They are the ones driving the transformation of companies and industries: courageous lateral thinkers, risk-taking changemakers and visionaries. Every change, every innovation needs people who think across borders, question the status quo and convince others of their ideas. We call them thought leaders, rebels or drivers“, he said in the call for the latest blog parade with the hashtag Organizational Rebels. I would like to participate in this and have planned to answer the following questions on this topic:

  • What are my personal experiences in my life as a rebel?
  • What best practices can I share—and what were my biggest mistakes that others can learn from?

As a first step, I want to tell my very personal story about a change I’ve been involved in for a whole year. From this story I decode best practices that can help an organizational rebel in everyday life. The following story has happened in the last 3 years in the course of my consulting work. I do not want to give any time periods as the company should remain anonymous. In the following, some details have been changed so that the company cannot be traced. Hired as a consultant, I found myself there in an environment of tradition and change.

Reading tip: SMEs between tradition and change

My personal experiences

One day I received an exciting project. I was supposed to support a company for a year, to restructure a department and to tackle not only consulting but also the change with management and employees.

From one day to the next to the rebel

Change is hard – hardly anyone likes them. Certainly not in a group with fixed structures. But to move a company forward, change is essential. So I was called by a company to restructure a department with almost 100 employees. In 50 percent of my time, I helped the responsible managers change the organization – the other 50 percent I took over important projects with agile methods. So I came to make a difference – an organizational rebel – which perhaps not all employees receive with open arms at the first moment.

Keeping planning, planning, planning and the flap

A few years ago, a very well-known agile head and author gave me the tip: “If you come in where new, then first hold the flap and take a close look at everything.” That’s exactly what I did. In the first few weeks I was busy getting involved, understanding processes and had the seniors explain the company to me. Together with the manager and his team leaders, we met regularly for day workshops on the planning of the new department. Especially at the beginning I listened attentively. I brought in less ideas of my own, but thought about how to put the manager’s visions into practice. Before I came up with an idea, I usually coordinated it with one of the team leaders in a personal conversation. By the way, if you want to read some theory, you can click on my article on organizational development.

Reading tip: Organizational development

The goal was created!

After some time we had defined the target image for the department. We had to observe the following basic conditions:

  • Compliant with the certified standard
  • Compliant with processes from other departments
  • Many people who don’t all want to work agile
  • Various customers who weren’t all enthusiastic about agility
  • maximum flexibility with maximum stability

Currently, there were very large teams in the company that worked according to classic methods. This should be changed. We had the idea to appoint two new team leaders and to form four teams out of two teams. These are:

  • Internal IT: Automation and Operations – Kanban
  • Project team – large customer projects – complete self-organization and autonomy
  • DevOPs: For Medium Projects and Agile (Scrum) Customers – Scrum and DevOps
  • Classic unit: small customers and customers with standard tasks – ITIL

Challenge accepted! To implement this, we have considered a four-step model. Some of the employees were supposed to continue working in the old organization, the other part slowly moved with the customers. It was important to us that the stability of the department was maintained. To do this, I created a graphic – I’ll go into the individual phases in more detail later. To explain: DevOps is an art word that is composed of the words development and operations.

Process of change

With full force against the wall

After a few weeks I came into my first project, which I was to carry out in 50 percent of my time. I had a project manager for a large customer. Above me there was another program manager and under me two sub-project managers. So I did what I had learned in the target image and organized this project as agile as I could.

One aspect of this agility was to give the sub-project leaders high freedom and autonomy in their tasks and to keep their backs on them as scrum masters. I also saw myself more as a lawyer in front of the client and the program management. Unfortunately, it was only far too late that I noticed that my project was completely out of the more ITIL-oriented line of the program and, despite the success for the program manager, was perceived as uncontrollable and chaotic. ITIL is a way of organizing IT and is often not easy to reconcile with agile methods.

Better: Unfortunately, it was only far too late that I noticed that two worlds collided. Agility coupled with an ITIL-oriented line of the program made my project dance out of line. Despite the success, the program manager considered the change to be uncontrollable and chaotic.

In order to protect his project, after three months I was allowed to put on my hat and “go” – the unit was again classically organized. So I did it! I flew out of my first project after three months. Luckily, the manager of my department stood behind me and decided to just give me a new project. There was only me as a project manager and a team. The predecessor should incorporate me. By the way, if you want to read more about the establishment of scrum in classic companies, then I have a free white paper for you here!

Reading tip: Agile in the Waterfallworld

Networking helps – the change board

However, two months passed between the old and new projects and I was able to devote myself to change. After I went home quite early on the day of the exclusion, I was in the office the next day all the earlier. I used the next time with 40 of the 60 employees to have a short one-on-one conversation of 15 min and took notes. I formed clusters and had roughly summarized the wishes and suggestions of the department at a glance for the manager.   Now we formed the change board, which consisted of the following types of employees:

  • Strong skeptic against change
  • Knows a lot of people
  • Is very committed and has many ideas
  • Team leaders from other departments

In the first attempt, we presented a plan to the Change Board and the new teams. Together with the board, we have filled a backlog of tasks. A sprint took place every two weeks and each employee was allowed to take tasks out of the change board. Each of the ten participants took part. Team leaders were invited from adjacent departments to provide feedback with the request. After four sprints we had completed all the preparations and were able to start the change. Each phase was represented by exactly four sprints of two months each.

With new start-up and classic methods

Now I started my new project, which I was to carry out next to the change. It was again a great customer with an innovative technology stack. This time I took over exactly the methodology of the predecessor and continued the project in the same way for the time being. I wanted to reach the status quo. I seem to have managed to do this and slowly gained the trust of the team – including management. So I devoted 50 percent to change and 50 percent to traditional project management.

Persevere and make marketing

Now it was time to persevere and continue the sprints of the change. Every week there was a status meeting and every two weeks there was review and retrospective. Participation in the Change Board was voluntary and I saw my job as to keep motivating people to stay on. We continued to work our way up Sprint for Sprint.

In the course of my project, In addition to the change, I moved more and more from the classic project system to Jira and we carried out the first small sprints. I now had more confidence in the company and was allowed to slowly make the project a little more agile.

Every change also has an end

Every change has to be completed at some point. The first phases were mostly a technical changeover as well as the move to the new offices and the transfer of the employees. Later on, the coaching and the re-energising in the new roles were added. It was also the case that you could volunteer for a team. However, the last 25 percent of employees had to be persuaded to move to the new organization. I have accompanied each and every one of them individually and tried to help.


It goes on: After agile comes virtual

Now the change is complete and I have to say: it was fun and we all think we have done a good job. The change is also officially considered complete and other departments may follow. I did not pack my belongings afterwards, as I might have expected, but i took on another mission for the manager: the company has built two new locations.   I should coach the company’s first virtual team spread across three locations. But this is to become an issue for a new article.

Conclusion: Best Practices for the Organizational Rebel

The change was a lot of fun for me and I was looking forward to the follow-up task. Now I delineate from my experience my do’s and dont’s for organizational rebels. First and foremost, a change agent should see himself as a lawyer for change, that is, to defend it again and again, rather than preaching like a priest.   Networking is also important to take the opinion leaders in the company with you. We should also work on the status quo, because a classically run company will not become Google or Spotify overnight.

In addition, it is especially important at the beginning to listen and gain the trust of the employees. Also, as a rebel, you should not realize your own ideas, but look at what the management really wants to achieve. Surely this doesn’t always have to be 100 percent agile. ITIL organizations can also be agile and are very important for certain customer projects. Always remember that you are between tradition and change. Much of what rebels want to change may even have been the guarantor of the success of recent years.

Let us come to the Dont’s. It is important not to polarize, but rather to stay in the background. Nor should one’s own goals be pursued, such as wanting to make everything agile. Of course, I wanted to try out the LeSS Framework, but it just didn’t make sense for our customers. By the way, the LeSS Framework is a method of scaling scrum. If you want to read more about agile scaling, click here for the article.   A change is not a matter of a few days and takes time. We invested a year in change. Furthermore, it is important to pick up all the employees and take them with you, otherwise you will lose the opinion leaders of the company and you, like me, will be able to fly out of a project once. A great saying that I have used again and again in change is:   grass does not grow when you pull on it. People need time to adapt slowly to the new situation – because the job means securing their existence for everyone. In the following figure, I summarized my findings:

Recommendations for action for the organisational rebel
Genderhinweis: Ich habe zur leichteren Lesbarkeit die männliche Form verwendet. Sofern keine explizite Unterscheidung getroffen wird, sind daher stets sowohl Frauen, Diverse als auch Männer sowie Menschen jeder Herkunft und Nation gemeint. Lesen Sie mehr dazu.

Falls es noch Fragen gibt, können Sie mich gerne anrufen. Hierzu einfach im Buchungssystem nach einen freien Termin schauen. Ich nehme mir jeden Monat einige Stunden Zeit um mit Lesern zu interagieren.

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I blog about the impact of digitalization on our working environment. For this purpose, I present content from science in a practical way and show helpful tips from my everyday work. I am a manager in an SME myself and I wrote my doctoral thesis at the University of Erlangen-Nuremberg at the chair of IT Management.

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