The Path to Organizational Agility: An Interview with Ahmed Sidky


Noel: That's really great. I've never heard anyone make the connection as far as raising a child to becoming agile, but it's true. I have two of my own and I didn't think we were ready and I'm pretty proud of the job that I've done. I was so not ready, yet they're doing just fine. We're doing great.

Ahmed: Yeah, and it's a continuous journey. It doesn't stop. People tell me when are we done? It's agility. It's continuous improvement. What does done mean?

Noel: True. For those who have started making this transition, I know that this is something that comes up all the time, is that everyone is so focused on the process of the work at hand and the tasks and all that kind of stuff, but they sometimes fail to acknowledge the culture. Whether it's acknowledging the need for it or assuming that their culture is fine or that culture that I saw at this company, that's not how we do it here or that kind of thing. Why does culture, even though once it's paid attention to, always make such a huge impact? Why does it continue to get overlooked on the road to agility or even in any situation in the workplace?

Ahmed: That's a great question and really it's grounded in what I wanted to start with, which is the definition of agile. If people view agile as a process, a methodology, a framework, then a transition to agile simply implies a change of process, methodology or framework. If people understand agile as a mindset, as a culture, then the transition to agile is a change of mindset and culture. It's grounded in where we see agile, and unfortunately, like I said, most people have equated agile to scrum. Scrum is a methodology. It is a process. It has roles and responsibilities and artifacts and so if you equate agile to Scrum and Scrum is a process, then the rollout of scrum is a rollout of a process. Pretty simple. But if you understand agile as the fundamental mindset, values and principles, and then Scrum is a process that manifests these agile mindset, values and principles then you're taking a very different look at things and you understand that agility changes not just from one organization to another, but constantly within the organization. That's the whole point of agility.

It's ironic that people say, "You need to be flexible, but you've got to do it this way." That's why I think most people have failed to recognize not just the value of culture, but even those who recognize the value of culture, we then move into another challenge which is how do we change culture? That's what we're going to be talking about in the session in Boston, but really we are, most of us are IT people, most of us are engineers. Transformations in the IT space; we're a rollout of processes and ERP systems and all that kind of stuff. We have never been responsible for cultural change, and yet for the first time in history the IT organization is leading what is supposed to be a culture transformation. We don't know how to do it. We are using the wrong tools and the rest of the organization isn't seeing it as a cultural change. It is seeing it as, “OK we're going to play along with your process change. Tell us what we need to do,” and that's the big difference.

Noel: You mentioned, you brought up tools, and then I noticed that in your abstract for your session that one of the keystone habits that I guess your going to talk about is “rewarding collaboration.” Is that collaboration being rewarding, I don't mean that it’s replacing a tool, but is collaboration almost acting as a tool for this culture change that you're discussing?

Ahmed: There's many relationships going on here in a cultural change, and again, just because of the time of this interview, but that's literally what we're going to dive into which is, what are the dimensions that we need to be aware of and take care of and what to change to change a culture? And, part of that is how behaviors are rewarded and what's rewarded, because that drives habits and behaviors, so let's take a look here. A lot of organizations are rolling out scrum, right? So they have a process that is collaborative, but they don't have structures, roles, and responsibilities that promote that collaboration. I hear constant challenges of teams saying, "We don't have buy-in for a product owner to be really committed to us." Then you don't have the structure that needs to be aligned with that process change, right? You don't have the strategy which is part of how things are rewarded that rewards for that collaboration. You still have competition being the main factor of reward within the organization. How do you expect that agility to be sustainable? And that's the key thing that we'll focus about is sustainable agility, because guess what? If it's not sustainable, you haven't transformed.

The word transformation means you have changed the state into another state and you cannot go back to the first state. People that tell me, "We've been through an agile transformation two years back but we slipped back." You didn't go through an agile transformation. You tried to change the process and the culture was stronger enough that it pulled you right back. The analogy I give, and I don't want to take too much time, but the analogy I give is it's creating strawberry jam. You don't create strawberry jam by just adding more strawberries in a bowl. You don't create an agile organization by just launching agile teams. There's a culture shift. There's a true transformation. There is heat that's needed to change the form, change the culture of the organization so that it can support because all you have, what I've seen in many organizations are agile teams inside of a non-agile organization.

About the author

Noel Wurst's picture Noel Wurst

Noel Wurst has written for numerous blogs, websites, newspapers, and magazines, and has presented educational conference sessions for those looking to become better writers. In his spare time, Noel can be found spending time with his wife and two sons—and tending to the food on his Big Green Egg. Noel eagerly looks forward to technology's future, while refusing to let go of the relics of the past.

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