Traditional Organizational Structures Can Stifle Business Agility…If You Let Them

Value Doesn’t Follow Silos 

Without deliberate methods of encouraging and organizing collaboration, traditional organizational structures of large enterprises become self-serving silos. Siloed organizations typically fund traditional organizational structures, not by strategy or how teams create value for the organization. Further, teams within an organization have less incentive to collaborate when funding doesn’t depend on effective collaboration.

We can define corporate strategy in many ways; however, without an environment that fosters alignment and a shared vision, any method in an organization becomes ineffective. From a functional standpoint, organizing employees provides some benefits, and specific functional organizations are necessary from compliance, legal, and accountability perspectives.

When organizations are constructed exclusively around functional and operational silos, it’s a challenge to reach a high level of business agility.

Connect the Silos 

Lean-Agile leaders will find ways to connect the silos that establish a collaborative environment where linking the silos doesn’t require reorganization. Furthermore, connecting the silos requires a shift in management focus from tasking people to helping people.

True alignment to strategy can’t happen without collaboration and a holistic understanding of intent. Still, the techniques used to connect the silos are unfamiliar to those who have spent decades in traditional organizational structures. 

So How Do They Do It? 

It is more of a reverse approach to organization. Enterprise organizations regularly re-organize structures, focusing on moving people to the work. This approach creates overhead, but the organization must regularly revisit personnel assignments as projects start, conclude, and re-prioritize.  

Lean-Agile practices recommend moving the work to the people. 

Moving work to the people requires environments and virtual structures designed around value streams; value streams include the people, processes, systems, tools, and other resources used to create value. 

As new requirements are discovered and prioritized, teams weave the new requirements into the value stream-centric environment for execution. The people don’t move in response to these new requirements. Everything necessary to create the associated value is already in place and ready to begin. There are no kickoff meetings, team formation activities, resubordinating of personnel, or unnecessary bureaucracies other than simply starting to work on new requirements.

How Did Parsons Do It? 

The Parsons Information Technology division has applied Scaled Agile™ methodology to achieve the necessary environment. 

We stood up a collection of Agile Release Trains (ARTs). Although we left the existing management and functional organization in place, we did not prioritize the functional structure when standing up a collection of Agile Release Trains (ARTs). These ARTs comprised 50-125 people from across the IT organization and the rest of the enterprise.

The ART team’s task is to prioritize expressions of intent and outcomes called Features. Features are sized and scoped for completion in a three-month timeframe. Historical performance of the ARTs informs the estimation of the number of Features that can be completed in those three months, providing a high level of predictability of what will be delivered each period.

Instead of project teams and upfront planning, the members of the ARTs dynamically self-organize into 9–11-member Agile Teams based on the prioritized Features for that iteration period. All the ART members work together continuously and are cross-functional, so everything needed to accomplish the Features is already in the ART. Prioritizing work in this manner allows teams to begin working immediately to deliver value to stakeholders and customers.

Tasking allows the ART and members to continue working as a large virtual team; furthermore, keeping the extensive groups aligned with strategy and vision is more straightforward and focused. If and when strategy or priorities change, the ARTs can quickly adapt and respond to the changes without the overhead or difficulty of restructuring project teams or plans.

So What? 

Implementing business agility techniques prescribed by Scaled Agile allows the Parsons IT organization to achieve a high and sustainable level of value delivery while respecting the people and culture. In addition, the IT organization finds itself in a unique position as the transparent ART environments foster an unprecedented level of collaboration and communication across the enterprise.

With the IT organization providing the North Star, a focus on business agility has spread across the organizational structure. Real-time feedback from business partners is immediate because the business partners are brought directly into value streams. IT management collaborates with enterprise leadership on holistic priorities. Collaboration makes the relationship with executive leadership much stronger because parties aren’t arguing about priorities or resources. The focused and transparent environment encourages consensus instead of brute force decision-making. 

About The Author

Rob Rogers, VP, Lean-Agile Center of Excellence: Rob is a SAFe Program Consultant (SPC) and the Vice President of Parsons Lean Agile Center of Excellence. He is a Lean-Agile Change Agent, with more than 20 years of both managing the execution of U.S. federal contracts and guiding organizations and teams through Scaled Agile transformations.

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