Accelerating Change Programmes

Seeking the approaches that enable faster change in the complex world of health and social care

The Disrupter who made us Great

Recently, I witnessed a wonderous thing, an incredibly high performing team delivering a complex piece of work at pace.

However, the situation didn’t start well and there are some tough personal lessons, but the overiding learning from the situation I’m going to outline is that disruption should be welcomed.

For a variety of very boring reasons, the start of a very complex piece of work was delayed, however the end point remained worryingly close. To undertake the piece of work we broke it down into a number of key milestones only, rather than a very detailed plan, brought together a team familiar with agile approaches and we established a sprint to kick off the work, but initially this didn’t go very well and was heavily dependent on me to gain any traction.

During this period, there were a number of new people that became part of the team and two in particular, who would be key to overall success. So, I sat them both down to outline how we worked, why an agile approach matched the change environment and how this would work. I didn’t realise at the time, and should have, but their whole experience was related to strong project management and this new agile thing clearly made them very nervous. Their personal tool kits (everyone has one) didn’t contain any tools that matched the world I described. They responded in very different ways, one disengaged and left within a few weeks and the second turned to his own familiar toolkit and worked with this to develop a very detailed plan.

During this stage, relationships and interactions were tense and progress was very limited, however the team member (disrupter) was gaining lots of traction as the detailed plan played into the organisation culture and expectations, but it was consuming lots of time and effort in planning. Nothing was being delivered and the deadlines became ever closer.

Although this state of affairs was only 2 to 3 weeks, it unsettled the whole team and the approach that most of the team had bought into was being undermined and they were unclear on what to do. During this time there were lots of relationship issues to manage and I was drawn into the detail of these, which were very time consuming. It was fortunate during this period that I had a couple of days away from the team on an event that had been arranged months before. This gave me time to reflect and think about the disruption and a plan was hatched.

I persuaded our new team member to bring along his detailed plan to a meeting and we would look at how the wider team could be involved or connect their work to it. We ran the session, which was tense, in a manner similar to a sprint planning session. Essentially creating a backlog of activities for the week ahead and planning these out with post-it notes on a wall. We ran these sessions every couple of days, during which the disrupter occasionally became involved, but when he did, it was often quite challenging, and following each session he went back to update the detailed plan. Having demonstrated to the team how a rolling sprint could work it was time to try something different, so I made an excuse at the beginning on the next sprint meeting. I outlined how I wanted the group to work together and reminded them of the looming milestones and left to attend my fictitious meeting.

What happened next, was as unexpected as it was brilliant. The disrupter became much more involved in this session and started to challenge some of the content as well as some of the approach. There were a number of strong characters in the group outlining the benefits of the agile approach and so debates ensued over the next few sessions until a slightly revised way of working was established (I kept away during this time). Our disrupter then became an advocate for the new way of working (a step up in effectiveness) and often led many of the sprint catch up and planning sessions. The detailed plan quietly disappeared.

The result, this team delivered to the milestones at incredible pace with high levels of inclusivity.

Sadly, the disrupter was recalled from his secondment soon after, but in his first assignment in his new assignment, he introduced the style of working that he’d helped to establish in our team.

Personally, I learnt a number of things during this phase:

  • that disruption can be a very positive part of organisation change,
  • Agile approaches are very different to traditional project management approaches and need time for people to absorb understand and add to their toolkits,
  • getting stuck in relationship tensions is easy, but not very effective,
  • knowing when to leave people alone to work through solutions is a key part of leadership in change,
  • time away from the work environment is key to gaining perspectives, reflecting and making effective decisions,
  • it’s important to keep people in change focused on what they need to achieve,
  • Agile working and rolling sprints are very effective at accelerating the pace of delivery.

It was difficult period for both the team, disruptor and myself, however I am grateful to our disruptor for not immediately compromising his toolkit and for working to develop a new approach, in order to create something even better.

I’ll outline more of the rolling sprint approach that emerged in a future blog.

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This entry was posted on 15/09/2016 by in Agility, change, planning, sprint, Sprint Story and tagged , , , .
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