Startup culture in hierarchical organizations

Posted in: Agile Transformation, Digital, News

By: Patrick Wagner

BCforward’s thought leaders on the Digital Strategies and Innovation team are excited to share with our readers this series on SAFe for Leaders.  Over the next several weeks we’re going to share blogs of real-life experiences from our team of SAFe Program Consultants (SPC’s) leading up to our panel discussion of thought leaders bringing their perspectives on the SAFe journey to a virtual stage.

To maintain relevance in today’s ever-changing business landscape, it is not enough that software and solutions are based wholly on customer-centricity. The organizations that deliver them also need to be structured in a way to permit this technological farm-to-table flow. As a SAFe Program Consultant (SPC) on BCforward’s Digital Strategies and Transformation team, I work with our clients to deliver sophisticated solutions through complex platforms. And even with the most cumbersome of organizations, I coach teams to reintroduce the concept of startup culture as means to restore speed and innovation.

What is startup culture?

Startup culture, in my opinion, is less defined by pet-friendly offices with a keg in the breakroom, and so much more by the creative spaces that inspire innovation, encourage problem-solving, foster open communication. It’s what ultimately empowers startups to deliver tremendous outcomes to their end-users, more quickly than ever. As organizations grow, however, silos are built, hierarchies are formed, and – as a result – an organization’s ability to deliver valuable solutions quickly may be significantly impacted. In Mik Kersten’s book, Project to Producthe notes that “the problem is not with our organizations realizing that they need to transform; the problem is that organizations are using managerial frameworks and infrastructure models from past revolutions to manage their businesses in this one.”

Shaking things up

One mechanism to restore speed and innovation is with the Scaled Agile Framework, more commonly known as SAFe. Through the implementation of this flexible framework, I have observed organizational silos break down, once-disconnected functions perform as strategic partners, and teams deliver high priority, business-critical features with the agility more characteristic of more nimble organizations. This new way of working isn’t as simple as the flipping of a light switch, however. With focused conversations on mapping organizational value streams, structuring teams in a way to support them, and then coaching those teams to deliver features of the highest value, both more strategically and more efficiently than ever, our Digital Strategies and Transformation team at BCforward has demonstrated success in facilitating successful SAFe transformations, developing lean-agile leaders, and fostering a culture of relentless improvement. While hierarchical organizations will likely never – and truly shouldn’t – abandon those managerial frameworks that have sustained decades-worth of growth and stability, the implementation of this second operating model has proven to be successful in unlocking constructs more “startup” in their nature.

Leaders are the foundation

At the foundation of any successful agile implementation is a cohort of leaders responsible for driving and maintaining this cultural change. Executive-level support is not only foundational – it’s critical to drive towards true business agility. While SAFe embraces decentralized decision-making – and we empower agile teams to solution based on their local, valuable, and individual perspectives – we coach organizational leaders to become the solution visionaries, responsible for realizing the future state and removing barriers, for agile teams to perform optimally, predictably, and without interference.

I’m incredibly proud of our diversity of talent and perspective which we leverage to bring about profound change in our clients. I am looking forward to moderating an upcoming panel with my peers, and I hope that you may be able to join this discussion as our BCforward SAFe Program Consultants share their own success stories in implementing this new way of working, driving toward transformational outcomes, and delivering tremendous solutions.

Join us on Wednesday, May 26 at 2 pm EST to continue the

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