Team Report Card for Evaluating Organizational Transformation

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There are many ways of evaluating team or company’s maturity: the Agile Maturity Model (AMM), the Business Process Maturity Model (BPMM), the Capability Maturity Model (CMM)… to name a few.

Broadly speaking, when deciding what maturity model to use, you are looking at one of two things: are you evaluating a company’s current state of being (e.g. with an AMM)? Or are you evaluating a company’s progress towards a maturity goal (e.g. how mature is your organization as you move through an organizational transformation)? Understanding each of these can help a company be strategic in how to implement change.

These two can be used in conjunction with each other but it’s important to note that they are not the same. In determining a maturity level you go through the process of defining your current maturity level and make decisions on how to move forward. This can delve into the specifics of technology and process and can be done at both the team and organizational levels. But it broadly speaking, an AMM stops at the identification stage.

With evaluating progress, you’ve already made the decision to move forward and are in the midst of executing a plan, but now have to measure your progress against this plan and overall organizational goals. Ideally, this should be done at the organizational level so you can see how the entire company is moving and maturing.

This post is going to talk about the second model: determining how far along a company has moved towards a maturity goal. This was defined and tested with an organization that adopted a Lean Value Tree and a Lean Portfolio Management strategy (as seen in Edge). It also works best with companies that have multiple teams that need to be coordinated (and not small companies with few development teams).

The Problem

Meet Company X, who underwent a multi-year, multi-team corporate Lean Transformation; their objective was to move away from traditional, non-value based portfolio management practices to leaner, customer focused, goal based portfolio management. This is a company that works in the entertainment industry and has roughly 5000+ employees around the globe. They’ve acquired a handful of companies and incorporated these into their organization. They also work with contracting firms to help them maintain their legacy systems.

The overall goal for Company X is to move from a legacy platform to a scalable, modern solution, and at the same time transform their organization into a Lean Enterprise as seen in the book Lean Enterprise: How High Performance Organizations Innovate at Scale. Their organization is complex, large, unwieldy, and spread out over multiple cities around the globe.

Throughout the process Company X needed a means in which to quantify their progress towards their transformational goal. They recognized that they couldn’t “transform” the entire organization at once and needed a tool that could help them strategically look at their portfolio of teams and guide the transformation in productive ways.

The Concept Behind the Solution

The idea was inspired by swimming lesson report cards. There was a recognition that teams and people can’t instantly achieve the next state in their transformation by simply starting. There is a period of learning, understanding, and growth before a team can move to the next level of maturity. So, we adopted a report card to show progress towards an overall goal and used it to identify teams who had slipped backwards or who had become stagnant in their progress.

We identified four types of teams based on overall maturity level: a learning team, a practicing team, a responsive team, and a team that is working to grow other teams. Within these we identified some common (and broad) traits that didn’t delve deeply into the “how.” The objective was the determine if teams were behaving in an ideal way rather than telling them how to do their daily rituals.

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Also, at Company X, focus was on building teams that were formed around a problem; rather than taking an existing team and smashing it together with a backlog/piece of work… and then breaking them apart to form new teams somewhere else (to “share knowledge”). Once a goal was achieved, teams were kept together and pointed towards new and different problems. This allowed people to maintain their working relationships and continue to rapidly product software.

Level 1: Learning Team

This is a team that is starting their Lean/Agile journey. They are learning process basics, learning how to communicate effectively, and are using lightweight ceremonies to evaluate and communicate success towards their goal. Every learning team understands how they fit into the organizational value tree and subsequent product portfolio; and, they are able to prioritize work based on this knowledge.

We didn’t get mired down in the details of how to do each one of the criteria listed below; we left the “how” up to individual teams.

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In working with teams who are learning new practices, we recognized that high touch is needed. This means a high amount of effort is put into coaching, mentoring, and training to help individuals understand the basics of what they were learning.

As such, when looking at your portfolio of teams, you want to keep the number of teams in this level low so all your efforts are not spent here.

Overall, in working with learning teams we discovered that people were keen to learn, they were good at self organizing, and were quick to get to the next level. When teams started their transformation journey there was an energy or buzz that took over the organization. Focus was on acceptance of mistakes and an understanding that mistakes help you learn.

Level 2: Practicing Team

This is a team that has learned the basic Lean principles and are now ready to become more meaningful in their decisions. Practicing teams understand the basic concepts and are actively working to improve their practices.

They are able to recognize wasteful processes and collaborate with each member of the team to get work done faster. The overall objective in a practicing team is to improve communication within the team and decrease the amount of time it takes to get code to production.

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One of the observations we made early on with practicing teams at Company X is that they didn’t know what they don’t know; meaning they saw that they were effectively using basic Lean practices and subsequently felt that they had nothing new to learn. Even worse, teams would slip backwards to old behaviours because they felt that the new processes and practices weren’t helpful or slowed them down.

An example of this is with introduction of pairing. Individuals who started pairing felt that working with someone else on code slowed velocity down. What they didn’t realize is that, yes, there is an initial slowdown but this resolves itself after a while. Also, pairing is more than simply “writing code with someone else.” It is used as a means for sharing knowledge and evolving development skills to make the team more effective. They only saw an initial personal slowdown and failed to recognize that the entire team becomes stronger as each person becomes stronger.

On teams that are not mature, what you tend to see is individuals who “own” one particular part of the code, and who are unable to pick up new pieces of work from the top of a prioritized list because they are limited in their knowledge of the application. Pairing helps to eliminate this gap with the eventual outcome of having developers who can work on any piece of code.

Broadly speaking, there is also a period of slowing down when you are transforming an organization and changing practices. Many refer to this the trough of sorrow, meaning that during a transformation there is a period of quick successes, followed by a period of slippage and slowness, until the new practices become the status quo and people move onto the next learning.

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Level 3: Responsive Team

A responsive team is responsive to the needs of both the organization and to individual teams within the organization. They are able to quickly adapt to change, which helps them solve a problem or task at hand. They are highly collaborative, highly communicative, self-aware, and both give and receive constructive feedback. They are involved in communities of practice both within and without the organization.

The objective of an organization involved in a transformation should be to get teams to this level. Ideally, the critical mass / tipping point is to get more than 50% of their teams to this level or beyond.

Most teams complete this level of maturity and stop. This is a good place to be and organizations should be happy with self-aware, responsive, high performing teams.

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Theoretically, the key characteristic of a responsive team is they are able to adapt and support themselves. They need little guidance from coaches and are able to pull from the collective knowledge of the team to get things done.

However, one observation we made in the middle of the transformation was that progress for teams at this level started to slow because they began to in-fight when they reached the 3rd level of maturity. The area where people seemed to struggle the most was with communication and giving crucial and difficult feedback. And, without giving feedback to one another, people can’t grow.

It’s critical that care and attention be put into the peopling part of an organization when teams start to reach the third level. At Company X, prior to reaching this level, emphasis was on processes and team forming; but, by the third level, emphasis shifted to maturity and growth and required employees who were focused on changing the culture within Company X. As teams move up in the Lean Maturity model, the harder it becomes to implement change because it involves shifting how people think.

Level 4: Growing Team

This is a consultative and influential level of team maturity. It’s rare for teams to make it to this level and often, unnecessary for more organizations unless they are going through a multi-year, widespread transformational change.

The objective for a growing team is to use leadership skills to spread knowledge and support teams who are starting their transformation journey. We determined that once teams reached the 4th level of maturity, they could help and support others who were struggling with Lean adoption (in the Learning and Practicing stages).

The internal coaching team should display many of these characteristics.

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We quickly put together a pilot model that this 4th level team used to define their role and engagement with Learning and Practicing teams.

The pilot model is simple. It involved a cycle of identifying a team that needs help (e.g. Team A), define the coaching skills needed to help this team, swarm Team A to identify problems and come up with potential solutions, determining how long this coaching team would be engaged, and defining the ongoing support needed.

While this sounds good on paper, our learning here is that this level of maturity was difficult to implement. While some people are natural leaders and teachers, others were content to stay at the responsive level of maturity and focus on their own team, which is perfectly acceptable.

How This Was Used: The Team Portfolio

Broadly, we identified all the teams within the organization and then identified where they were in their Lean journey based on the criteria listed above. The overall amalgamation of the results from the report card gives the organization a holistic view of their maturity. This allowed Company X to strategically focus on certain “key areas” that provided quick value to the overall transformation.

Evaluation was binary meaning they either had one of the characteristics listed above or did not; there was no scale for each (e.g. they either paired or they did not) but we did frequently consult a more detailed listing of the criteria required for each to be complete (and used this as a self evaluation criteria).

Next we were able to apply a percentage to each level and look at how far along in the transformation the organization was. When we mapped this out for Company X, the team portfolio looked like this:

* 76% of teams had not begun their Lean journey
* Learning Teams: 5%
* Practicing Teams: 15%
* Responsive Teams: 3%
* Growing Teams: 1%

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This gave Company X an understanding on where they were in their transformation, and a place to start in making strategic decisions about how to proceed.

Firstly, it made sense to focus attention on the “15% of Practicing Teams” to get them on their way to the next “Responsive Teams” level. This group was at risk of sliding backwards without success; and, at risk of poisoning other teams by declaring that the changes were not successful. A little effort and extra focus could push these teams ahead quickly into the third level where they could sustain each other and help move the transformation ahead.

Secondly, we determined that the training team was too small to support a large number of teams within Level 1 & 2; this prompted the organization to look for individuals who could help with training and support. Also, there was one Growing Team that was looking for opportunities to spread and share knowledge. So, we came up with a plan to help this team support others within the organization.

We also started to look strategically at the teams that had not begun the transformation journey and figure out which one would be easy to bring on and who would have a high impact. To do this we built a simple 2×2 priorities matrix.

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The Outcome

Like mentioned above, one critical observation that we made early on was that when teams started to reach the third level of maturity (Responsive Team), care and attention needed to be put into the peopling part of the organization so people could continue to grow and mature. In the first two levels, emphasis was on processes and team forming; but by the third level, emphasis shifted to maturity and growth and required the help from employees who were dedicated to building a people function.

A key component to this was to reward teams for success/accomplishments and not individuals. This encourages collaboration and discourages hero behaviours that often undermine the change process. Harmonious teams can be stronger than individuals.

This is where with left Company X. Developing a people function within an organization takes you into the realm of culture and Company X needed to define, foster, and grow their culture journey before continuing on their transformation journey.

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