Storytelling Inside Open Agile Adoption, Part1

Open Agile Adoption is a technique for getting you a rapid and lasting Agile adoption. One essential aspect is the storytelling that leaders need to engage in, for Open Agile Adoption to take root. Storytelling is an essential part of Open Agile Adoption.

I noticed this during the 1st attempt at doing an Open Agile Adoption in the role of Agile coach. During this first experiment, the people in the situation had a great Open Space meeting, the theme of which was “What Does it Mean for [Company Name] to be Agile?” Proceedings were collected and processed in a timely manner. Management went to work on the proceedings directly after the event. But that wasn’t enough.

The signal event of the Open Space meeting and the processing of proceedings generated buzz and strong interest in what was happening. The whole organization was attentive and expectant for lots of communication, guidance and signaling. When the supply of storytelling did not meet demand, guess what happened? People in the situation started making up assumptions (that is: making up stories) about exactly what the duly authorized leadership was intending, was thinking, was doing…

I observed, taking careful notes. I learned that a designed experience that included Open Space was not enough. I learned that a focus on deliberate, intentional storytelling was essential for getting a solid start… and a lasting Agile adoption. Luckily I have some good friends who are experts in the domain of storytelling. I started sending and receiving emails to and from these expert colleagues. In the end, a well-defined storytelling component was added to the Open Agile Adoption technique.

And after a bumpy start, we were able to get that Agile adoption back on track, by instructing leaders to tell very, very specific kinds of stories.


Why Storytelling is Essential in Open Agile Adoption

It is not enough to do a great Open Space meeting. Leaders need to be actively engaging in narrative and storytelling before, during and after the Open Space meeting.

The primary reason is very simple. The people who do the work look to formally authorized leaders for strong signals about intentions, and about how to behave.

The people in high-authorized roles are presumably doing the will of the organization, after all. And the organization is, after all, the source of authorization for the CEO, CIOs and CTO roles. It is therefore reasonable to assume that these high-authorized leaders are carefully aligning their behavior with the organization that authorizes them.

And this is where the storytelling comes in. When you bring process-change into a culture, you can think of the culture as a very dry sponge, prepared to receive and absorb stories. The people in the culture are looking and listening for as many signs and signals as they can find, regarding leadership intentions, and how to behave.

When process-change is introduced, you can expect more and more interest in signs that signal what is going on, and how to navigate the new situation. When you start to introduce changes in how people work, you can expect (and must in fact plan for) very strong demand for meaningful signals from leaders regarding what is going on.

When leaders tell stories, they are providing the necessary signaling that the organization is watching and waiting for.

In Open Agile Adoption, therefore, deliberate and designed storytelling from leaders is essential. Leaders tell stories before, during and after the kickoff Open Space event. These leaders communicate stories about the past, the present and the future of the organization’s work, and culture.

Without the storytelling, Open Agile Adoption with Open Space can easily fail, just like any other well-intentioned Agile adoption program.

In Open Agile Adoption, frequent and deliberate storytelling by leadership is absolutely essential.

Subsequent posts will explain exactly what kind of stories need to be told, and how to time them, and how to deliver them.


See also:

Open Agile Adoption