Exclusive Trusted Magazine Q&A with Stefanie Puckett, Founder of Psychology4Agility & Psychologist.
How would you describe your career path in few words?
I started my career in a consulting company, where I focused on organizational and leadership development and assessments. After that I switched sides and joined a big company in Switzerland, working as HR Manager and regional Center of Excellence for assessment. From there I started my own consulting business in the US, and after returning to Germany, I worked for a consulting company again before starting Psychology4Agility and SynergyMind Consulting.
What brought you as a Psychologist to “Agile”?
In Organizational Psychology, we are researching since decades how work and the way of working should be designed to allow people to not only be less stressed and more satisfied at work but also perform at their best. Utilizing the human potential an organization has to its fullest has since become a competitive advantage. Examining agile practices and principles, there is a big overlap in what we Psychologists would advise on how to tackle today`s challenges. And many leaders I worked with started asking about agile leadership. That actually led me to dive into the topic, apply Psychological insights and come up with a guide for leaders on how to develop agile leadership competencies: my third book: Agile Leadership – Leadership Competencies for the agile transformation.
Can you name a few examples of agile practices that you consider especially relevant in this context?
Working iteratively, which allows us to explore complex solutions in volatile environments, is one. Having many and fast feedback loops that allow us to learn and adapt fast. Providing individuals and teams with autonomy to gather unique insights (from being close to the customer and market) and act on them to better serve the customer, is another aspect. It is what fosters curiosity, intrinsic motivation and thus, lead to smarter and more creative solutions.
Looking at individual elements, the retrospective might be the single most powerful “agile” practice. It is also the one practice that is most widely adopted by companies around the globe. Important is, that we not only reflect on processes but also on the way we behave and interact with each other.
How do you think agile practices have transformed companies over the past two years?
I did see a lot of transformation happening. Not so much by adopting agile methodologies or practices but by applying agile principles. The consequent focus on value-add work has encouraged people on all levels to speak up when they are confronted with work demands that did not add value. The biggest impact I observed was from transitioning to a command-control style leadership to enabling and trusting people to do their best. Teams become more effective, and come up with ideas and successes that exceed expectations. I accompanied teams that solved collaboration issues, that management had tried to solve for years within a single day, on their own. I saw people with winning ideas being able to elaborate and implement them, achieving great value for their business area.
Over the past two years, these developments continued on the ground of a global pandemic that had forced companies to act fast and flexible and change longstanding rules and traditions. Successfully. And without big change management. Simply be doing what helps everyone to adapt to changing circumstances so they can keep being productive and even find new ways to thrive.
Will agile practices continue to generate interest? What challenges do you see in the context of deploying these practices?
Yes and no. I saw many examples where agile practices had been forced on teams where they didn`t make sense. I saw companies throwing a lot of resources at training people in agile practices, that couldn`t apply their learnings because structures didn`t allow. I saw teams being stuck in philosophical discussions of the Scrum Guide, agile coaches that were more interested on applying rigid ideas or methodologies than helping people figure out to be successful within their environment.
I spent years analyzing agile organizations and the logic of successful agile transformations, from a psychological perspective. Agile methodologies do play a role in supporting organizations to adapt and evolve. However, at the heart of agility are people. The way they think, evaluate and prioritize, and the way they collaborate. I call this the Agile Culture Code I describe in more detail in the same-titled book.
The core principle of agile for me is to inspect and adapt. So, for me, deploying practices is the wrong approach. Solving problems by enabling people, is the right approach. And often, agile practices will be very helpful here. But only as long as they help people adapt to new challenges rather than forcing people to adapt to agile practices and methodologies. And only as long as they are – too – subject to inspect and adapt, enabling teams and organization to evolve, even beyond “agile”.
Dr. Stefanie Puckett is the founder of Psychology4Agility and CEO of SynergyMindConsulting. For more than fifteen years, she is supporting leaders as a Psychologist in tackling today`s challenges, internationally. Her books, including “The Agile Culture Code” and “Agile Leadership – Leadership Competencies for the Agile Transformation” help leaders and teams around the globe to utilize psychological insights to transform their way of working. Corresponding surveys, assessments, 360°-evaluation and focused eLearning offers support this effort.