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Sociology of Agile Transformation


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I delivered this talk at Wipro's internal session for Delivery Leads. Share your views :)

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Sociology of Agile Transformation

  1. 1. Sociology of Agile Transformation Tathagat Varma
  2. 2. What is Sociology? • Study of social life, social change, and the social causes and consequences of human behavior. • Sociologists investigate the structure of groups, organizations, and societies, and how people interact within these contexts. • All human behavior is social.
  3. 3. Why study Sociology? • Software development is a human endeavor involving three key pillars: • Cognitive: come up with ideas to solve problems creatively • Emotional: passion drives meaningful engagement • Social: it takes a village to raise a child! • Merely asking a team to become “agile” without considering these pillars is wishful thinking, dangerous and outrightly stupid!
  4. 4. Understanding Social World • Groups, organizations, conventions, social roles, conflicts and cooperation are no less real than physical particles and mental attitudes. • Social ontology examines what kind of objects, relations, properties and events they are, and how they relate to mind and matter.
  5. 5. Agency • The ability of individuals and groups to exercise free will and make social change • Example: • A programmer knows Java • …Can also write test scripts • …And knows about UX • …And is great with people • …Is an excellent swimmer • …And an awesome singer! • …But, may/not get to do all that :(
  6. 6. Structure • Patterned social arrangements designed to bring an order and have an effect on agency. • However, there is no structure without agency. • Agents give up their agency (submission) to allow organizations to create structure and make decisions at their behalf, and • Agree to cooperate with other agents (coordination) to the organization’s agenda. • Examples: Family, Neighborhood, Organization, Faith, etc.
  7. 7. Structure and Agency Micro Macro Agency Structure Individual Choice “Free Will” Social Forces Solidarity Social Control
  8. 8. Role of Structure • By and large, structure has a much bigger influence on an individual than the individual’s own agency. • Structure isn’t necessarily bad - imagine if everyone starts driving how it pleases them, etc. • However, too much of structure might stifle individual motivation, creativity and performance, and finally impact organizational performance.
  9. 9. Coleman’s Boat
  10. 10. Context • The influence that shapes the meaning of events, behavior, words, and body language • Examples: • Someone pats you • Couple kissing • “I don’t like your idea”
  11. 11. Types of Structures • Economic: producer / consumer, lord / serf, professor / student, master / apprentice, senior / junior, etc. • Cultural: Norms, Customers, Traditions, Rituals, Ideologies, etc. • Social: old / young, upper class / lower class, etc. • Racial: white / black, hispanic / asian, etc. • Regional: insiders / outsiders, • Gender: male / female • Interest-based: Sports club, Celebrity Fan club, Animal lovers, Nature lovers, … • …
  12. 12. Why do we give up our agency? • Coercion: there is no other option but to obey the orders, e.g. dictatorship, physical force, intimidation, penalties, etc. • Exchange: the advantages (or, benefits) outweigh the disadvantages (or, costs), e.g. modern organizations • Normative: to achieve some collective outcomes of higher value, e.g. social, community, open-source, wikipedia, etc.
  13. 13. Hierarchy • Hierarchy establishes and preserves the rigid top-down social order among agents who might otherwise have individual agendas by establishing a clear line of command • Members are stripped of individuality and forced to conform to common rules, e.g. jails, cults, manufacturing shops, military, government setup, etc. • Individuality is derived from your place in the social structure, e.g. rank, titles, seniority, etc. • Creates micro-structures of one agent assuming a dominant position over another, a micro dynamic of power and authority
  14. 14. Modern Organizations • They are like “utilitarian organizations” - we offer to work in return of fair wages • However, when the “exchange” is seen offering lower returns, employees might leave • Traditionally, relied on some form of hierarchy (increasingly less rigid) to establish social order
  15. 15. Normative Organizations • Purpose: Shared belief over individual benefits • Participation: Voluntary over forced • Coordination: Horizontal (networks) over vertical (hierarchy) • Alignment: alignment of individual’s agenda with that of whole over submission or coercion • Decision-making: consensus over compliance • Governance: self-governance over organizational controls
  16. 16. Real-world Organizations • A combination of these three forms • Examples: • Military: people join to serve the nation (normative), get paid for their work (exchange) and agree to stringent discipline (coercion) • Organisation: employees believe in the vision, mission and values (normative), get paid salaries and benefits (exchange) and agree to organizational policies and procedures (HR, Admin, Budget, Roles and responsibilities, etc.)
  17. 17. Traditional Project Team • Composed of: • Manager: power-holder, ensures compliance with the structures, provides direction, etc. • Team: brings the agency, surrenders to the structure, trusts manager with the right judgment • Worked “well” in production era due to prevailing economic and social structures. • Today?
  18. 18. Traditional Project Team • Coercion: standard processes (assembly-line approach), designated roles, assigned work, imposed deadlines, etc., etc. • Exchange: “lifetime” job, steady paycheck, social prestige, promotions, learning, career growth, etc. • Normative: not much really. More of company loyalty, corporate citizenship, etc.
  19. 19. Today’s context? • Describe how individuals and teams would like to have the following: • Coercion? • Exchange? • Normative? • Does your current “process” deliver that? • How is your current “transformation” approach to it?
  20. 20. Industrial to Knowledge Era Industrial Era Knowledge Era Structure Agency Agency Structure
  21. 21. What’s a transformation? • A permanent and self-sustaining change in • agency (i.e., personal change, e.g. learn swimming, quit smoking, or “lose” weight) • structure (i.e., organizational change, e.g. delayer the organization, or radically change the business model) • They are interdependent! • Can’t change one without other • Must leverage each other
  22. 22. What does agile transformation mean? • Adopting methodologies or frameworks such as Scrum, XP, Kanban, etc.? • Adopting methods such as TDD, CI/CD, Refactoring, etc.? • Adopting tools such as JIRA, VersionOne, Rally, etc.? • Adopting scaling frameworks such as SAFe, LeSS, DAD, etc.? • Training individuals? • Agile certifications? • Provide coaching? • Open-plan offices? • Whiteboards? • Sticky notes? • Daily standups? • …???
  23. 23. Adoption vs. Transformation • Agile adoption is changing the agency of the team, e.g. provide scrum training or bring in some agile methods. Sure, it works! • However, unless it is coupled with commensurate change in the structure of the organization, it might only temporary and never in equilibrium.
  24. 24. So, how to “transform”? • Multiple levels of changes need to be aligned: • Individual • Team Dynamics • Organization Processes • Leadership and Culture • Individuals bring their own agency, but need support, alignment and reinforcement from leadership.
  25. 25. Individual Changes • Growth Mindset • T-shaped learner • Initiative • Grit • Accountability
  26. 26. Team Changes • Small • Co-located • Cross-functional • Self-organizing • Team of equals • People first, process reasonably- placed second and tools a distant third (if at all!)
  27. 27. Organizational Changes • Goal-setting: one for all, all for one! • Feedback from peers in the trenches • Team rewards (vs. Individual) • Starfish organization
  28. 28. Leadership and Culture • Respect and nurture agency • Evolve a culture of experimentation-led learning • “Safe to fail” culture • Get the right people and get out of the way - gardner vs ringmaster • Maintain bottomline accountability!
  29. 29. So, what is transformation? • Status quo: Methods and structures determine agency behavior • Adoption: people “blindly” follow the agile processes, methods or tools • Efficiency: agents apply knowledge based on the context to improve productivity • Effectiveness: agents improvise, rebuild or create structure to align with business goals
  30. 30. A “transformed” org? • An urban myth! A real transformation has no finish line. • Transformation is not code quality or velocity. It is business results! • Perennially sustain the new “default” state without any “scaffolds” and organically evolve it.
  31. 31. Recap • Software development is a social activity. • Traditional approach was to impose a rigid structure. • Agile approach is to nurture the agency and let the structure evolve organically. • Mere adoption of agile methodologies or methods won’t create a “transformation” • Leadership needs to own the change agenda and facilitate agile transformation.