Does Walmart Do The BOSSA Nova?

This article is the third in a series looking at ING, Ericsson, Walmart, Spotify, Statoil, Titansoft (of Singapore) in relation to BOSSA nova. “BOSSA” a synthesis of Beyond Budgeting, Open Space, Sociocracy, and Agile, provides an overall framework that can guide probes and experiments for implementing company-wide nimbleness and agility.

Todd Kromann of Walmart contributed to the new book about BOSSA nova called Company-wide Agility with Beyond Budgeting, Open Space, & Sociocracy in which he describes Walmart’s rapid adoption of Agile. With 11,718 stores and clubs in 28 countries, operating under 59 different names, Arkansas-based Walmart is the world’s largest company by revenue and the largest private employer in the world with 2.3 million workers.  

According to Todd, a tiny cohort of four agile coaches was able to invite thousands of information technology (IT) employees and contractors at Walmart to shift the organization’s work from 10% agile to 90% agile in less than two years. “We simply invited the people doing the work into Open Space, in more than 30 one-day events, hundreds at a time.”

Using Open Space, Walmart found it was possible to accelerate the probe and experiment process that underpins many transformations from months and years to a few days by engaging everyone and their imaginations in the process.

“We didn’t impose a methodology, a tool or a metric. We offered invitation, autonomy, and options. We asked everyone to find ways to make their work more agile. That was the purpose, and all the ideas went up on the wall, completely open and transparent. As the work took off, ‘Agile Champions’ helped the four coaches spread the invitation and the results.

“Formally, the business adopted agile concepts such as founder’s mentality, design thinking and Team of Teams. These were promoted from the CEO level and the IT coaches had little involvement. Walmart has several agile ‘thought leaders’ on it’s board of directors and they contributed to the net effect.”

Involvement of the very top levels of an organization seems key to any transformation. In essence, the Board members brought into the company wisdom accumulated in their years of experimentation in other settings. Furthermore, they didn’t order a transformation, they invited everyone to join in. 

Because Walmart’s process was very open, it’s hard to define the scope of the project. The scope could be as low as 4000 or into the 10’s of thousands, depending on whom you ask. The Bentonville, Arkansas business departments were included (it was open) and business folks usually opted to attend. However, it is not clear how far agile ideas flowed beyond the IT arena.

“Today, I get reference checks for Agile coaches from Walmart, and these are often people I’ve never met. Any of our champions claim that title. I think that’s a side effect of an open transformation. So, the concept of 4 coaches is only correct in the narrow sense of 4 people whose full time job was coaching. By the end we scaled up to 6 full time coaches in Bentonville and perhaps a dozen worldwide. This was federated so, again, it’s hard to define.

“While the numbers are hard to pin down, the net effect is not. We are now 100% agile in that it’s more awkward to opt out than to opt in. We no longer have any Agile coaches. If you ask anyone at Walmart how we became agile, they will likely say they did it by themselves 😉 An open transformation is like an avalanche. It just takes a few snowballs and after that, it’s chaos.”