From Red Tape to No Tape: Organizational Misalignment with Agile Values

Part 2

Charles Suscheck writes that if you’re in an organization that has signs of post-industrial orientation, now is a good time to take a fresh look at your organization’s underlying (and often oblique) belief system.

Part one of my article, “From Red Tape to No Tape,” described the differences between bureaucratic organizational behavior and the post-industrial orientation that supports agile software development. Both orientations have merit, but the post-industrial focuses on empowerment, collaboration, and customer value, whereas the bureaucratic focuses on control and predictability.  Table 1 outlines the differences between a bureaucratic orientation and a post-industrialized orientation as specified in the agile manifesto.

Bureaucratic Orientation

Agile Manifesto / Post-industrial Orientation

Develops processes and tools to standardize interaction, maximize individual’s productivity, and speed up the learning curve for new employees.

Values individuals and interactions over processes and tools. Processes are adjusted at the team level to fit the group.  Interaction and personal empowerment is emphasized over routine process governance.

Software has comprehensive documentation so that anyone can understand it quickly.

Values working software over comprehensive documentation.  Emphasizes providing value that is close to the consumer over following bureaucracy.

Requires strict signoff with business partners in order to manage change, plan, and cost on a project.

Values customer collaboration over contract negotiation.  Collaboration within the team and between teams is done with a firm handshake and trust.

Follows a detailed, written plan in order to minimize change and maximize predictability.

Values responding to change over following a plan.  The idea that it is better to create what is valuable through allowing flexibility in the plans is more important than predictability.

Table 1

Employee engagement is the single biggest gain with a change from command and control to a post-industrial organizational orientation. Engaged employees are more apt to be creative, productive, and involved in performing high-quality work. Studies of companies ,with empowered employees, show share prices rose an average of 10 percent more than the industry average, operating profits were 5 percent more than nonengaged companies and engaged companies outperform their peers by nearly 28 percent [2]. In fact, a recent Gallup poll shows that in world-class organizations, the ratio of engaged to actively disengaged employees is 10:1, while average organizations have a ratio of 2:1 [3].

Daniel Pink, an influential expert on motivation in post-industrial organizations, points out that people need self direction and meaning at work to achieve high levels of sustained engagement [4].  His three elements of motivation—autonomy, mastery, and purpose—can easily be subverted with command-and-control organizational behavior.  It is not uncommon to see management in bureaucratic organization dictate what to do and when while marginalizing the team members’ skills to the point of a routine set of tasks.  As stated by Chagnon when speaking about empowerment, “nothing kills engagement like not having the authority or resources necessary to do the job at hand.” [5]

In sustainable agile development shops, the culture must be post industrial, where the individuals are empowered, the group values learning, mistakes are a source of learning, and management acts as a nurturing coach—maximizing autonomy, encouraging mastery, and continually supporting the notion that people have an important purpose and impact on the organization.  The focus changes from employees being the organization’s biggest expense (and something to control) to the employees being the organization’s biggest pool of potential.

It’s easy to assume that your organization is following the post-industrial behaviors, but it’s also easy to miss cues that the organizational team focus is only skin deep.  That’s why it’s important to evaluate your core culture methodically.

Organizational Assessment
For the purpose of this article, I will use the cultural web as described by Johnson and Scholes [6].  It is a reasonable way of assembling the elements that make up an organizational culture and a good way of assessing the extent of change required.

The cultural web’s organizational elements are typically used to identify what activities or artifacts emphasize the elements.  In this evaluation, the elements are assessed by controlling party and impact.  The idea is that the group that is impacted by an element should have control and decision-making capability.  The more control that a group has, the more empowered it is.  Several other questions are included to evaluate the interactions of people within a team and external to the team.  Communications in a post-industrial organization will ideally focus on collaboration and groups.

The table below lists the six elements of the cultural web along with behavioral indicators of either a bureaucratic or post-industrial orientation.  The questions can be answered by rating yourself as dominantly on the left (bureaucratic) or dominantly on the right (post industrial/agile). By identifying your alignment along these elements, you can see where your dominant cultural organization lies and, based on the elements, where you should concentrate on change.

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