Why do you think management isn’t on the same page when it comes to agile? Why are they having such a hard time?
Power in the market place shifted from the seller to the buyer and many organizations just didn’t notice that paradigm had shifted, and so they keep on trying to do the same thing. They find themselves running harder and harder just to stay in place so as to not fall further behind, and they are extremely stressed. In a sense they know that something is wrong, but they haven’t quite figured out what it is and they haven’t by and large brought it into agile practices.

Do you think management is just unaware or unwilling to transition?
They are entrenched in some very bad habits, and in some cases they are hugely compensated for maintaining those habits, particularly the C-suite. It’s very difficult to get someone to understand something when they are being paid not to understand it. That is the situation in many of these large organizations, but the economic forces are overwhelming and will drive these organizations out of business unless they change. The choice is change or die, and many may decide to die, but they don’t have a choice to keep doing what they are doing.

How are agile teams and management supposed to work together, and what needs to be done in an organization to get there?
You have to introduce agile thinking throughout the whole organization. Different goals, different ways of structuring work, different ways of coordinating work, different ways of values, different ways of communication, those are the core principles of agile. So an organization that wants to have the whole organization agile needs to run the organization on those principles. This is a big shift; I am not saying it is a simple thing to do. It is a huge transformation and it is a different way of looking at the world. It is a phase change. Going from ice to water, or it’s a Copernican Revolution where the center of the universe is shifted. It used to be within the corporation, and now it’s with the customers. It is a fundamentally different way of looking at and understanding the world.

How is an organization supposed to transition the entire organization to agile? Who leads the transition?
What you have in most big organizations are pockets of agile, even large, very large pockets. I mean in GE for instance, a very large organization that has a huge agile community in it, they are like revolutionaries within GE and actively agitating for the whole GE to become agile. You have GE largely still running on traditional lines, and then you have a whole segment of the corporation running on agile lines, so that certainly lays the foundation for change.

Ultimately, culture changes of this depth and magnitude require support at the top, and so it is great to have these islands of agile lower down, but ultimately the top of the organization has to come to terms with it and say, “We are going to run the whole organization in a different way.” That hasn’t happened in GE, but it will happen. It is only a matter of time.

I have heard companies say that in order for managers and agile teams to be on the same page, there has to be a level of trust. Do you agree with that?
Absolutely. Trust is key. That is a big problem in traditional management firms: There is very low trust. And that is one reason that it runs into problems. There is also verified trust when agile and Scrum are run properly. It is not blind trust. It has having a set of processes where there is continuous direct feedback from customers: Are they on the right track? If not, why not?

And in fact there is much more transparency than traditional management. It’s that transparency of agile that often horrifies management because suddenly all of the tricks that traditional management play on are revealed, and so it becomes intolerable, and the management often backs off and says “We don’t like the look of that,” and goes back to their old ways.

Trust grows from actually listening to people and understanding what they are saying and then acting consistently with what you say, and if you start doing those things, then trust will build up. When you don’t have that transparency and you don’t have that consistency between saying and doing, then obviously trust breaks down, so those things are age-old factors in building up trust and destroying trust. You can destroy trust in about 10 seconds, and it takes a long time to build up trust.

Denning will be speaking about transforming management through agile at the 2014 ALM Forum on April 2 from 4:30 pm to 5:30 pm.