Joshua L. Roberts

Agile / Lean Enterprise Transformation Coach

Week Two – Agile/Lean Culture

By Josh Roberts | June 16, 2014 | 0 Comment

How to Train Your Dragon 2 just came out on video. This meant we had to watch the original movie with our daughter over the weekend. As we were watching, I couldn’t help but tie the storyline back to our Agile/Lean transformation. Yes, I can be a dork sometimes.

This week I have been meeting with the IT organization’s front-line leaders and their development teams to discuss what the transformation means to the organization. Rather than focusing on the “how” (i.e. Agile/Lean delivery practices), we are discussing what it will mean to the organizational culture.  More specifically, what type of culture is required to get the full benefit of the transformation?

Borrowing from Michael Sahota’s presentation 10 Things Executives Need to Know About Agile, we have found the Schneider culture model extremely useful to better understand the organization’s current culture and where we need to take it. In a nutshell, most organizations are still operating in a “Control” culture and our goal is to build a culture of “Collaboration” and “Cultivation”.

schneider culture model


SPOILER ALERT: If you haven’t watched How to Train Your Dragon, and plan to do so, stop reading now.

How to Train Your Dragon begins by describing the island of Berk and the Viking tribe that inhabits it.  In the words of Hiccup, a young teenager in the tribe, “This is Berk. It’s twelve days north of Hopeless and a few degrees south of Freezing to Death. It’s located solidly on the Meridian of Misery. My village. In a word, sturdy. It’s been here for seven generations”.  Does that sound like your organization??

The problem faced by the Viking tribe are the dragons that steal their livestock and destroy their village. Each day, they spend all their energy on killing dragons; it’s a way of life.  Until… Hiccup shows them a better way. By choosing to learn more about dragons and their motivations, he questions if the tribe’s pre-conceived notions of them are correct.


“All truth passes through three stages. First, it is ridiculed. Second, it is violently opposed. Third, it is accepted as being self-evident.” – Arthur Schopenhauer, German philosopher (1788 – 1860)


As Hiccup studies the dragons, he is first “ridiculed” by his father and teenage peers for being different, then “violently opposed” by his tribe who captures his dragon, and finally the idea of befriending a dragon is “accepted as being self-evident”. The story ends by zooming out of the island of Berk on a bright sunny day with the Viking tribe engaging with dragons in a new way. The tribe has established a new set of values; a new culture.

In the book Tribal Leadership, David Kelley (founder of IDEO) states, “When you get a good culture going, it’s hard to ruin it. When you get a bad culture, it’s hard to fix.” As Hiccup discovered, it’s not easy to change a culture that has been established over many decades. This book provides insights into the different stages of tribal culture and tips to move a tribe toward high performance.

There are even helpful tools at the book’s website. For example, we may use the Mountains and Valley’s exercise, by CultureSynch, to help us establish our tribal values. Another great source of information is SlideShare’s Culture Code project (#CultureCode). In fact, you can find “The Little Book of IDEO: Values” (referenced in Tribal Leadership) as well as the Culture Code for many other great companies.


Like many, we’ll be using John Kotter’s 8-Step Process for Leading Change as a framework to execute our transformation. It’s amazing how well this model supports running an Agile Transformation using Scrum.  From building an empowered team that is aligned to a vision, to incrementally introducing change into the organization, it is an excellent model to leverage with the executive steering committee and transformation team.

This week our focus will be to further define the process by which we run our transformation team!


Josh Roberts

Agile / Lean Transformation Coach - Passionate About Delivering Value!


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