FACTUAL Consulting LLC

Enabling Success in Leading Digital Business Transformation (TM)

Risks To Consider When Hiring Key Roles For A Lean-Agile Transformation

Balancing the Tradeoffs

In this post I offer my insights from my experiences on hiring key roles from outside cultures vs. growing ones internally. To set a context, let’s consider an expanding transformation in an enterprise that is utilizing SAFe as a Lean-Agile scaling framework.


IMO, the hiring of Release Train Engineers and the Value Stream Engineers are strategic staffing decisions. They are the core of the servant leadership conduit from value definition through to work definition. Let’s consider the RTE role specifically.

These are the key qualities I look for in an RTE candidate: Is she successfully operating in her current work ecosystem? When conducting real world type problem solving, role play sessions, do the decisions she makes and her stated actions, based on the scenarios, align with the lean-agile mindset? Is she respected? Can she influence upward and downward? Has she demonstrated a history of servant leadership? Does she understand change management? Of course an RTE also needs good business acumen, organizational skills and a solid understanding of the Framework they are serving within, just as would a good project manager.

I actually value accomplished program managers that possess advanced skills and knowledge needed to be successful in operating in complex portfolio / program environments. These are valuable and applicable in a Lean-Agile environment; it is just how they are applied that is vastly different.

Of course, one can only find out so much asking questions from outside candidates coming from different work ecosystems. Internal candidates can be vetted far more effectively by speaking with the candidates’ peers and current and past managers.

Building a network of allies across the business functions is key if the RTE is going to be successful in enabling the needed cooperation and collaboration to deliver successful solutions.

IMO, the key qualifications for an RTE position are not only understanding the role and having had experience in that role if that experience is in another company’s work ecosystem. For reference, a work ecosystem is the intersection of many variables, including the work cultures, leadership mindset, operating structure, and physical environment of an organization. A candidate needs to have high potential to be successful operating in your current work ecosystem. They need to produce value in it, while working on evolving the work ecosystem, as part of the transformation, to enable more efficient and effective outcomes.

The trade-off between the risk of someone not having operated with the title of RTE vs. the risk of a candidate not having experience in the current work ecosystem must be taken into serious consideration. While bringing in a new cultural influence can be positive, I find that if that person isn’t at a level of leadership to have the authority and necessary skills to design and make changes in the culture in which they will operate, then the value in this trade off is more often lost.

Lastly, the hiring management should consider that often a person who has operated very successfully in a lean-agile work ecosystem, is used to having certain characteristics in that ecosystem. A Lean-Agile work ecosystem

  • is conducive to focus, embraces “pull” execution
  • enables alignment from planning through execution from strategy to team levels
  • values team performance over individual performance with motivational systems congruent with that stance
  • enables collaboration
  • makes it safe to be transparent
  • enables distributed decision making to reduce and remove the inefficiency of bottlenecks created by escalated decisions
  • provides significant autonomy to maximize the potential of each team member to the team
  • highly values the learning nature of a lean system which is reflected in how improvement work is made visible and capacity is provided for its follow through

The risk of an experienced externally sourced RTE’s chance of success in your work ecosystem drops as you remove, from the list above, those characteristics that don’t describe your current work ecosystem. It would be useful to explore what the work ecosystem of a candidate claiming to have had success in it, was really like. This includes the physical environment.

Scenario: I have two candidates on my short list, both with potential. The first is a highly seasoned and accomplished Scrum Master that had previously grown up as a Program Manager in the company and successfully transitioned to a lean-agile mindset. The second, an external candidate with 2 years of successful experience as an RTE, but in a very different work ecosystem. I’d very likely promote the Scrum Master and enable success with additional training and coaching.

This has many benefits, such as, leveraging established networks of relationships, leveraging cultural awareness to help enable transformation change planning, and sending a clear message about the value of developing people.

What would you do?

© 2010 Jupiterimages Corporation

FACTUAL Observations – What Type of System Is Your Organization?

© 2010 Jupiterimages Corporation

© 2010 Jupiter Images Corporation

This week I’ve taken some time to reflect on several interesting conversations I’ve had with other Enterprise Lean-Agile Coaches during the past few months as well as to reflect on additional reading and video viewing I’ve done in support of building out the FACTUAL Framework.  This reflection has provided me some insight into what people are teaching and coaching and what they see as the current state of the union in the evolution of thinking around modern organizations being living systems.

It’s nice to see the thinking from the Lean and Agile Coaching Community and Organizational Development camp begin to shift some leadership and management thinking regarding an organization being a complicated machine to that of it being a complex, living system, existing in a larger ecosystem.  I’ve been a fan of David Anderson’s work with his Kanban method as an approach for evolving organizations and I am excited to see the evolution in his thinking and offerings to provide an Services-Oriented perspective to help folks understand the living systems perspective of a modern human enterprise.  See Enterprise Services Planning (ESP)

The challenge is that the adoption of this perspective still seems to mostly exist at leadership levels serving at best groups or subsystems within the organization.  In other words, we still have a long way to go.  Also, when you look at where this perspective stops in a leadership hierarchy, it gives you a pretty good idea of where a transformation will ‘hit the ceiling’ and go no further.  ESP approach that Anderson is putting forth demonstrates to me the clear understanding that this evolution will take time, but progress can be made one Enterprise Services Group at a time.

Since the early 1990s, I’ve viewed the modern organization as an interconnected, complex system of individuals and groups of individuals. This arose from my study of and fascination with object-oriented patterns and their abstraction from biological systems,

My perception was and is that each individual and group is a system in itself.  Each subsystem carries out its processes to deliver its services which integrate / collaborate to deliver value to other dependent systems (customers) in pursuit of (hopefully) a meaningful mission while continually evolving and hopefully improving.

The beauty is in the concept of encapsulation. This allows a larger system to evolve because its subsystems can continually improve their processes, tooling and competency while still providing the services and quality of service they are ‘contracted’ to provide to the larger system, by design. I have found that the encapsulation pattern of thinking applied to transformation strategy planning to be very beneficial, partly because it can be expressed in a very visual way, but mostly because of the flexibility with what can be logically encapsulated.

The degree of improvement that can be realized in a human systems in an organization is heavily dependent on how fertile the human behavioral ecosystem is within that system. By fertile, I mean conducive to the Lean-Agile Mindset. For example, the knowledge-worker agents in a human system strive for autonomy, mastery and purpose which can only be realized if the human behavioral ecosystem is in balance to foster a lean-agile mindset.  This balance is what the FACTUAL Framework enables leadership to understand, establish and maintain in their evolving system. The scope of achieving this balance doesn’t have to be at the organizational system boundary, in fact, that is rarely the case, except perhaps for some start ups.

Larger organizations seeking to transform can design the transformation to provide this balance a subsystem at a time.  As more subsystems transform the larger system’s behavioral ecosystemJenga Sabatog feels the pressure to evolve. Hopefully there can be leaders promoted from within the ranks of the subsystems that have achieved a fertile behavioral ecosystem to effect a similar change at a larger scale in the organization.

Be aware of those with leadership tendencies for fiefdom building and or a fixed mindset. These agents of can become the saboteurs of your transformation by triggering the ever popular reorganization to derail the effort that is causing their discomfort.

Conflict Forges Innovation

How Collaborative Is Your Knowledge-worker Ecosystem?

Enabling effective collaboration in its work environment is essential if an organization wishes to operate as a Lean-Agile Enterprise. I refer to this environment more specifically as the value stream knowledge-worker ecosystem.  Collaboration is a key characteristic that enables speed, fast learning, and scaling the Lean-Agile Mindset in this ecosystem. The benefits to be had are great: a unified face to customers, faster internal decision making, the ability to reduce costs by effectively sharing resources, and the development of more innovative products.

Companies spend billions of dollars on initiatives to improve collaboration, yet few have realized the desired results. Why?  Because management most often does not take a systems perspective when examining the problem to identify and address the root cause, conflict.  Instead, companies attempt to address the symptoms of the problem, focusing on restructuring their organizations and re-engineering their business processes. On the people side, there are efforts to educate people on teamwork which often is seen to be just a management term as often satirized by popular comics like Dilbert.

Dilbert Teamwork Comic

Additionally, management may offer financial motivation such as cross-unit incentives, ignoring the current science around knowledge worker motivation.

While the attempts to address the symptoms of the problem yield the occasional success story, most of them only have limited impact and many are total failures.  In my experience, many restructuring efforts actually end up causing more conflict because the current realities in the human work ecosystems of the organizations are not considered.  This can actually cause these restructuring efforts to create additional barriers to collaboration.  I have seen this to be especially relevant in organizations that scale by acquiring other organizations.

Conflict Forges Innovation

Conflict Forges Innovation

Don’t get the wrong idea about conflict. In a Lean-Agile Enterprise, conflict and effective conflict management are the fire and the craft from which innovation is forged.

The idea is not to try to eliminate conflict, the idea is to foster a knowledge worker ecosystem that enables its effective management and resolution.  Enterprises that welcome constructive conflict and that can institutionalize approaches for managing it will rank high on the Collaboration element scale of the FACTUAL Framework.

Why FACTUAL Consulting?

I have been asked by friends and colleagues why I decided to establish and build FACTUAL Consulting.  I’m very fortunate to be in a position to be able to build an organization to focus on what I see as perhaps the largest risk involved with scaling lean-agile value delivery in a digital business. That risk being, leadership too often forgets that it is a ‘Human System’ that delivers the value and that the ecosystem that they work in is the foundation of all the other subsystems that come together to deliver the value.

FACTUAL Consulting will provide a community-based reference framework that will be the basis of assessments, tooling, leadership training and coaching. This portfolio of services is designed to enable the cultivation and maintenance of ecosystems in which knowledge workers innovate, design, build, and deliver the value that enterprises provide in this age of digital business to their customers, employees, and stakeholders.  The ecosystem should also provide a balance that truly enables the promise of Lean, continuous learning and improvement.

Over the last ten years of working at helping organizations scale lean and agile approaches to value delivery, I have found that scaling efforts are most often impeded by leadership, most engaging at levels that are far too tactical. The scope of the “system” in the concept of systems thinking in the ‘Lean school of thought’ is far too narrow.Farmer in barren field

Imagine a farmer not paying any attention to the ecosystem in which they want to plant their crop, rather just knowing they want to produce a crop. They buy equipment and seed, hire people to plant the crop, and hope for the best. That approach in farming doesn’t yield predictable results, and the same can be said for the approach many leaders in digital businesses take in creating and cultivating the ecosystems needed for knowledge workers to deliver the ‘planned crops’ at scale in their enterprises.

FACTUAL Consulting was founded to formalize and bring to market the FACTUAL Framework which has been developed to address the key risk we see affecting the successful scaling of the Lean-Agile Mindset to enterprise scale, that being a knowledge-worker ecosystem not conducive to the Lean-Agile Mindset.

FACTUAL is a framework for leadership at all levels to understand the state of their current knowledge worker ecosystem, how to cultivate it into a highly fertile one, and maintain that ecosystem through the one truly consistent element of business and life, that being change.

In my next post, I will introduce the FACTUAL framework in more detail.