The greatest obstacle we encountered in our Agile transformation was breaking existing behavioral habits and changing legacy waterfall thinking. In order to work through this impediment, we first identified and classified the specific behaviors we needed to change, and then came up with a new set of desired Agile behaviors. We used the company’s performance management program to create Agile mindset goals for team members to work towards, and initial results indicate this as an effective approach to successfully transform behaviors.
“Culture eats strategy for breakfast.” – attributed to Peter Drucker
Agile transformations are daunting . People must learn a lot of new things. They need to conform to new frameworks, new processes, new ceremonies, new artifacts and new approaches to their work. While most of these make up the mechanics of Agile, implementing them may not make that big a difference in how a team delivers. To make a real difference, and to get to true Agility, we need to transform team members away from legacy cultural thinking to new Agile mindsets.
In this experience report we will start by presenting the state of the organization prior to the Agile transformation. We will describe the different legacy cultural behaviors we encountered when we launched the Agile transformation, and then explain the specific Agile behaviors we identified as goals for team members and people leaders, and how we used the performance management process to transform to Agile mindsets.
MetaBank is an innovative financial services provider, creating, delivering and sponsoring financial solutions. Operating in several different financial sectors including community banking, national lending, payments and tax services, MetaBank works with niche industries, strategic-growth companies and technology adopters to grow their businesses and build more profitable customer relationships. As the new leader for Software Development at MetaBank, Randy was brought on board to launch an Agile transformation given his previous experience with Agile at other financial services companies. To help the Agile transformation, Randy brought in John and Ali from cPrime to coach, guide and mentor the Agile teams. In addition to the standard Agile Transformation coaching program, Randy and John worked closely together on this specific Transformation acceleration experiment - to align employee motivation for obtaining a “reward” when personal annual objectives are met with the company’s desire to promote individual Agile mindset change as a strategic organizational objective.
MetaBank had previously undergone an Agile transformation 2 years earlier, and while there were mechanics of Scrum in place, many team members had reverted to legacy cultural behaviors. In August of 2018, we undertook a re-transformation to Agile. We made the decision to take an agile approach to our agile implementation by transforming our teams iteratively and incrementally. We created a plan based on best practices and brought on Agile Consultant/Coaches from cPrime, an Agile Transformation consulting company, to accelerate the stabilization of our transformation. Each team received 2 full days of hands-on practical training in Scrum using their existing projects as their new Product Backlogs. Following the training, each team had an Agile Coach join them for 6-8 weeks to attend all their ceremonies and provide the team individualized coaching. We held a weekly Coach’s retrospective where we identified common issues and discussed how to consistently address them and keep teams on track.
3. OUR STORY
From the beginning we recognized that failure to succeed in a cultural transformation would threaten the success of our overall Agile transformation. As a result, we quickly focused on this issue and identified the top cultural threats to MetaBank’s transformation strategy. We drafted our proposed countermeasures within 90 days of the start of the transformation, realizing that this was key to accelerating the desired mindset change.
We were aware of the need to change behaviors and were consistently having to challenge and coach. Recurring topics in the Coaches’ retrospectives were common types of legacy and culture thinking. We classified the most prevalent legacy mindsets to come up with a plan to change them. The legacy mindsets we needed to change most were:
- “Hero Mindset”  – someone who wants to completely own a set of work to themselves, who wants to control everything around that set of work, so when the work is done, they can be the hero that delivered the work;
- “Order Taker Mindset”  – people who do work in exactly the way it’s asked regardless of whether it makes sense or not, people who do not ask questions or challenge assumptions;
- “Fatalistic Mindset” – someone who gives up or gives in before they’ve even started, someone who will not raise or escalate issues or impediments because they’ve already decided nothing will be done about it;
- “Waterfall Mindset” – team members who only work on tasks identified for their primary perceived role, team members who refer to tasks as belonging to people in another perceived role, hesitation to being transparent at standup, and even exhibiting resistance to swarm work and integrate early & often;
- “Role Identification Mindset” – someone with specific subject matter expertise who hoards and does not share that knowledge, regardless of whether that expertise relates to a domain, role, or toolset;
- “Component Mindset” – a person or team only concerned with the tasks at hand, that does not look outside the team or project to get a whole system view;
- “Quick and Dirty Mindset”  - someone who’s only concerned about getting to the end, without regards to quality or technical debt.
3.2 What we did
We were fortunate with the timing of our move to Agile. As we finished training the last Scrum team and were well into coaching teams, it became time for our annual setting of corporate performance goals. While this may seem like an Agile anti-pattern to some, two far worse anti-patterns are:
- when employees focus on goals that interfere with an Agile Transformation, and
- when Change Management governance does not include a solid plan to clearly communicate the Transformation is a top company priority.
Therefore, in any organizations where annual objectives and goals are a non-negotiable reality, the logical thing to do is ensure that they actively assist, versus potentially inhibit any Transformation efforts. Our objective is to move to a collaborative development practice to replace traditional performance management, through regular feedback, communication, and coaching.
Recognizing that there was legacy culture that needed consistent reinforcement to change, we made the decision to make the performance goals for individual contributors the new ‘Agile Mindset’ goals. The idea is that these goals provide consistent topics for discussion and coaching in one-on-one conversations between people leaders and their team members. We also came up with related goals for the people leaders such that we could reinforce the new mindsets for them as well and each of these goals tied directly into the corporate strategic themes. The performance goals we came up with were:
Figure 1. Mindset Goals
Figure 2. Relating Strategic Themes, Legacy Mindsets, and Agile Goals
Alignment of specific mindset transformation goals back to strategic corporate strategic objectives was a ground-breaking innovation at MetaBank, as was using the organizational performance management process (OPM) to support the mindsets. Let us consider the cross-functional learning and training individual contributor goal example referenced in the chart above. Leveraging the existing OPM to provide incentive for critical inter-team knowledge sharing provided us with an alternative to other (sometimes disruptive) legacy knowledge sharing techniques reportedly practiced in the industry, such as forced rotation of subject matter experts across teams . In our case at MetaBank, we welcomed this alternative approach, because investing in and minimizing disruption to long-standing Agile teams is one of our strategic agile transformation goals.
We deliberately created our goals as observational, rather than specific or measurable. The problem with specific, metric-based goals is that they are too focused on outcomes and minor setbacks and can put a big damper on outcome-focused goals. In trying to shift mindsets, we felt the key to achieving these goals was to paint a picture of where we wanted people to be and with the right habits.
By using behavioral goals, we allow the people leaders some flexibility in how they want to rate their team members in terms of performance. We use a 3-item scale for performance:
- Exceeds Expectations - someone who consistently demonstrates the new mindset goal (and encourages others to do the same)
- Meets Expectations - someone who regularly demonstrates the goal
- Developmental - someone who occasionally demonstrates the goal
The goal is that by the end of next year each people leader will have had plenty of coaching and development opportunities to help their team members with the new mindsets.
To further support these changes in behaviors, we engaged the senior leaders in Software Development as Agile Coaches for Scrum teams. Each Agile Coach went through a one-on-one training program with the cPrime Agile Consultants, where they had the opportunity to first observe the Scrum training program, and then lead it while being mentored. They were then assigned to coach a small number of teams while being mentored, and once the mentor felt the they were ready, they continued coaching on their own. We continued this practice where all teams have a senior leader as a coach, not a boss, being careful to guide the teams but not manage them. To provide different perspectives to both the teams and the coaches, we rotate the coaches to different teams every 3 months.
All of the mindset goals were given equal importance as we did not want to over correct on one specific area but rather create balance across the themes. Overall the process seems to be working, with the biggest challenge area being on the cross-training goal. This has not been as much about people not wanting to learn, but rather more about people not wanting to ‘give up control’ for specific areas of expertise. We continue to use the performance goal as a motivator to change this behavior and have observed pockets of progress such as a Reporting Developer meeting the goal by training his team members on developing using Reporting tools. For the following year performance goal, we intend to perform another assessment to determine if the same behaviors continue to require change or there are new sets of behaviors we want to reinforce.
It appears to be working already. Preliminary results on the Agile transformation have been very positive and continuing to trend in the right direction as shown in Figure 3. Team Throughput is the average number of completed task hours per team per day. Team Efficiency is the ratio of completed task hours against total available team capacity. Average cycle time per user story has been cut in half, throughput has almost tripled and efficiency on project work has increased.
Figure 3. Initial Transformation Results.
Results are calculated using the Completed Effort field from Task items in the Agile template of Microsoft Team Foundation Server, MetaBank’s Application Lifecycle Management tool used by all the Scrum teams as their digital Scrum task board.
We have seen behavioral improvements in individuals through Agile Coaching. By extending this Mindset Transformation model to everyone’s goals and via continuous conversations with their people leader, we intend to continue this practice throughout the year.
Feedback from stakeholders has also been positive. “We’ve seen a big improvement in collaboration, through teamwork and team members swarming on issues to get things done” according to a Compliance Director at MetaBank. “In the past I had to talk to developers in different roles about items relating to the same project, now it’s all wrapped up in one team and we work together comprehensively” said the SVP of Service Delivery.
4. WHAT WE LEARNED
Although MetaBank’s Agile Re-Transformation is expected to yield more positive results well into the future, the noticeable immediate improvements in cycle time and performance referenced above already send a clear message – embarking on an Agile Transformation in a “mechanical” way without transforming antithetical cultural mindsets and behaviors will not yield desired Transformational returns. This notion is not a new concept in a general sense but leveraging the existing annual goals and objectives performance management framework has proven to be an effective way to accelerate the desired results, in our opinion.
We see this approach as a great tool for the people leaders to have regular discussions about the progress each team member is making. And we believe by institutionalizing these behaviors in the annual goals, we aim to minimize the potential of introducing conflicting priorities between our new direction and legacy momentum of the past. Strategically, we will actively be preventing back-sliding to old cultural behaviors and protect against having to redo an Agile Transformation again in the future.
First, thanks to our shepherd Alfredo Goldman for taking us on and for his patience and direction, we sincerely appreciate all his help.
Thanks to the Software Development & Delivery leadership team at MetaBank of Scott Fiegen, Camille Lewis, Eugene Richter, and Brian Siemonsma along with our cPrime consultant Ali Ali, for their coaching, mentoring, ideas and advice.
Thanks to Shelly Schneekloth, our Executive sponsor at MetaBank, for her leadership, counsel and guidance.
Randy would like to thank his amazing wife Suzanne for all her inspiration, encouragement and support.
John would like to thank Ali Ali and Steve Adolph of cPrime for the idea and encouragement to work with Randy to produce this experience report.
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