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Q&A with Staffan Nöteberg

Exclusive Trusted Magazine Q&A with Staffan Nöteberg, Agile Coaching and Leadership.

How could you describe your career path in a few words ?

Senior Agile and Lean transformation consultant. I also wrote some popular books.

How do you think agile practices have transformed companies over the past two years?

Despite the fact that Agile ways of working in teams have been successful since the 90s, the

returns have not matched the potential. At least not when it comes to enterprises. Incremental deliveries and cross-functional teams indeed generate higher quality and better transparency, but those approaches won't solve the problem in large organizations with the overwhelming number of dependencies across silos. Recent trends are promising:

  • Alignment: Management sometimes struggles to grasp the complexity teams operate in with numerous deadlines and external dependencies. To create a unified force in the organization, assistance with prioritization from leadership is vital. However, micromanaging individual tasks does not scale. The solution is rather to set a common direction—a guiding star, saying, "We want to go here, not there." It paves the way to collectively complete A, instead of getting halfway through A, half of B, and half of C. Combinations of OKR and Hoshin Kanri are evidently successful.

  • Virtual Teams-of-Teams: The metaphor of linear streams, starting in customer order and ending in value delivery, is well suited for predictable routine work, like assembling cars in a factory. Unfortunately, product development, especially with software, is often too complex for this way of thinking. Development is not like production. Each development task is unique, and the value refinement path through the organization is often discovered during the work. Moreover, a team typically contributes to more than one development project simultaneously. In virtual teams-of-teams, the teams join and leave as needed, creating an efficient dynamic and a closeness among those who actually deliver together, even if they belong to different parts of the organization.

  • Strengthening Informal Networks. While most organizations spend significant effort on improving deliveries and structure, not so many invest in creating new 1:1 relations. Those connections get neglected despite the fact that a stronger and broader informal network may come with competitive advantages.

Biweekly Open Space for a division, Buddy system for the entire organization, and Lean Coffee in the project status meetings are examples of investments in alternative information roads. Some of these connections will, later on, prove to be very useful. Others will be forgotten. The new connections — our informal network — and the interactions that will grow there may uncover important unknown unknowns sooner rather than later.

What successful cases of agile transformations have you had the opportunity to observe that have particularly stood out to you?

The last two years, I've helped Nasdaq in their journey towards more agility at scale. Establishing self-organization, resilience, and adaptive behavior on a large scale is both challenging and exciting. The impact of our ideas unfolded positively through distinctive measures:

Firstly, our agile implementation at scale stood out for its flexibility and resilience by drawing inspiration from Stanley McChrystal's Team of Teams. It led us to practices that don’t become overthrown by dependencies across.

Secondly, the centralization of planning and progress data in Jira Align marked a shift. This enabled a nuanced differentiation between the strategic aspects of OKRs and the tactical execution of initiatives, epics, and stories. Consequently, OKRs began to influence the planning process, not vice versa.

Lastly, the integration of Hoshin Kanri practices, such as catchball and checkins, played a pivotal role in embedding OKRs more profoundly within the organization. This transformation redefined OKRs from mere performance indicators to guiding stars, illuminating a path aligned with organizational objectives.

These holistic approaches ensured that self-organization, resilience, and adaptive behavior became intrinsic elements of our complex and large-scale delivery processes.

Will agile practices continue to generate interest ? What challenges do you see in the context of deploying these practices ?

The Agile way of working will continue to be crucial in companies', when it comes to governing and delivering new and improved products, also in the foreseeable future.

However, Agile is not synonymous with Good per se. In some projects, we have everything under control even before we start. In such cases, we can plan efficiently in advance. Agile methods, on the other hand, add value when faced with a large number of uncertain parameters. Can we guarantee that the market loves what we intend to offer them? Are we working with new and unexplored technology? Do we have dependencies on suppliers that might disrupt our schedules?

Being able to distinguish between predictable and unpredictable projects is a success factor, especially for large companies. Even more successful are those who can then adapt their working methods—whether agile or non-agile—based on how unpredictable our work is going to be.

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