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In this article, we'll explore the benefits of setting up a team of champions with the mission of helping with a transformation, be that agile, or digital.

We'll delve into what champions are, how to recruit them and they'll also be actionable takeaways for you to experiment with in your own transformations.

ย If you prefer to see this information as a video, check it out on YouTube below;

What are champions?

In true game of thrones trial by combat style, a champion is someone who represents a cause. The Cambridge dictionary defines this as a 'Person who enthusiastically supports, defends or fights for a person, belief, right, or principle.

In the context of a transformation, agile or otherwise, a champion is someone who represents, supports and takes action to try and enable the transformation to be a success.

Why champions?

I've observed and learned from fellow practitioners that many transformations fail. Research from Deloitte suggests that in the past decade, 85% of companies have attempted transformation, whilst only 30% of these have achieved their desired goals.

One reason mentioned for this is the 'top down' approach to a transformation which doesn't foster or support autonomy, nor provide those that are expected to adapt to have their own voice, or to influence the direction of the transformation.

ย When I'm helping companies transform, I always aspire to get support from champions. I call those that join my squad 'The Guardians of Agility'. We have our own team logo, motto (#PeopleFirst), collaborative spaces and agile ceremonies. We are a cross functional, diverse group of roles and individuals who unite as a team to defend and lead agility.

We do this by identifying and prioritising our backlog of initiatives, ideas and experiments, and sharing transparently how these are progressing as the transformation does.

How to recruit champions?

  • Firstly, articulate the 'Why' clearly. Let people know what the intent of champions are, the expectations of their time and what they will gain from being involved.

  • Secondly, put out the call. Come up with your own 'brand' for the champions and get recruiting, or feel free to borrow 'Guardians of Agility'. I don't mind at all.

When you're doing so, consider how you'll be inclusive. I highly recommend the following sort of message when recruiting;

Who are we looking for?

  • A squad which represents a range of roles across the company from product ownership, tech leads, developers, QA, Scrum Masters, Leadership and otherwise. The Intent is to be inclusive.

  • Representation from various office locations where possible rather than all being at the same location

  • Ideally, at least one representative per development team

Top tip - Don't create champions. Look for those that already exist. Are there people in the company that already lead the principles you aspire towards? Are there people already exhibiting the right mindset for change? Identify these people and empower them.

What's in it for the champions you ask?

ย I offer the champions who join my squad the following.

  • A free baby groot 'Guardians of Agility - #PeopleFirst sticker!

  • The opportunity to get stuck in, take ownership and influence change

  • My gratitude which I hear is worth many imperial credits.

Top tip - Offer something fun and tangible to get people on board and create a sense of unity. For me, it's a sticker that can go on peoples laptops. For you, it might be a coffee cup, T-shirt or whatever you fancy.

I have my champions, now what?

  • Publicise who they are. Let people know who your transformation champions are, their roles and what the outcome behind having champions is

  • Create a squad charter to align on values, goals, strengths, weaknesses and your ways of working. This will be a living and breathing document but will serve as a baseline to align vision and expectations

  • Be transparent about progress with the wider company. Demo progress to your stakeholders, meet frequently with your customers (The employees of the company) and capture feedback on what you learn. Add these to your backlog and prioritise accordingly

  • Tackle your backlog in whichever way the team wants to - Be that Kanban, Scrum or otherwise.

  • Share your stories of how having champions has worked (or not worked) for you. We'll learn as a community from our collective failures and experiment with new methods as a consequence.

Top tip - Crowdsource with your team of champions how they want to work. Don't approach this with your own biases or pre-determined decisions. Be flexible and allow people their voice. They will likely feel more ownership for their ways of working if they are able to suggest them themselves.

So how do I get started?

ย If you're someone who is more junior and you'd like to be a champion in a transformation, feel free to point the decision makers towards this video. Be brave and take action as not acting is in itself a decision.

ย If you're a leader of a transformation and you don't have champions, I highly encourage you to consider recruiting them. If you're concerned about doing so, try an experiment.

Top tip - Pilot a squad of transformation champions for a few months and see what the results are. Baseline before and after with a employee net promoter score / pulse style survey to gauge how people are feeling about the transformation at the beginning, and a few months after introducing champions. As you learn, adapt accordingly. What do you have to lose?

Keen to hear the stories from others with using transformation champions. What has worked? What hasn't worked?

How would you approach things differently if you had the opportunity to again?ย 

Don't stop believin folks'

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