From Red Tape to No Tape: Organizational Misalignment with Agile Values

Part 2

Charles Suscheck writes that if you’re in an organization that has signs of post-industrial orientation, now is a good time to take a fresh look at your organization’s underlying (and often oblique) belief system.

Part one of my article, “From Red Tape to No Tape,” described the differences between bureaucratic organizational behavior and the post-industrial orientation that supports agile software development. Both orientations have merit, but the post-industrial focuses on empowerment, collaboration, and customer value, whereas the bureaucratic focuses on control and predictability.  Table 1 outlines the differences between a bureaucratic orientation and a post-industrialized orientation as specified in the agile manifesto.

Bureaucratic Orientation

Agile Manifesto / Post-industrial Orientation

Develops processes and tools to standardize interaction, maximize individual’s productivity, and speed up the learning curve for new employees.

Values individuals and interactions over processes and tools. Processes are adjusted at the team level to fit the group.  Interaction and personal empowerment is emphasized over routine process governance.

Software has comprehensive documentation so that anyone can understand it quickly.

Values working software over comprehensive documentation.  Emphasizes providing value that is close to the consumer over following bureaucracy.

Requires strict signoff with business partners in order to manage change, plan, and cost on a project.

Values customer collaboration over contract negotiation.  Collaboration within the team and between teams is done with a firm handshake and trust.

Follows a detailed, written plan in order to minimize change and maximize predictability.

Values responding to change over following a plan.  The idea that it is better to create what is valuable through allowing flexibility in the plans is more important than predictability.

Table 1

Employee engagement is the single biggest gain with a change from command and control to a post-industrial organizational orientation. Engaged employees are more apt to be creative, productive, and involved in performing high-quality work. Studies of companies ,with empowered employees, show share prices rose an average of 10 percent more than the industry average, operating profits were 5 percent more than nonengaged companies and engaged companies outperform their peers by nearly 28 percent [2]. In fact, a recent Gallup poll shows that in world-class organizations, the ratio of engaged to actively disengaged employees is 10:1, while average organizations have a ratio of 2:1 [3].

Daniel Pink, an influential expert on motivation in post-industrial organizations, points out that people need self direction and meaning at work to achieve high levels of sustained engagement [4].  His three elements of motivation—autonomy, mastery, and purpose—can easily be subverted with command-and-control organizational behavior.  It is not uncommon to see management in bureaucratic organization dictate what to do and when while marginalizing the team members’ skills to the point of a routine set of tasks.  As stated by Chagnon when speaking about empowerment, “nothing kills engagement like not having the authority or resources necessary to do the job at hand.” [5]

In sustainable agile development shops, the culture must be post industrial, where the individuals are empowered, the group values learning, mistakes are a source of learning, and management acts as a nurturing coach—maximizing autonomy, encouraging mastery, and continually supporting the notion that people have an important purpose and impact on the organization.  The focus changes from employees being the organization’s biggest expense (and something to control) to the employees being the organization’s biggest pool of potential.

It’s easy to assume that your organization is following the post-industrial behaviors, but it’s also easy to miss cues that the organizational team focus is only skin deep.  That’s why it’s important to evaluate your core culture methodically.

Organizational Assessment
For the purpose of this article, I will use the cultural web as described by Johnson and Scholes [6].  It is a reasonable way of assembling the elements that make up an organizational culture and a good way of assessing the extent of change required.

The cultural web’s organizational elements are typically used to identify what activities or artifacts emphasize the elements.  In this evaluation, the elements are assessed by controlling party and impact.  The idea is that the group that is impacted by an element should have control and decision-making capability.  The more control that a group has, the more empowered it is.  Several other questions are included to evaluate the interactions of people within a team and external to the team.  Communications in a post-industrial organization will ideally focus on collaboration and groups.

The table below lists the six elements of the cultural web along with behavioral indicators of either a bureaucratic or post-industrial orientation.  The questions can be answered by rating yourself as dominantly on the left (bureaucratic) or dominantly on the right (post industrial/agile). By identifying your alignment along these elements, you can see where your dominant cultural organization lies and, based on the elements, where you should concentrate on change.

Bureaucratic Orientation

Post Industrial Orientation

Power Structure

Who makes the decisions, how widely spread is power, and on what is power based?

Interviews are handled by HR with a few technical people providing input.

The team that is recruiting the new hire interviews the people after they are screened.

Interviews are skill based and related to job description.

Interviews are behaviorally based and related to corporate values.

Hiring is viewed as fulfilling an immediate skill set need.

Hiring is viewed in the long term with cultural fit and individual contributions outside of skills being considered.

Management approves and makes both strategic and tactical decisions.

Management informs team about cross institutional issues so that the team can make both strategic and tactical decisions.

Management implements changes (process, architectural, or other).

Management connects teams together and the teams make change collaboratively.

Schedules are imposed by management based on events or stretch goals.

Factors that influence schedule are taken into consideration by the team, and schedule is derived by the team.


Control Structures

The way that the organization is controlled and monitored. What rule books are in place and is there a reliance on individualism or teams?

Performance evaluations are about individual contributions.

Performance evaluations encourage group contributions and collaboration.

Performance evaluations are based on metrics that may not be tied to the corporate vision and values (or no vision/values exist).

Performance evaluations are explicitly tied to corporate vision/values.

Estimates for schedules are scrutinized and must be justified to management.

Team estimates are taken as estimates with a reasonable margin of error.  While constructive pushback is accepted, “Gut feel” is accepted by management as a loose form of estimation.

Projects that are projected to be late are met with tighter scrutiny and a sense of failure.  Overtime is a common reaction.

Late projects are advertised as soon as possible without fear. Collaboration of the team and other stakeholders is put into place to mitigate negative impacts of the schedule.  Focus is placed on root cause of schedule slip.

Annual reviews based on job description are the norm.  They are typically administered by management.

360 degree evaluations are used and the results are openly discussed.



What are the visual symbols?  How are they extended? Visual representations such as logos, plush offices, and dress code are considered.

Status symbols such as special parking, executive washrooms, and corner offices are used as motivation.

Leaders value team collaboration and team effort over status.

Information is kept electronically and controlled with access security by management.

Big, visible information radiators are used to project team performance and project.

Language in the meetings focuses on I, me, individual contribution.

Language in meetings focuses on team and collective contribution.


Organizational Structure

What are the formal and informal reporting lines? Is there a rigid hierarchy, network, or collective?

People are partially shared among multiple projects.

The work comes to the team.  A single source of work (possibly multiple projects) is used by the team to determine what work to do next.

It is rarely acceptable to question or critique upper levels of management.

Management accepts open challenges and works collaboratively to change either its behavior or address misconceptions.

People work toward self-promotion.

People actively groom their replacement and peers.

Job roles are static and do not necessarily tie to day-to-day work.

Roles can change based on team need.

Management forms and dissolves teams.

Team formation and dissolution is a collaborative effort between team members and management.



What are the stories that build the organization and represent its values?  Are the stories and myths built on heroes, collaboration, success, and failure?

A committee creates the vision, which may have no concrete meaning.

Individuals participate in vision creation.  They can tie daily activities directly to the vision.

Strengths and weaknesses of people are evaluated via annual review cycle.

Strengths and weaknesses of people are actively understood on a continual and explicit basis by the team.

Role models are individuals (heroes).

Role models are based on teams, rather than individuals.



What are the behaviors exhibited by management and team members? What signals acceptable behavior and what signals unacceptable behavior?

HR or management mandates routines, such as recurring meetings, reports, and administrative necessities.

The team devises or modifies routines through regular reflection directly tied to the work at hand.

Training on routines focus on the operational side of the routines with little or no context to their value within the company.

Routines are explained by training, symbols, and peers and are explained from the perspective of their application to the team.

Consequences for variance from routines are often harsh and specified via rules.  More often than not, punishment is the result of variance.

Variances in routines are handled at a team level.

Table 2

Conclusion and Action Plan
Congratulations.  If you have read to this point, you’re obviously interested in changing your organization for the better.  If you’re in an organization that has signs of post-industrial orientation, now is a good time to take a fresh look at your organization’s underlying (and often oblique) belief system.

Ideally you understand that a post-industrial orientation for supporting agile development can sustainably benefit your organization You can see, on one end of the spectrum is the highly bureaucratic organization typified by large government organizations—an organizational orientation is necessitated by the sheer size of some of these organizations.  The other end of the spectrum is typified by small, nimble organizations such as entrepreneurial dotcoms—a stereotype enforced by the need to be ahead of the competition in time to market while being highly innovative. Most companies are in the middle of these two examples and can take advantage of the post-industrial orientation.

The point of the assessment is to identify areas of your organization where the post-industrial orientation is only skin deep, as well as areas where the framework for empowerment is in place—both keys for agile software development. The assessment helps to analyze your current culture and identify areas to maximize the advantages of a post-industrial orientation.  Implementing cultural changes involves reflecting upon your beliefs, values, and behavior and cannot be undertaken without a time and work from everyone, but the benefits far outweigh the costs. By improving your current culture, you can see gains in employee empowerment, leading to a more engaged workforce and ultimately a more effective organization.

Since it is often difficult to see any issues when absorbed by the culture, I would advise you to enlist the help of an executive coach who has had experience with multiple organizational transformations.  A third partly can often see issues that aren’t apparent to those in the fray of day to day operation – you’ll be using technique very similar to financial audits.  The coach can also make unpopular recommendations unencumbered by office politics.  The third point is that executive coaches have been part of successful transformations. Their experience can help you see a clear path to guide your organization to the next level.

Also recognize that making such a change can, in fact, be an exercise in using the post-industrial orientation. Explain the benefits and vision for change to the teams and empower them to plan and implement a better organizational orientation.  As Ken Schwaber of so sagely put it – a command and control organization is constrained by the ability, intelligence, and time of the manager.  An empowered team overcomes that constraint.  By reducing that constraint, you can be a catalyst for productivity.

[1] Suscheck, Charles. “From Red Tape to No Tape

[2] Stack, Laura. “Engaged Employees are More Productive.”

[3] “Employee Engagement, a Leading Indicator of Financial Performance.” Gallup. 

[4] Pink, Daniel.  Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us,Riverhead Trade; Reprint edition (April 5, 2011).

[5] Chagnon, Jason. “Engaged Employees Are More Productive.”

[6] Johnson, Gerry; Kevan Scholes, and Richard Whittington.  Exploring Corporate Strategy, Text and Cases, Prentice Hall; 8 edition (January 24, 2008).

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