technology can really assist. It is no longer necessary for all team members to be in the same place. If you are creative using the technology you can create a meeting room where only company members or invited participants can join. It’s also makes it easy to ad team members when necessary.
- Iterate through steps 3 through 5 until the organization achieves it vision.
Like any problem solving exercise, executing against a vision requires breaking down the necessary tasks into manageable projects. Then you must manage the projects with discipline to see them through to completion. As the smaller things get completed, the company moves towards its vision step by step until it reaches the desired state.
My experience with this process is that most companies fail at step one: defining a clear vision. If the vision is clear and compelling nothing else will matter. Remember the Great Wall of China didn’t get built by someone saying let’s build a wall to keep our enemies out. It got done by many people placing bricks who understood this vision.