How Visual Design Thinking can help your Agile Transition

So you have formed an agile transition team? You’ve done your research, you’ve hired agile coaches and went on company safaris to visit similar companies and learn from their transitions. Your team has become knowledgeable about all the possibilities.

Now they have to select the most interesting ways of working, and build a model that fits. Models like the ones at Spotify or Netflix are often used as a starting point, but in the end you want a way of working that is tailored to your industry, your team and your culture.

A daunting task.

We’ve found that Visual Design Thinking (VDT) can be a valuable tool to help you along your way. VDT is a combination of visualization and design methodologies. By using VDT during an agile transition, teams get a better grip on research results and have an easier time building their first models. One of the core tenets of VDT is to start doing, start designing, to iterate and to trash earlier concepts to further iterate on them. This way, even the most daunting of tasks becomes manageable.

After being part of multiple agile transitions, we’ve come up with a set of steps that might help you with your transition:

1. Create an agile vision

There are probably several reasons why you started your transition. Visualizing them with your team and combining them into a story that you share together builds motivation and gives direction during your transition. You might have started your transition to prepare for faster changing consumer needs and a faster market response, faster adoption of new technology, team motivation, ownership and responsibility. There might be a burning platform; rumors that Google is going to enter your industry.

These generic reasons are not necessarily wrong, but you should try to give them a unique spin. Why are they important to you? In a session with your team, using metaphors and stories, you can create one visual that the whole team can get behind. A visual you can always refer to when you need a reminder of your transition purpose.

2. Choose a reference model

There are several agile models out there (LeSS, SAFe, Spotify, Nexus, etc), each with their own terminology. Based on your research and your vision, choose the one that fits your company best. This is the model you will be redesigning. (Make this an important choice in order to prevent confusion in terminology)

3. Write a set of How-Might-We (HMW) Questions

HMW questions help translate your research insights into challenges. Since you are redesigning an existing agile model, you can go one step deeper than the general benefits of agile. Think of: “How might we use this method of Spotify’s model, with this limitation of our company?” If, for instance, you want to create multidisciplinary teams, but you don’t have enough lawyers to represent legal in every team an HMW Question could be: “How can we represent legal in our multidisciplinary teams?”. Other HMW Questions might entail which teams work agile and which won’t, resource allocation, kpi’s, distribution of staff, etc.

4. Start creating model concepts

Take a model’s core concept (using a template like the agile matrix below) and start generating ideas using your HMW questions. Don’t be afraid to try out models, these are concepts and they are intended to be iterated upon. None of them are final yet. Do this in small groups (with a maximum of 4 people) to keep discussions short and to the point. Also, try to fill the tribes, chapters and squads to get a feel for possible formations. Make visual maps of your model, but don’t try to include every design detail in one map. Try to find a hierarchy instead. For instance: organization, processes and roles.

5. Test your concepts in your organization

An agile model (or any new organizational model for that matter) is often created by a small team and subsequently deployed within the organization. Why not make employees an integral part of your design process? You will get more support and a better fitting design in the end. If you do, there is a specific way to go about it: organize agile model test sessions and frame them as such when communicating with your test group. You are testing concepts, not presenting a final design. Write down specific questions for specific user groups and never put a model in front of them and ask “so, what do you think?”. If, for example, you are testing if your model evokes more constructive behavior from a legal team member ask: ”what would you do when confronted with a high risk design decision in the early stages of a sprint?” You are testing specific HMW design goals.

6. Make an implementation roadmap

Now that you have your vision and your custom org model, you can work on a timeline for implementation. It can help to identify some themes to structure the roadmap. This map needs to be a tool that your transition team can update every so often. It can also be used to explain to your organization how you are progressing, and what is on the schedule. Actions on the map can be about pilots, communication, events, training, etc.

7. Communicate

People can have a lot of different hesitations and worries concerning the transition, for instance: “Am I no longer going to work with people from my discipline?” “With these new responsibilities, what if I fail?” or“Will I still have a job?”. By not only explaining the bigger picture, but also what the transition means for everyone specifically, most of these worries can be taken away. Communicate constantly during the entire transition using your visual roadmap and visual models. Communicate both in workshops and just at the coffee machine. Find ambassadors (from the user tests for example) to help spread your story.

Working agile and Visual Design Thinking have a lot in common. With a diverse team of experts, you are working in short iterations towards prototypes. Why not use those shared principles for your transition?

Let’s join forces to help a transition in your organisation!

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