How Hierarchy prevents Agility

Big projects tend to setup a big project organization, but why?-And is this really supporting agility needed or is it create other risks, that slows down time-to-market?
 
In my previous blog entry I told you about alternatives how to handle very big projects. Well, I’ve noticed even though big projects have been broken down into smaller waves companies tend to setup a big project organization. Basically there’s nothing against an agile organization consisting of multiple teams such as SaFE or similar. However, there have to be considered some important topics.
trafic-organization

I’d like to start with 2 phrases of the Agile Manifesto
„Individuals and Interactions over Processes and Tools“
and
„Customer collaboration over..“
 Agile Manifesto, 2001
First phrase tells us that tools should have less priority than direct interactions and communication. Well from my point of view in a big project organization that’s true AND false at the same time, let me explain you why!-On one hand it’s crucial to invest more in direct communication as in a single team organization. Otherwise we end up in well-known situation of the calling game, that first/team says red and until the end of the queue it’s green to the last. On the other hand in a scaled agile organization it’s impossible to talk to each teams from scaled product owner organization perspective and not all the teams could talk to each other at all the times. Otherwise team productivity will decrease dramatically. So key is identifying and planning dependencies. But product owner should not exclude teams in direct communication then again we come back to a multi-layered proxy organization. 2nd part of first sentence „..over Processes and Tools“ gets another importance in scaled agile organizations. Tools such as for agile portfolio management could support transparency in progress and budget burn-down. They deliver real time informations bottom up and prevent the calling game situations.

agile-portfolio

Image Source: rallydev.com
With real time information product refinements, problems identification and intervention could be done much earlier. Furthermore the agile organization, with it’s self organized approach, reduces overhead costs but also organizational risks.
„In reports about the failed project Insieme from the Swiss Fedural Departement of Tax the risks were much more positiv reported at management level, than originally at project level. For the followup project Fiscal-It Findel proposes reports on a half-year-based by the governement.“

Findel-Report, NZZ 4. April 14
That leads me to 2nd phrase „Customer collaboration over ..“. Beside self-organization of scaled agile organization the stakeholder involvement is key. Based at real time informations and feedback about the periodically delivered working increments the stakeholders take there responsibility and even big projects could be worked out successfully!-How agile is that if we send reports on a half-year base, as mentioned in the Findel-Report (Findel is the delegation for finance from the Swiss Governement)?

Mirko Kleiner is a Blogger, Agilist (Agile Evangelist), Vice President Delivery at youngculture AG, Twitterer, Father of 2 beautyful Sons and Partner of a lovely Wife.

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3 comments on “How Hierarchy prevents Agility
  1. Bashing a hierarchical structure – which in many situations is the best choice – means to „put Processes and Tools over Individuals and Interactions“.
    Neither a hierarchical nor a („self organizing“) network-structure is the best solution for every case. Please have a look for example at William Schneider, Why Good Management Ideas Fail – Understanding Your Corporate Culture. http://www.parshift.com/Speakers/Speak016.htm
    Of course:
    For “ evangelists of one religion“ it is impossible to accept the agile principle: „there is no truith for all cases – it alway depends on the context“.

    But: to accept this is the CORE of agile, as David S. Alberts say:

    „Agility is the capability to successfully cope with changes in circumstances“

    And he also say:

    1. Robustness: the ability to maintain effectiveness across a range of tasks, situations, and conditions;
    2. Resilience: the ability to recover from or adjust to misfortune, damage, or a destabilizing perturbation in the environment;
    3. Responsiveness: the ability to react to a change in the environment in a timely manner;
    4. Flexibility: the ability to employ multiple ways to succeed and the capacity to move seamlessly between them;
    5. Innovation: the ability to do new things and the ability to do old things in new ways; and
    6. Adaptation: the ability to change work processes and the ability to change the organization.

    In many situations a hierarchical structure will fulfill this more effective and efficient than a network.
    BUT: Very important is this:
    4. Flexibility: the ability to employ multiple ways to succeed and the capacity to move seamlessly between them;
    6. Adaptation: the ability to change work processes and the ability to change the organization.

    So: If a hierarchical structure is a misfit you have to find a better organisation as fast a possible – and vice versa…

    • mirkokleiner sagt:

      Hi Hans-Peter

      thanks for your input, I totally agree with all of it.

      Just to clarify, my article was not about bashing a hierarchical structure nor promoting network organizations. I also see the benefits of hierarchy and e.g. SaFE is doing nothing else in the end. While hierarchie is not meant in command and control way of thinking, than more to improve structure of product development.
      However, especially in BIG projects BIG companies tend to create a BIG project organization and goal of my article was to ask why?-Isn’t there a more lean approach, with just as less hierachie as needed that is e.g. supported by tools to guarantee full transperency?

      Of course this is also always balancing between given line organization structures and a lean project organization.

      cheers Mirko

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Mirko Kleiner is a Blogger, Agilist (Agile Evangelist), Vice President Delivery at youngculture AG, Twitterer, Father of 2 beautyful Sons and Partner of a lovely Wife.

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