From Mission Impossible to Great Agile Stories — Interview with Aakash Srinivasan & Zohar Mann

During the Global Scrum Gathering that took place in Denver from June 5–8 this year, Maria Matarelli, organized and led the Comparative Agility interview series, where she hosted some of the thought leaders in the Agile industry. Maria is an Executive Coach, Consultant to the Fortune 100, Certified Scrum Trainer (CST), and an international best-selling author. She is also the author of the Personal Agility survey featured on Comparative Agility.

The following is an excerpt from Maria’s conversation with Aakash Srinivasan and Zohar Mann, Agile Coaches at Salesforce.

Maria: Gentlemen, tell me about what your talk at the Global Scrum Gathering was about. What did you present?

Zohar: Turning a Battleship of Cats: Scaling Scrum Coaching for 200 Remote Teams at Salesforce. The name is kind of funny, it came from a little bit of an internal joke when we were having one of our team meetings with some of the other coaches. Sometimes the efforts we make aren’t proceeding. And on one of those days, I’d mentioned, numbers have gone down with the metrics that we’re tracking. The frustrating colleague made a great observation and said, you know, we’re trying to turn a battleship. That’s that sort of metaphor, it takes 25 miles to turn the battleship, in those small changes at the steering wheel, it will not always immediately proceed with the motion of this massive ship.

Maria: Can you share with us some insights? And what are things that work? What are some breadcrumbs you can share with others that are on the same journey?

Aakash: I joined Salesforce about a year and a half ago. And I was hired to set up transformation strategies for teams. And it was a literal Mission Impossible to start with. Zohar has been at Salesforce for 11 years, so he’s got the depth of knowledge that you need from a system standpoint, on how Salesforce operates. Just like with any other transformation, the idea of change needs to be politically acceptable. If the executives are not behind it, amplifying the message, then you will not be able to successfully create a socially desirable movement. Leadership alignment is also extremely important.

Maria: Tell us more about the buy-in. Any suggestions or tips or guidance on how to get that organizational buy-in?

Aakash: I think having concrete asks, and framing that from a perspective of what is going to help move the business objective further along. So Agile is not seen as an add-on, but as a thing, that’s a core part of your business. So if we are seen as something that is a force multiplier, buy-in becomes easier. So a lot of times, we have conversations with leaders, where we have told them, hey, this agile thing is not an external entity, you’re not selling anything, we’re only helping you use what you’ve already bought. So we’ve already bought the stuff, the market space is going to make us agile, whether you like it or not. Adapt or die at the end of the day. We’re only helping you use this new tool, this new skill, this new competency that we all have bought into.

Maria: What do you see as the future of agility and organizational change?

Zohar: I talked about this a lot with the team, trying to stay optimistic, it’s been a long time, and the change is pretty slow. I feel like we’re still trying to uplift everyone to the same sort of common level, that’s pretty low, so we can start to matriculate up this maturity curve and get into the advanced topics of investment. Right now, we’re still just using all kinds of vehicles and mechanisms and methodologies to deploy this sort of message out to the teams.

Aakash: I think from a scaling perspective, and this is something that I’ve obsessed over just from a leadership standpoint, strengthening the distributed nodes of information and competency can go a long way. The next set of things that we would want to be working on is optimization, figuring out how to get middle management to serve in an advisory role. These are not going to happen today.

Maria: Any final thoughts you’d like to share about your experience working with teams in the organization?

Aakash: Being an Agile coach and a trainer, that’s the most natural and the best extension of my talent. So it comes easy for me. I love working with teams, and I think that this whole idea of agile is here to stay. I know Scrum Alliance have been incredibly resilient with changing the way they’re delivering their services, and everybody’s adapting. So from an agile perspective, I think that this is just a fact of life.

Maria: Thank you guys for joining us. Appreciate you sharing your insights. Love this topic, love how you’re able to share things that you see as challenges and things that you’re seeing that work. And I think a big takeaway here is leadership and culture and looking at how we can inspire the team and provide a little bit more landscape around what are we doing, what is the vision of what we’re trying to achieve.

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