Start by listening. The transformation assessment.

Start by listening. The transformation assessment.

When we talk about assessment, we are referring to the moment of inspection, verification, evaluation of the field.

It is one of the first steps to take when a client asks for help with a change. The transformation assessment lets you understand where you are, which direction to move to, and then choose from the available options the ones that meet the client’s demand.

Assessment outputs

At the end of the assessment process, there are 3 different outputs depending on the business domain, namely:

  • Gli output della trasfomazioneIn the case of a consultancy company, an intervention plan is produced together with milestones, supported by best practices and industry benchmarks that allow to reach the desired condition.
  • In the case of a coaching contract, a person-centered development plan is produced, but the person manages the agenda and objectives at the same time.
  • Finally, in the case of an agile coaching company, what you get is a hybrid, somehow precarious balance: a mix of consulting and coach.

But how does an assessment take place?

In the initial evaluation, you have to listen to several people.

We offer 3 examples of assessment techniques: the first is a more general implementation; the last two are specific to Agile Reloaded and demonstrated with two case studies.

 

The massive survey

The massive survey technique is the most frequently used. It consists of a series of interviews to investigate what the starting situation of a company is.

Pros:

  • you have a scientific basis and a data-oriented model of synthesis;
  • they are very useful (indispensable?) when large numbers are involved;
  • you can go on many dimensions of analysis (many questions are also a risk);
  • it allows you to plan evidence-based actions.
Cons

  • surveys are cold and engagement of people is at risk (usual questionnaire)
  • the degree of concentration of people is doubtful
  • avoiding bias is extremely complicated (normalisation efforts are necessary)
  • we lose the ‘colour’ of the answers, the mood, what people are saying at different levels (listening 2 and 3)

Le relazioni dalle survey massive

The last one is an important disadvantage. “Colour” plays an important role in a more complete evaluation of a department or an entire organisation: it allows to understand the relationships between people in the same environment; it helps to better understand the domain; it allows to avoid, or even to propose, activities or paths of change that would clearly have more difficulty than others in being accepted.

 

 

Conversations and observation

In Agile Reloaded we have experimented with and adopted the assessment “as the coach would do”. As an alternative to questions and instead of depending on the structure of the client’s company, we prefer to initiate conversations by listening to the surroundings (interview pattern), or to use the technique of observing the context.
We favour conversation in order to capture the colour of the answers, the elements that allow us to frame the answers within the context. This choice has a price that we have consciously decided to pay: giving up the pros of massive surveys and limiting the number of interviews. The mix of conversations and observation is chosen according to the customer’s domain and requirements.

 

Examples of applications

Case 1

Context and demand

A finance company controlled by a bank asks for help to “move towards Business Agility”, with a particular reference to the delivery area.
After an initial conversation, we can understand that the company’s need is, more technically, to improve the system’s ability to adapt to change, make decisions and release value quickly.

Interview scheme

Therefore, the focus shifts to the system of investigation, to ‘what’ to investigate and how. As it turns out, this system includes all actors we need to listen to: the ‘heads of’, the managing director, the supplier references and the parent company references.

The interviews are structured on the basis of the areas identified above and, from the answers of the selected sample, two opposite references and of different (unbiased) colour are identified: one from Business Agility, the other not.

areas of action

We share an agreement on confidentiality, we ask for expectations, together with an appreciative part. We do not interpret inconsistencies in answers, topics discussed and boxes left blank as negative outcomes, but as an opportunity to ask additional questions to further investigate the actors.

At the end of the interviews, a radar is produced, accompanied by a series of analogical information (that can be possibly modified by the interviewees): the return of the results is the most delicate moment and with the highest risk of judgement; the conversation must be protected. Once the areas of intervention have been identified, the assessment ends with the most consultative part: the first coaching backlog is drawn up.

Lessons learnt

  • Conversations allow you to empathise with people and gain different points of view:
    Tip 1: use conversation first and then evaluation.
    Tip 2: ask respondents whom else they would reasonably include in the process and why.
    Tip 3: use a follow-up mechanism for the interviews (do you agree with it? what would you change?)
  • Restitution should be done carefully to prevent people from feeling judged for their work.
    Tip 1: Use words carefully (“they told us” and not “we pointed out”).
    Tip 2: filter and normalise to avoid bias.
    Tip 3: don’t do it alone.

The whole process is guided by a reasoning scheme, in which all questions, answers and considerations of the coaches are collected. New actions are determined during an internal workshop to elaborate on the client’s requests.

 

Case 2

Observation

The system consists of 6 software teams. The customer’s request is “let’s do Scrum better”. But what does that mean exactly? It means that the process would be the same as Scrum by the book: do every meeting, use all the Scrum practices and, above all, “don’t waste people’s time”. The emphasis shifts to observation and active participation.

We use two levels of reading for each meeting: a checklist of Scrum events and the behaviour of the teams in relation to the spirit of Scrum. The information obtained is shared on a board to which everyone has access, as well as notes and memos, for a climate of transparency. We maintain a small one-to-one section only with Product Owners and Scrum Masters, led by a small interview schedule on Scrum concepts.

In addition, we add a touch of colour with the book-based assessments: sharing a different point of view on Scrum and its practices and giving a grade for each tool.
The assessment ends with an overall and, again, with the timely return of the results of the observations (in a more tempered climate of judgement).

Lessons learnt

  • If the transmission mode is extremely respectful, people welcome you well.
  • The immediate and transparent sharing (board) of your considerations creates commitment.
  • The pure observation mode is slow and based on the rhythm of sprints.
    Tip 1: it makes sense to use a partial and iterative coaching backlog and to start before the end of the observation
    Tip 2: clarify with the sponsors the pace that will be possible to keep

 

Can assessment be engineered?
The evolution of assessment

Assessment methods are constantly being defined. In the last year, we carried out six such assessments: testing, changing approach, experimenting.
Currently, an engineering process is underway, organised and managed by a guild, which involves planning different scenarios and building a catalogue of questions. The result is a potential set of different areas to investigate, from which you can start to create your own assessment and where you can find the right questions for your context.
We have learnt that you should never apply the same assessment scheme to different clients or in different contexts!

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