HR vs scrum

aka how i learnt to apply agility in a (new for me) business domain.

It has been 14 years since i graduated from university (yes, i finished high school at the age of 16 and started my bachelor’s degree straight away back in summer 2006).
The major challenge i was facing in the new job that i landed being actually in between a tough family situation and being sick with a popular virus was to transform HR area of a tech automotive company was my totally outdated theoretical Human Resources knowledge.

Before i started a new job, i took vacation (to recover), went to the seaside for two weeks and googled for all latest books and articles about agile HR. Two most prominent findings were a book by Natal Denk and a master thesis about career design in agile organisations — which also landed me on an idea to do an external PhD in management in University of Innsbruck, where i managed to study for 2 semesters so far, what massively helped to navigate the HR world from the theoretical perspective.

I highlighted the positioning paper for myself, deriving major points and vision for my intervention so that i could have a “go-to” strategy, still theoretical, but based on best practices, that can be adapted to the certain domain. I literally wrote it down, in 15 pages, amazon-like. Still, by the time i started the job, the practical perspective was missing, having spent most of the work-life in IT and engineering department. And this article is about balancing theory and experimentation in HR transformation.

Photo by Nate DeWaele on Unsplash

Hereby, i am sharing major findings after 10 month of agile transformation in human resources, which, in my perspective, can be extended and applied to major business areas.

  1. Get leadership “tolerance”. As a coach, one doesn't have a silver bullet straight away in solving organisational issues. And many actions of the coach seem “fluffy” for most of the managers in the beginning of the relation. Often coaches are hired without a deep understanding or a concrete roadmap. However, as long as the coach gets a bit of freedom in the beginning, it is possible to come up with quick results fast enough to get initial trust of management. Often it can be achieved by jumping into PMO shoes and structuring the department and its processes in a transparent way. Data-driven management using dashboards gives valuable insights even with minimal data quality, which wins some time to think about the big picture and derive a complex transformation strategy with the team. Afterwards, it is necessary to get to know the major leadership agenda points, to address it with agile techniques. And think about the guiding rails to improve data quality.
  2. Know your customer and investigate their pains. Once leadership is on board at least half-way, next step is to find the real organisational pains that bring quick wins and value to the users. As a coach, one has to balance between customer needs and task overload at first. A tipp here is to find the bottlenecks to remove impediments and free some time of the team. Very often it can be achieved by addressing the prioritisation by using agile frameworks and tools like delegation poker and achieving transparency via planning tools like kanban boards.
  3. Support customer quick wins. As soon as teams freed their capacity to concentrate on the strategic actions, it is necessary to use the moment and launch a couple of pilot activities what are following agile manifesto. Whatever framework a coach is using, the focus turns more towards team empowerment, end2end processes/ products and generating measurable business value. Once those pilot projects get the stage light, it is much easier to scale and deliver value for further teams and the management at this point is celebrating first little wins. Initial planning meetings are always fruitful for teams. Here everyone gets a total overview of all activities and is for the first time aware of the dependencies and double projects. Very exciting to watch how it unfolds.
  4. Find ambassadors. Initial success of baby steps leads to recognition and very often requires scaling to anchor the desired change. The best way of massive adoption is to have ambassadors in each key product/ team. First of all, an internal change agent has the required trust that is essential in leading the team along transformation journey. Secondly, they are experts in the process and operations that is essential if the coach is new to the domain (which in my case it is mostly the case). Important is that the coach genuinely learns the new processes from ambassadors and listens humbly. In that case the efficiency of this collaboration increases factor 10. And it is fruitful for the coach and the ambassador. Ambassador teams are powerful, as mostly informal leaders volunteer to play the ambassador role, therefore the only coach task is to nurture the relation and guide ambassadors towards required guidelines, giving enough free space for creativity and own experimentation.
  5. Share customer KPIs/ goals. Often agile coaching comes and goes, providing temporary improvement, not being adopted by the whole organisation or scaled in all teams. In order to anchor change, it is necessary to share the goals and KPIs of the customers within transformation team. It is always the most uncomfortable, but most rewarding activity. Also, it is the major quality trait of the real change coach, as only the ones that have a certain vision and strategy are ready to influence and improve business KPIs. Think about time-to-hire, probation success rate or employee engagement index. Coaching can not influence any of those directly, but using certain frameworks and coaching expert teams, supporting them in focus and planning the activities using scrum or kanban can massively affect the KPIs.

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natalia startseva

natalia startseva

turning 🦖 into 🦄 | Expert in fostering agility & innovation through sustainable human development