How to Avoid Common LeSS Pitfalls for Successful Enterprise Agility
Organizations that try to transform into agile enterprises often fail for a variety of reasons. Some organizations have trouble with feature teams. Teams may have trouble with collective code ownership. Many organizations have Scrum Masters who act more like managers. Still others have product owners who don’t spend enough time with their teams.
In the case of LeSS, organizations often fail in their adoption efforts for two reasons: They underestimate the power of their existing culture to undermine their efforts, or they try to go too big too soon.
Questioning the claim that culture follows structure
LeSS is built on the notion that “culture follows structure,” which is the fourth of Larman’s four laws. Others believe that structure follows culture. This debate is similar to that between behaviorists who believe that animal behavior can be conditioned through outside stimuli and cognitive scientists who believe you can control someone’s behavior by changing the way the person thinks.
Both debates represent either/or fallacies that are often disproven by others who take a “both, and” approach. In other words, instead of embracing Larman’s claim that “culture follows structure” or the opposite claim that “structure follows culture,” accept that both structure and culture play important roles in a successful transformation and work toward changing both.
The funny thing is that Larman’s fourth law, “Culture follows structure,” totally contradicts Step 1 in the six-step LeSS adoption process: “Educate everyone.” An attempt to educate everyone is an attempt to change people’s mindsets and the organization’s culture as a whole. So avoid taking Larman’s fourth law too seriously and try to size up your organization first:
- If your organization is highly resistant to big change, you may need to focus on changing minds and culture first. Otherwise, people are likely to reject any new structure you try to implement.
If your organization is highly resistant to change, consider introducing big change gradually. You may want to start with one or two Scrum teams and, when they achieve success, expand from there. When people start to see the benefits, they’ll be more receptive to accepting the new approach.
- If your organization has a culture that readily embraces change, people will probably embrace any new structure you introduce, whether it’s the LeSS framework or something else. If this description fits your organization, you may be able to introduce the LeSS framework without concerning yourself too much about changing your organization’s culture.
Watching out for over-scaling
One of the most common and serious problems that undermines attempts to adopt LeSS is related to over-scaling in one or both of the following ways:
- Making too many changes too quickly for the organization to adjust
- Choosing big solutions to small challenges
Implement changes gradually
Organizations change slowly. The larger the organization, the slower it will be to respond to change. You can take a left turn on a jet ski much more quickly than you can make the same turn with a cruise ship. If you try to push through changes too quickly, you’re likely to capsize. To increase your chances of success, follow these suggestions:
- Be patient. If you expect overnight success and push too hard, you’re likely to increase resistance and make little, if any, progress.
- Manage expectations. While you want to sell people on the benefits of LeSS, also make them aware that the change is likely to take a long time, present them with a steep learning curve, and require time and effort. Don’t make it seem easy.
- Make incremental changes. Introduce change slowly, perhaps by starting with one or two Scrum teams. As these teams begin to reap the benefits of agile, team members will become advocates, helping to change the organization’s collective mindset and culture. If you feel the winds of change rushing through your hair, you’re probably moving too fast.
- Recruit and educate. Approach your LeSS transformation as a grass-roots movement. Recruit influential people throughout the organization and try to convince them of the benefits of an agile transformation and of LeSS specifically. The more people you recruit the more likely you are to create a lasting environment for change.
Don’t ignore the skeptics. If you do, they’ll make any setback seem like a disaster.
When large organizations scale anything, they often try to go too big too quickly. They choose an organization-wide solution and try to implement it all at once. Here are a few solutions to avoid this over-scaling trap:
- Approach scaling as a strategy for creating high-quality products in spite of your organization’s size, not as a celebration of how big it is.
- Implement changes gradually.
- Look for the easiest, quickest solution. You don’t always need a big solution for a big challenge.