Transforming the pyramid to an agile org

Transforming the pyramid to an agile org

Transforming the pyramid to an agile org

I recently published a video exploring how an agile team based organization could look like. How does it look like under the hood? In the video I also discussed how you get there.

I got tons of great feedback so I decided to provide the content of the video in the format of a blog. If you prefer to read instead of watching a 11-minute-long video, then this is for you

If you prefer to watch the video, here it is. If not scroll down and continue reading.

I would like to start with a comparison to a traditional top down hierarchical organization. The following is of course an over simplification, but let this pyramid symbolize the organization.

Let’s start with all the people that do actual value adding work. They constitute the foundation of the pyramid. They create products and provide services to customers and users. They are the craftsmen transforming ideas to something that can be delivered, that is useful and of value for our users and customers, which eventually brings us profit and growth.

At the top of the pyramid we have a small group of people in charge of the company who are responsible for the overall success. They live under the strong belief that

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It’s a hard job, but that’s what we’ve been hired to do. Besides, how could possible the individual worker have a good enough overview perspective to make smart decisions. Besides we can’t have everyone running their own show in different directions, right?

So, for us to be successful we provide structure, guidance and focus to our workers by making tough decisions and enforcing policies and processes.

To help the few at the top to reach everyone and to manage all the work, we have managers and middle-managers. Through budgets the managers are delegated power and influence.

By imposing deadlines and only providing information on a need-to-know basis the organization ensures that people are focused on the projects they are working on without being distracted. Deadlines also give us means to follow up on progress and costs.

For the few in charge to be able to make smart decisions they continuously gather status reports and collect data. To achieve and maintain control they demand clear paths of accountability. And for them to quickly get insight into how things are progressing reports, processes and tools are standardized.

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There might be thousands of people in the organization, but the need of the few drives standardization, even where it is neither needed nor helpful for the people doing the actual work. To maintain control a lot of bureaucracy is often introduces. The need to quickly understand progress and status also drives simplification and abstraction.

For a few to understand and control something as complex as an organisation, the information needs to be simplified and abstracted.

But reducing reports to one-liners, project progress to green/yellow/red, and adding more manager layers to reduce the number of interactions creates even more distance between the few and reality.

This results in decisions not anchored in reality, nor solving real problems.

Insights into real problems and opportunities become obscured by this simplification and abstraction of information.

If the organization has been on this path for a couple of decades you will have created an organization with structure and processes that makes life easier for the few at the top.

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You will not end up with an organization that is adopted for helping great people do great work and achieving great results.

The structures that the managers reside within tend to grow a life of their own and solidify. Some research claim with as much as 11% per year.

The process and bureaucracy was probably added to solve a problem but the structures with its people tend to grow a life of its own and solidify, even though the problem was solved long ago.

In an agile organization, we have the same great people.


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