Interview with Alex Yakyma

I present to you interview with Alex Yakyma author of ‘The Rollout: A Novel about Leadership and Building a Lean-Agile Enterprise with SAFe’. It has been an overwhelming experience to converse with Alex, who has wealth of knowledge when it comes to Enterprise Lean Agile Coaching. Let’s gain some insights from Alex;

Q1. What is Org Mindset ?

Alex: Org Mindset (orgmindset.com) was created with a simple idea to help enterprise coaches and their organizations grow Lean-Agile mindset and build new organizational habits – sustainable practices that continuously deliver value to the business. It’s been 16 years since the Agile Manifesto had been signed, while some specific Agile methods exist for over 20 years. And yet organizations struggle with the same key challenge today as they did 10, 15 or 20 years ago: they make an attempt to adopt new practices, but their thinking remains unfit for such a change and as a result, enterprises continue to produce a lot a waste. We help to change organizational thinking. We put a lot of emphasis on educating enterprise coaches, helping them acquire a whole new skillset.  

Q2. Would you agree that being a coach requires going beyond just following rituals and ceremonies? What is your take on that?

Alex:  It is, in fact, absolutely imperative for a coach to go beyond just that. One of the reasons that so many organizations never manage to cross the mindset chasm is because coaches habitually allocate all their effort around various stand-ups, synchronization meetings, planning, retros, demos, and the like, while completely missing coaching opportunities in Gemba, the real place where the work gets done and decisions are made. It is important to remember that ceremonies are not Gemba, they are surrogates at best. The full depth of the valuable context exists only in the work environment and its life span is very short. These Gemba opportunities are crucial to mindset change because they are real, not staged. People mostly “behave” themselves during planning, demo and other events and yet they continue to fall back to their old thinking in Gemba; that’s where coaching advice is most impactful. For us this represents one of the most critical aspects in educating enterprise coaches: when there is a real problem to be solved or a decision to be made, that’s the opportunity you simply can’t miss, if you really care about the outcomes of your coaching. The reason why so many people are falling into the trap of coaching only around ceremonies is because it is easy. Now, for a coach or an enterprise change agent, it is unacceptable to pick the path of least resistance. By definition that means that they have no chance at helping their company shift their thinking.      

Q3. Decision-making plays a crucial role when an organization is undergoing a transformation. What are the three common challenges while taking a decision?

Alex:  Needless to say, organizational decision-making is a key factor to its economic success. And yet, decision-making is often totally broken due to a number of severe factors. Let me expand a little on the top three of them:

Challenge 1: Failure to embrace and exploit variability. Many organizations are pathologically attached to the mantra of wishful predictability. They craft master plans that feature one single solution to the business problem that they are trying to solve. That subordinates all decisions to the imaginary happyland reality, fosters sugar-coating, confirmation bias and fierce resistance to change.

Challenge 2: Lack of basic, critical feedback cycles. It is very easy to believe in anything (for instance, that the solution option selected by the organization, is right) when there’s no actionable feedback cycles. We emphasize the importance of feedback loop markers — indicators that show whether a certain feedback loop is actually producing useful information and whether it affects important decisions. What most enterprises call “feedback loops”, has actually very little to do with effective feedback.  

Challenge 3: Inattention to context. There are multiple different decision making tools out there. However, they mostly revolve around backlogs, prioritization, some basic scoping and funding decisions. Problem is: every decision environment is unique. It turns out that it’s not the commonalities across the organizations that matter so much. Instead, unique organizational context determines a lot more in terms of decision success. Many had experienced, for example, how business stakeholders often struggle to “prioritize” backlog items. This is not because they are incompetent. On the opposite, it’s the overly simplistic backlog model that fails to capture various subtle but important economic dimensions, critical to that enterprise. We strongly suggest that leaders look at economic decision making as a multi-factor, context-dependent process that requires exploration of organization-specific mental models.

Q.4 Do you remember any instance when you got really inspired by someone’s style of working or their approach to handling challenges?

Alex:  I have seen (and worked with) people who managed to maintain composure despite serious challenges they encountered. There is beauty to human resilience under the pressure of adverse circumstances. That being said however, what I haven’t witnessed so often, are the examples where people were able to grow a strong team that would remain resilient and productive in the face of a serious adversity. That’s the leadership style that we, as an industry, are so badly missing. But guess what, no matter how smart you are or how strong a personality you are; if you are the main problem solver, your organization is automatically handicapped… by you. Empowering knowledge workers continues to be a rare state of the business. Mainly because apart from highly inspiring slogans, change agents don’t really know how to help their organizations actually build the environment of enablement. For that to happen, very specific things are needed as part of that environment, as well as the skill in building it.

Q5.  How can one foster Innovation? Is there a magic trick to it?

Alex: Today every organizational leader acknowledges that “they need to innovate” to be a productive, growing business, whether they are a startup or a long-established enterprise. For many though, this doesn’t go beyond outworn cliches. The reason for that is simple: innovation requires the actual “pull”, created by leadership, it’s fundamental underlying motive. Many organizations have no chance at establishing a strong innovative environment because their mindset strictly contradicts with it… and slogans and cliches, as always, don’t help much. If an organization believes in and seeks predictability, focuses on outputs instead of outcomes and treats people as simply “capacity buckets”, they will never be able to truly embrace innovative thinking or employ the true intellectual power of their people. Innovation requires to think hypotheses, experiments, multiple options… That’s where you start and that’s a journey of mindset shift from the 19th century reductionist thinking, that continues to dominate in today’s industry, towards empirical mindset that embraces complexity and exploits variability and uncertainty to build profound economic value. Simply declaring innovation or even allocating time for it, when there’s no actual “pull”, does not produce any good outcomes.   

Q6. What is next for Org Mindset?

Alex: Our effort right now is primarily focused on supporting enterprise coaches and change leaders by educating them in terms of critical thinking tools, viable adoption patterns and helping them acquire key instincts necessary to succeed at their complex tasks. Our ultimate mission is to fix the deeply broken situation with Agile across the industry, where most of “successes” are limited to ritualistic formalities, while the mentality of organizations remains absolutely the same: the old reductionist mindset. This industry badly needs more coaches and leaders that are capable of new organizational thinking, which is key to successfully operating in the environment of complexity. We are helping people to unleash their power in this capacity.  

Q7. What would you like to advise our current generation of change agents and coaches?

Alex: There’s a host of important topics, but let me emphasize one particular thing: under no circumstances can you compromise on the principal goal of your transformation effort: helping your organization acquire new mentality, new culture… no matter how hard it may be sometimes. Your job is one of the toughest professions out there, by definition. So, if you picked this path for yourself, pursue it with courage and honor… Unfortunately we got too many people with fancy badges and titles who, at the face of the slightest jeopardy to their consultant contract or an internal change agent career, turn from change agents into status quo agents and people pleasers. That damages the industry a lot. Don’t be like that! You can be one of very few change agents that are actually capable to help their organization change to the better. In pursuing this goal, you will acquire unique qualities and instincts that will open a lot of new doors for you.  

 

 

Alex Yakyma brings unique, extensive, and field-based experience to the topic of implementing Lean and Agile at scale. Alex is the founder of Org Mindset (http://orgmindset.com), a company whose mission is to help organizations grow the right mindset and evolve effective, context-specific implementation of Agile and Lean. Throughout his career he has served as an engineering and program manager in multi-cultural, highly distributed environments. As a methodologist, trainer and consultant, he has led numerous rollouts of Lean and Agile at scale, involving teams in North America, Europe and Asia, and has trained over a thousand coaches and change agents whose key role is to help their organizations achieve higher productivity and quality through the adoption of scalable, agile methods.

 

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