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Confession sessions, scrum coins and autonomous team decision-making: key insights inspiration dinner Agile transformation managers

What prevents us from achieving the goals of our agile transformation? That was the key question that was discussed on Tuesday the 3rd of March by eleven agile transformation managers in our office in Utrecht during an inspiration diner. Most of the participants have been leading the agile transformation in their organization for over 5 years and many successes have been booked. Still, truly being agile in terms of behaviour and culture remains one of the key challenges.


What we all do know, is that behaviour has an enormous impact on an organization’s ability to achieve the goals of an agile transformation, i.e. to innovate faster, deliver more value for the customer, get more value out of the IT spend, increasing employer attractiveness, etc. In fact, solving strategic questions is inextricably linked to behaviour. With the design thinking method, we investigated the motives and causes of desired and undesired behaviour in an agile transformation and thought about practical ideas to change behaviour.

Our key insights: aligned autonomy, value-based thinking and vulnerability are key desired behaviours for a successful agile transformation, yet difficult to achieve. Changing from old to new behavior requires a deeper understanding of what drives this behavior, so that you can influence these drivers with specific interventions such as confessions sessions or a game to train specific leadership skills.

Please read on to learn more about our main insights, based upon the two overall stages of design thinking: analyse and change.

Analyse: Discovering and defining the behaviour and its underlying drivers

As a start, we wanted to find out more about the situation at hand by investigating the following two questions: What behaviour would you like to stimulate (more) and what behaviour hinders your organization in achieving the goals of the agile transformation?

An example of desired behaviour when it comes to building business Agility is aligned autonomy; it is about teams working in the same direction, based on the clearly defined goals and priorities, yet having the freedom to choose the optimal way to attain these goals. However, many teams and managers still struggle to find this aligned autonomy.

An example of undesired behaviour is short-term thinking, often fuelled by short-term target steering versus having a long-term vision and plan. This often leads to people saying the one thing and doing the other because that is what they are in the end held accountable for. What for example happens is that workarounds are being pushed through to achieve the short-term targets but creating technical debt that makes the organization less agile in the long term.

Having discussed desired and undesired behaviours, the key question is: what is causing this behaviour? Or in other words: what are the underlying drivers for this behaviour?

This can be best explained with a concrete example. We discussed that to reach the goals of an agile transformation, an organization needs to understand that a new form of rewarding and career paths is needed based on growth in skills and not hierarchy. Now imagine you are an employee in an organization that is simplifying the function house from 50 to 4, with most of the functions being redefined as Devops engineer. Instead of hunting for the next function, it means that your personal professional development becomes the key growth path. On the one hand, you might be welcoming this change as it will make everything much simpler, with clearer roles and less hierarchy. On the other hand, it might leave you with a lot of questions regarding your career opportunities and a decrease in your job identity. As an organization you want to stimulate the desired, welcoming behaviour and mitigate the risk of the latter.

Change: Coming up with practical ideas for behavioural change and delivering the solutions

After discovering and defining typical desired and undesired behaviour and its underlying drivers in an agile transformation, the groups engaged in a brainstorm to come up with practical ideas to change behaviour for three specific behaviours: vulnerability, value-based thinking and aligned autonomy. Here are some of the ideas for inspiration:

  • Show vulnerability in confession sessions: Create settings in which people can have an open discussion to learn from failures. A concrete example is the confession session in which we reconstruct a setting on stage in which people feel comfortable, such as a bar-like setting. Ask the key players from a recent failure to be on stage and have an open dialogue about it, i.e. what lead to the complete downtime of the website? Ask questions like: Can you tell us what happened? How did you respond? How could it be solved? Are you surprised you are still here? What have you learned from it? Creating such a setting is a great and powerful method to show vulnerability but also to stimulate the autonomy of your employees to solve possible issues and problems and to learn from them.
  • Capture value in a scrum coin: What the hell is value, one of the participants remarked. We found out that it is extremely difficult to define what business value and capture it in a clear and concise definition. The scrum coin is a metaphor for creating a common methodology on how your organization defines business value. This common methodology should be simple and widely applicable in order to prioritize based on value. Typically, this is done based on the key strategic KPI’s and more generic business unit value drivers such as prevention of costs, reducing costs, further development of current business and creating new business. We have now seen in multiple organization that introducing a common methodology for business value greatly enhances the objectivity of the discussion and setting the right priorities.
  • Let the hiring of the new PO be an aligned and autonomous team decision: To boost the autonomy of the team and as an example of your trust in the team, it also makes sense that the team can decide on who will be joining the team for the next phase. There is in fact a license to lead and the team must be providing the license to do so. This can for example be done by making a get-to-know with the full team an essential part of the recruitment process.
  • Train for specific leadership skills: To stimulate the behaviours mentioned, leadership skills such as feedback, courage, trust and reflection are key. However, on average one has only 13 minutes a week (source: Motivaction) available for learning and development, which is why an organization needs to think about new ways of learning. A way to do this can be through a serious game in which the player manages a team in a fictitious organization. The goal of the team is to cooperate effectively to deliver the best service to the customer. The player encounters new situations and conversations daily, gets instant feedback and is encouraged to put the learnings directly into practice. That is how the player develops future leadership skills in just a few minutes a day.

Many insights and ideas were generated, ready for delivery. Now it is up to all of you to put the ideas into practice, learn and experiment and scale up successful ideas! Would you like to know more about effectively identifying and changing behaviours to achieve the goals of your agile transformation and concrete unusual ideas to make this happen? Or do you have any other ideas on how to influence behaviour in an agile transformation? Let our colleagues Floris de Bruin, Nienke Huijs or Pascal Steeghs know!

Authors: Floris de Bruin, Nienke Huijs, and Pascal Steeghs

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