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How to Become a More Agile Business w/Sanjiv Augustine, CEO at LitheSpeed Ep#153

By Anthony Taylor - February 22, 2022

SME Strategy is a strategy consulting company that specializes in aligning teams around their vision, mission, values, goals and action plans. Learn more about how we can help align your team with our strategic planning and implementation services.

Untitled design - 2021-12-27T131748.040  Anthony: Hey there folks, thanks so much for joining us. Today's guest is Sanjiv Augustine, who is the founder and CEO of LitheSpeed. How's it going today?

Untitled design - 2022-02-17T162843.559  Sanjiv: Doing very well. Thank you, Anthony. Really appreciate you having me on your show.

Anthony: Excellent. I'm excited to chat. I apologize to our listeners if there's any weird gaps or overlaps. I'm on the road today in Trail, BC doing some strategic planning for one of our legacy customers. But I didn't want to miss out the opportunity to talk to Sanjiv so Sanjiv, can you tell our listeners a little bit about what keeps you busy on a day to day and a little bit more about wide LitheSpeed does?

Sanjiv: Sure, thanks for that question. So an introduction, let me start with our company. We are a boutique agile management, training, consulting and coaching company. So I'll unpack that in a second. I just happen to be the person in charge and leading us into the future and have been for the last 15 years. Just very quickly, in terms of our work, we work with a number of marquee clients. And primarily we assist them with rolling out lean and agile methods, agile as in scrum, agile framework, large scale scrum and such. And we help them make that transition through a combination of training, public and private training, consulting, which tends to be management and strategic agility consulting, and coaching, which tends to be team coaching, and management coaching.

Anthony: Awesome. I love it. So what is agile management? And what is it not?

Sanjiv: Okay, so to answer that question, I'm going to take a slightly different track and not answer directly. So the first thing we have to answer is what is agility? And why agility? Let's bring it into focus and talk about business agility, or if you're in the public sector, mission agility. So if we ask what is agility, I have a phrase that I like to use about being able to change direction on a dime, or a dime. And so this is being able to be flexible and fast, changing direction quickly on a dime. And doing it without extreme pain and expense, right, which is for a dime.

So if you say that's what we define as agility, creating and responding to change and changing direction quickly, then the question is, how do we do it? And in the industries, for the last 21 years, there's been something called the agile methods, right? So there's something called the Agile Manifesto. And the Agile Manifesto said, Hey, this is a good way to work. This is how you put teams together. This is how you put organizations together. And here's how you can go off and do it.

Now, a lot of that can tend to be in the product development space, in a software development space, even though the fundamental techniques are based on lean management and lean thinking from the Toyota Production System. Right? And so agile management becomes, okay, how do we take these teams of people who are implementing agile, bring them together as collections of teams into programs or portfolios, align them and orchestrate that alignment towards business outcomes and business goals? Now, everything has to change. How we do funding, how we do performance management, how we do strategic planning, how we put the teams together, how we do portfolio management, and therein lies your answer to what is agile management itself.

Anthony: So the other part of the question is what is not agile? Because I'm sure you see people who say, I'm totally being agile, and they're nowhere close to the word. So what is not agile or what passes off as agile?

Sanjiv: Ah, alright, so you might get me into a little bit of a dangerous territory. There are a couple of things that I I take exception to as someone who's been part of the agile movement for the last 20 years and somebody whose passion and love and business is all inter intertwined in this whole thing that we call agile.

One is there something that we would like to call industrial agile. Companies that are bringing in techniques, tools practices, for the sake of making money. So you're gonna have snake oil salesmen that will say, buy this tool and it will be agile. It's like the miracle cure. Follow this process and it will make you agile, and it's a simplistic solution to what is a fairly complex process or fairly complex problem. And why are we doing agile? We're doing agile because we want to change the way we're working together, change our way of working, work more closely aligned with our customers, deliver better value to them and make sure that our teams and people on those teams are happy and fulfilled.

And so one thing that I would object to is the commercialization of agile. What is not agile is commercial - agile which is "buy this tool, follow this process" and magically make it agile. So that's one thing. The other thing that's not agile, I believe, is the fanatic and pedantic view of agile, which is within the agile community or sub communities. You're going to find, well, my process is the best, or my little micro version of agile is the only way it is - the only thing that exists, and everything else is wrong. And just because you're not following my process are my definition of agile, I hate you and you're wrong. That's not agile.

Anthony: Got that. It's funny, it's interesting that you say that, I mean, as a strategic planning facilitator, I don't necessarily believe everybody else is wrong, because we're all doing the same thing. I think my process is better, because I'm super biased. But I think that to your point, it's understanding that agile itself is a methodology and an approach. And just like a professional basketball player and an amateur, how you do it, and how you implement it in those subtle ways, make the biggest difference.

The person who's doing it also has to deliver it their own way and in the right way, some are probably better than others. But where you get into the fanatical thing like "this is the end all be all methodology", and if you don't do it, you're an idiot. Which we've all seen in organizations, and those people are kind of hard to work with.

Sanjiv: Yes, that's right.

Anthony: So let's say an organization wants to be more agile, okay? They want to be able to turn on a dime for a dime. They want to have that business agility. What are the top two or three things that they either need to consider, or put in place to be able to move forward on that journey of business agility?

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Sanjiv: Yeah, I think there's a north star that people have to start with. And then construct quickly, a couple of things around that. And the north star that we want to start with is the fact that the individual is the center of what we're doing. When I say individual, we're talking about teams of people, human beings, or customers. On one hand, we have to make sure that everything we do, if we want to have an agile business, is aligned with the customer.

In today's world, you may have customers, if you don't treat your teams members well, you're not gonna have people on your team, right? So customers and team members or people in our companies are equally important. And so we want to say, if we have that north star, we start with the human needs, what are the needs of a customer? What are the needs of our people? And then how do we construct what we do around that north star? Then we can say, let's get a defined process in place. Pretty straightforward, end to end process that takes us from our customer to our team members and back.

Let's make sure that we have a portfolio prioritization mechanism in place. We get a ton of work thrown at us. Are these the right things to work on? We don't know, let's make sure that we can check them out, validate the things that are right, invalidate the things that we don't want to work on. Because we don't want to waste time or money or expense. And then when that's left, once it's tightly validated, we want to prioritize it and work on those items in order of business priority, right? If you want to be agile or resilient and turn on a dime, well, let's find out what's most important on this list. And then the third thing is to make sure that we have a process by which we can make all the work visible.

Then track, monitor, deliver and learn. Track, monitor it across various dependencies, cross impacts, deliver to customers, and then learn from the delivery. Because that's what will drive the agility which is learning - the faster we can deliver and learn the more agile we become.

Anthony: Awesome, I think that makes tons of sense. And it's not unlike our strategic planning process because we say what is that north star? Where are we going? Let's work on priorities.

What I really took away from this - it makes a distinction between high level strategy and product/customer/team needs, is that portfolio prioritization. Every single person listening to this has a laundry list of 20, 30, 40, 50 things that they need to do. And in a heavily transformative world, technology, people, society, all that stuff, if you don't have a method for prioritizing projects and your portfolios, you're going to be in trouble. And if you don't have a way to make the work visible, you're going to be in trouble because other people can't see it. You have less visibility on it. And then organizationally, how can you track both the successes and failures.

So you sit here as a product manager and say, we're doing all of this stuff.. well if a tree falls in the woods, and no one's around to hear, it didn't even make a sound? So tying that in, I guess, how important is it tying communications into agile development and agile business?

Sanjiv: It's all about communication. To start with something that you said, let's say you're doing strategic planning. We have to make sure we know which direction we're going, because otherwise, we're just moving rapidly in the wrong direction. And so let's say the output of our strategic planning process is some set of OKRs, objectives and key results, we say, Okay, here's the objectives for the next quarter, the key results that will quantify how we'll know when we get there, how we can move the needle. Percolate those down at the portfolio level and make sure that everybody knows from executives to management and middle management, here's the direction we're moving, here's the portfolio. Here's now the portfolio aligned with those OKRs. Here's a value stream if you will.

And now the value stream is linked to business outcomes as defined by our OKRs that needs to be communicated across the board. And then now let's take it down into the actual product development or project management. We have teams or teams of teams. All the work that those teams or teams of teams are doing, buy into the portfolio, which in turn are aligned to our OKRs in a strategic direction.

Anthony: Absolutely. The cascading alignment, the structure is so important. And I think if you go too fast, you don't have time to build that continuous improvement, that reflection, that process. Additional thoughts on that?

Sanjiv: Yeah, it's certainly a matter of moving too quickly. But I think it's also a matter of discipline. We can move quickly, if we have the right discipline, right, let's start in the right place. Let's not start at the bottom, which is where a lot of teams - let's get a team together to spin it up. And let's start delivering something well, we don't know what we're developing. We don't know whether we're delivering the right thing. And we don't know whether that'll actually deliver value to our customers or not.

So yes, we need to move fast. And yes, we need to slow down so that we can speed up. But we should also make sure that we establish that north star, and then follow the process with discipline.

Anthony: 100%. So just as we begin to finish up here, I'm so curious. So somebody that has been involved in this field for a very long time, right, like you're involved - you see all of it. What is something that you are surprised by? What is that next stage of growth for you in this level? Are you finding that you're kind of doing all of the same things over and over again? Or what is the most recent learning reflection for you in your career and in practice?

Sanjiv: I think that's a great question. I won't say I'm surprised by it, but I'm certainly encouraged by it. And that is, how resilient we are as human beings. We're in year three of the pandemic, we're going to get out of it hopefully, as we make some steps towards that in 2022. And so much has changed. There's been so much suffering, there's been so much tragic loss.

On the other hand, so much has changed for the better. And so we've surprised ourselves I think, in how well we've responded to a certain degree, at least for those of us who have been lucky enough that these businesses have remained viable and in fact become very successful. And so what I'm impressed by is resilience and the drive for community. This community and other committees are really defined by people who are working towards a common goal, right to talk about strategic planning, and we're all doing the same thing. We all want the same things and within our community, we want them together. So that's been a very encouraging.

I do think that there are things that, I'm not surprised, but I could be disappointed. This fragmentation - there's acrimony towards a different view. My process is better than your process or my training is better than your training. There's human nature that crops up both on the good side and on the negative side as well. So for us, let's stay the course let's make our way through the pandemic. And let's make the best of what we have because there's no no going back.

Anthony: Yeah, I love that. It's such a refreshing approach to agile, to management, to really making sure that we're focused on the right things. And I think it's also maybe not explicit, but very human centered, which I really appreciate. And I think it makes a big difference. In practical application versus theoretical - here's what you need to know. So Sanjiv, where can people connect with LitheSpeed? Where can they learn more about what you're doing and engage in more in depth conversation with you?

Sanjiv: So Google is always our friend. So you can google LitheSpeed or Sanjiv Augustine. A lot of links will pop up. So the first one is our website, which is lithespeed.com. And the other thing that I want to put out there is an offer to go read our book, it is called From PMO to VMO: Managing for Value Delivery. It has a lot of these things baked in. It's on Amazon, it came out in September and seems to be doing really well. Oh, there's an audible version as well.

Anthony: Awesome. I love that. And I'm going to reiterate it because again, thank you listeners for sticking with this. Sanjiv and I are having audio problems or connectivity problems today. So From PMO to VMO. And I haven't read the book to be totally honest. But I've seen PMO and I'm project management certified. And I think the most successful businesses are really recognizing value generation. And there's a value proposition canvas, which I'm a huge fan of. So Sanjiv, I'm gonna check out that book. I'm really looking forward to it. And just really appreciate it our conversation today. So thanks for being here.

Sanjiv: Thank you, Anthony. I appreciate the opportunity.

Anthony: Folks, my guest today is Sanjiv Augustine, who is the CEO and founder of LitheSpeed. Check them out online, check out the book, and I invite you to look at how your organization can be not only more adaptive, but focused on creating greater value for your customers, for your people, and for your stakeholders. And be sure to check out all the resources they have online.

So thanks for listening to today's episode of the Strategy & Leadership Podcast. My name is Anthony Taylor, be sure to subscribe if you haven't already. We put out two podcasts per week and we get great audience guests like Sanjiv today. So thanks for being here, Sanjiv.

Thanks for listening, wherever you're at in the world, and we'll see you next time. Bye everyone.

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