Interview with Vivek Jain

The discussion around implementation of Change in organisations has been on the rise in recent years. We often think how Agile and Change Management can fit together. In this edition, we speak to Vivek Jain, Chief Business Officer at Shiksha.com on how Agile can facilitate implementation of Change, Agile as a strategic priority, and intrinsic skills required to achieve success in an Agile organisation. He also suggests his mantra to be successful.

Let’s read;

Q1. How can we prepare teams to be ready to make necessary, but possibly uncomfortable changes?

Vivek: You must have often heard “big changes come from small steps” However, they also come from within. At Shiksha.com, we have a culture where all teams meet and listen to each other. All the teams have the freedom to decide their own future course of objectives and actions. Teams present their plans regularly to cross-functional leadership team and participate in a constructive/healthy discussion with them. Complete ownership with team is key factor to push them to achieve their objectives. This puts teams in such a scenario where they self-evaluate their performance on weekly basis. Teams suggest their next move, before we reach out to them. At times suggestions bring discomfort. However, the teams understand the challenges and get themselves acquainted with the situation.

Q2. According to you how being Agile can facilitate implementation of a change?

Vivek: Market is continuously evolving. It is necessary for teams to keep up the pace with changing market dynamics and demands. As we continue to deepen our understanding of customers and their expectations, roles and expectations from roles has evolved. A shared value system and an agreed set of business objectives, helps the teams in evolving their direction and strategies. This agility in their plans comes from a mixture of better clarity about expectations and greater transparency across teams. Being Agile is core of execution excellence.

Q3. Do you think organisations should start treating Agile as a strategic priority?

Vivek: Yes. Changing user requirements and better understanding of customer requirements implies we have dynamism in our action plan. Flexible approach is required to lead the charts.

Q4. Why organisations have started investing in talent of their people? What are the three key benefits?

Vivek: Investing in the talent has larger goals;

  • Upskill and Cross Learning- Employees are acquainted with the latest market trends and advanced technologies. Learning new skills help them see the larger pie and its importance. At Shiksha, employees continuously participate in such initiatives and we have witnessed great benefits among teams/individuals.
  • Talent Retention- These initiatives breaks the monotony of the teams/individuals. Teams feel inspired to learn and implement new things. This keeps up the enthusiasm and motivation that greatly influences the employee retention.
  • Organizational Values- With new learnings, we help individuals to grow within the organization. These individuals carry the organizational values with them. However, in the case of hiring a new talent, we simultaneously work on building those organizational values.

Q5. What are the intrinsic skills required to be successful in an Agile organisation?

Vivek: Intrinsic skills required;

  • Customer centricity – Only a customer centric organization can understand the importance of being nimble and Agile to customer needs and wants.
  • Risk takers/ openness to experiments- For an Agile organization, it is important the teams is ready to take new challenges. Teams require players with openness to try new initiatives and evaluating the opportunities. However, they also have to be the great team players in keeping the rest of team in sync.
  • Decision makers- It is very important to take a right and a quick decision. Individual should be analytically strong to understand the situation and bring new ideas on the table.

Q6. How to avoid mess up while implementing a change in entire organisation?

Vivek: 

Key important factors to ensure smooth implementation are;

  • Planning & compliance- Define a proper plan weighing the real time challenges. Planning is a stage where most of things will be rectified if the plan is designed keeping the compliance in order.
  • Breaking a larger goal into smaller milestones, building teams for each milestones and clearly defined ownerships of the goal brings speed in execution and predictability in outcomes.
  • Awareness- Things can easily turn haywire due to complicated communication channel. Awareness and transparency across teams is very important to keep all stakeholders in sync and avoid any mess
  • Clear responsibilities- Clear communication of goals and responsibilities is also important to avoid any last minute confusion. This will help sort any unpredicted event and the go to person for that.

Q7. Is there any way to ensure a change as an improvement?

Vivek: If we don’t have data on what the expected outcome of a change will be, we should plan it as an experiment. Based on the success of the experiment, we can decide to scale up or abandon the experiment. However, there are many instances where sufficient data or a proxy to the data required is available and with a reasonable certainty, we can estimate the outcome. Every change comes with its own challenges. A change is an improvement only if the challenges can be analyzed, anticipated and resolved during the execution phase.

Q8. Please share your mantra of achieving success.

Vivek: You can’t fail if you never give up. Every failure is a learning that teaches you how to succeed next time.

 

Vivek Jain is an esteemed Business leader with over 20 years of experience in Product Management, Product Strategy, Analytics, Machine Learning, Business Development and Business Management.

Presently, he is serving as the Chief Business Officer at Shiksha.com and holds the responsibility of leading ‘Naukri FastForward & Learning Business’ initiative. Throughout his career, he has served selected leadership positions at major companies, including Group Product Manager at Adobe, and General Manager at iSOFT. As a Business Leader, Vivek is an ardent believer in focusing on deep customer insight and for him “Innovation” means to drive growth and forwarding the momentum in an organisation.

Interview with Scott W. Ambler

Innovation is certainly central to long term success of any organisation, and fostering the culture of innovation is a real challenge.

In our recent discussion with Scott W. Ambler we explored how culture of innovation can be developed. He also shared his thoughts on 20 years Agile, and what according to him is ‘Innovation’.

Let’s read;

Q1. How do you summarise 20 years of Agile?

Scott: Percentage-wise I think that there has been far more “agile in name only” than actual agile, but overall we’re certainly seeing more teams working in an agile manner in practice. Most of this is due to the “dumbing down” of agile, particularly resulting from the multitude of agile certification schemes where people are effectively buying certifications instead of earning them. The desire of leadership for “standard” prescriptive agile processes is certainly causing significant harm as well as this is unrealistic in practice – every team is unique and therefore needs to develop their own unique way of working (WoW).  “Owning your process,” or choosing your WoW, has been a fundamental concept in agile from the very beginning but to do so requires both mindset and skill.

Q2. What is more difficult among these two – a) Transitioning an organisation to Agile or b) Transitioning an individual to Agile? Please explain.

Scott: Clearly a) because to do A you also need to do B for all of the people involved.  A is always hard, B will vary based on the individual – some people are very eager and open to agile ways of thinking and working whereas others will fight you tool and nail.

Q3. How can an organisation keep innovating without affecting productivity?

Scott: Yes, I have seen that happen. The challenge is one of understanding the overall value stream lifecycle.  In An Executive Guide to Disciplined Agile we work through the McKinsey 3-Horizon Model of Growth to explain this. Innovation occurs, a lot, at horizon 3 where you experiment with and explore new offering (product or service) ideas.  At horizon 2, where you flesh out the value stream around an offering, you still innovate but at a more granular level as you home in on how you can make money serving your customers. Once a value stream enters horizon 1, where it’s mature and running at scale, then innovation is very granular at the feature/function level.

Q4. How can organisations develop a culture of innovation, and keep their employees motivated for the same?

Scott: Innovation requires an experimentation mindset, something that is very difficult in organizations where there is a project-based mindset, a quarterly results mindset, or a “predictability” mindset.  If you want to develop a innovation culture I think you need to start by taking an experimentation-based approach to the way that you work. We’ve certainly seen experimentation-based approaches work well when it comes to process improvement, the DevOps movement as well as the Lean movement before it as clear examples of that.  We’ve also seen experimentation-based strategies work well for new product development, something that Lean Startup popularized.

As far as keeping people motivated, that will vary by person.  I would hope that with intellectual workers they are motivated by learning and mastering their craft, and clearly being given the autonomy to experiment is a key aspect of enabling that.

Q5. What is ‘Innovation’ as per your experience?

Scott: Innovation is iteratively experimenting with, and then acting on what you’ve learned about, new ideas.  These ideas may pertain to your WoW or to the product or service that you’re providing to customers. Some innovations will be successful, some will not.  So focus on what works and move away from what doesn’t.

Q6. To the uninitiated, what is Disciplined Agile Delivery (DAD)? Please share two major challenges of organisations that DAD can address.

Scott: First, DAD embraces the complexity that we face as software developers, or more accurately solution developers, so that a team can optimize our way of working (WoW). It takes the mystery out of agile by showing how it all fits together and by making your options explicit.  Second, DAD shows you how to choose, streamline, and evolve your WoW to address the context that you face. Every team is unique and every team faces a unique situation – therefore they need to be allowed to choose their WoW. DAD does this by walking you through the issues you need to think about, your options to address those issues, and the tradeoffs associated with each option.  Teams are making these process-related decisions implicitly already, our experience is the teams that make these decisions explicitly are more successful in practice.

Q7. One advice to the newbies to be Agile, and stay Agile. 

Scott: You need to both “be agile,” to have an agile mindset, and to “do agile,” to have the skills to get the job done. You may focus on mindset at first, but over time you’ll spend most of your effort honing and improving your skills.

 

Scott is the Chief Scientist at Disciplined Agile, Inc. He works with organizations around the world to help them to adopt agile and lean strategies across the enterprise. He provides training, coaching, and mentoring in disciplined agile and lean strategies at both the project and organizational level. Scott is the (co)-creator of the Disciplined Agile (DA) framework as well as the Agile Modeling (AM) and Agile Data (AD) methodologies. He is the (co-)author of several books, including Choose Your WoW!, An Executive’s Guide to the Disciplined Agile Framework, Refactoring Databases, Agile Modeling, Agile Database Techniques, and The Object Primer 3 rd Edition.