What is agile governance? 

Co Authored by Tony Ponton and Phil Gadzinski

In our last post we spoke of the need for agile governance. In order to write further on the topic we felt it’s best to define, at a much deeper level, what agile governance is, so to that end this post will address that definition. 

Firstly, when we talk about agile governance, we are not talking only about project management offices and project management processes. Whilst they have a place in the governance system, they are only a small piece. Agile governance is about how you govern your entire system of work, at all levels, to enable your organisation, whether it be large or small. Governance is about providing assurance over whether our controls are working or not. In fact it’s about how we control our systems and why.

Successful agile governance requires building a culture of distributed governance and taking authority to the work (reference:Turn the Ship Around – David Marquet), whilst retaining control levers. It demands a sense of responsibility and ownership from all to allow for building greater levels of trust. We know that high performing teams have a greater sense of responsibility for what they see and do collectively and individually. 

To get to this culture of distributed governance, we  need to rethink the role leadership plays in governing the work and the system. Traditional hierarchical management, theory x (reference:Theory x and Theory y- Douglas McGregor)style leadership does not distribute authority – it retains it as a power base. Modern leadership principles are required.

As we move towards what we might deem to be more agile environments, interconnected networks of people and teams with the ability to respond to emerging change and need, we need to rethink governance. Who’s working on what, is it aligned strategically, is it the right work, and how do we know – which always were important questions – demand a different approach. Effective agile governance enables autonomy with directional alignment. So we need agile governance to allow agile teams to succeed. Hence that brings us back to our original quote: (we promise this will be the last time we mention it) 

“Agile Governance applies the values and principles of agile as first described in the Agile Manifesto to the whole of the organisation and how it establishes the mechanisms and constraints by which it can design, execute and control its strategies in an ongoing adaptive fashion.” 

Source: Gadzinski and Ponton 2020 

Now that we have defined governance as we see it, our ensuing posts will use this definition as the  basis to break down and discuss agile governance in depth . 


The Compelling Need for Agile Governance

Co Authored by Tony Ponton and Phil Gadzinski

Once upon a time, on a cold snowy day, agile came along and the world hasn’t been the same since. 

Geoffrey Moore in Crossing the Chasm quotes that Disruptive Innovation gets us to change our behaviour and the things we might use to solve problems. He positions that there is a repeatable evolution of an adoption going through a specific life cycle and adoption path. From the Early Innovators seeing the novelty and maybe trying to differentiate themselves, to Early Adopters, then we cross that chasm and start seeing the Early Majority adopt the new “thing”, followed by the Late Majority. The laggards kinda still float out back asking why? A rule of thumb, a heuristic, however you get the meaning. 

When it comes to the large scale, organisational level adoption of Agile, we are well and truly in the Late Majority stage. Alistair Cockburn has talked about this; we talk about this when we discuss and give keynote presentations and workshops about agile and where to next for agile.  

Figure: Crossing the chasm curve, from Moore.

However one thing got left behind in the large scale organisational transformation to agile.

When many organisations make the strategic decision they are going to redesign their organisational structure and operating model with the goal of increasing agility, they go all guns blazing into breaking people out of their boundaries into new constraints –  tribes, squads, groups, nations, you name the term for a collection of people organising around a problem to solve for. Sometimes for a customer. Traditional existing ways of getting things done are ripped apart; people are pushed into working with people they don’t know; around work they don’t yet understand; often without the time to come together as a team and design how they want to work. To set their teaming models so they can start doing something useful. We don’t need to name organisations – there are plenty of public examples. We have  been involved in these kinds of transformations directly a number of times – indirectly many more. 

There is, however, an inherent problem with this story, repeated virtually every time, especially if you take your direction from large multinational consultancies selling you their cookie cutter model. Since that’s the same solution, repackaged and sold all over the planet and never addressing the higher order systemic concerns and quite frankly only ever designed for the organisation it came from. Remember the quickest way to bring another organisations problems into yours is to copy someone else’s model. 

We forget about how we are going to manage and govern this new system of work at a level beyond the small team or tribe – the enterprise level. 

Governance is the forgotten element of organisations adopting new operating models that are based on a goal of enabling agility and more adaptable systems of work. When moving to new working methods it’s important to rethink how you govern your new system of work- traditional governance approaches are ineffective and add waste, overhead and create lack of transparency. They devalue trust. Add the current paradigm of every team being distributed, or at least partly remote for the foreseeable future, things need to change when we adopt agile working methods. You can’t be agile and overlay the same existing governance patterns and norms that didn’t really work before; they will only stifle your transformation.

You need Agile Governance!

Continue reading “The Compelling Need for Agile Governance”

Responsible Tech Summit

My good friend Phil Gadzinski and I were recently asked to speak at the Responsible Tech Summit 2020 recently. Phil and I are very passionate about agile governance, especially now that remote working has become a dominant way of working . This is our presentation:

Creating the next normal: remote agile governance

The spread of COVID-19 has had an unprecedented impact on the world. Social distancing and lockdowns have forced an unexpected shift to remote working, and many businesses have been caught unprepared.

While some had no remote working capability at all, others were able to successfully enable their whole company to work from home. However, once the initial shift was made, few have clear processes or procedures in place for how to work together remotely over a sustained amount of time. With traditional Agile leadership and governance structures specifically designed to help teams excel when they are co-located, what can you do when that’s not possible?

As the ongoing impact of COVID-19 continues to emerge, organisations with Agile teams are among the best-positioned to succeed, given their ability to adapt to a rapidly changing business environment. With organisations focused on their ability to maintain profitability and survive, effectiveness and efficiency counts greatly. But to sustain the effectiveness of their Agile teams, leaders must now overcome a new challenge.