Agile leader in focus:
Jean Henson

Get to know Aligned Agility’s Director of Business Agility – how she got started, what challenges she sees organizations commonly face, how she defines success, and which agile trends she’s got her eye on.

Photo of Business Director Jean Henson

The leadership team at Aligned Agility has over 60 years of combined experience in the technology sector, leading organizational improvement, building teams, and delivering application development projects. Jean Henson, Director of Business Agility, plays a vital role in helping businesses embrace change and thrive in the face of uncertainty. 

She’s spent the last 20 years in the IT industry, with roles including business analyst, IT tools manager, business agility delivery manager, and director of customer success. But how did she get started in agile transformation consulting?

“I got a call from [Aligned Agility’s VP Enterprise Agility] Tina Behers. I was working at a MSP (managed service provider) leading the monitoring and  ITSM teams. We were getting into doing agile, and Tina came along and said, ‘Come work with me, learn agile, and kick some butt!’”

Joys of the job

Jean strives to develop people and teams, supporting them to reach the next level through a combination of foundation strengthening and mentoring. Her role involves delivering business agility consultations to customers, as well as leading a team of consultants in delivering agile practices and implementing tooling.

“I love helping customers figure out agile ways to solve their problems,’’ she says. “It’s one of the most satisfying things about my job. It’s even more satisfying when they ask for a piece of advice, you give it to them, they take it, and it works out.”

Different customers, similar challenges

While Jean admits every client works differently, there are similar themes she encounters time and time again, such as ‘How do I get my teams on board?’ This is a subset of any agile transformation, she says, where businesses need to be cognisant of organisational change too. “That’s something companies tend to be a bit scared about,” she says.

“Other common challenges include organisations where not all teams work in the same way,” says Jean. “They’ll say, ‘We still have some waterfall teams along with our agile teams, how do I get them to work together?’ or ‘How do I see the work that’s being done by our infrastructure team while also keeping an eye on my work?’”

Jean worked with a customer who has both agile and waterfall teams. “The R&D team was working on something new and needed help from the development team, who still had to work on their projects,” she explains. “The R&D team had waterfall checkpoints they needed to achieve with fingers reaching back to the agile development team. It was interesting cross-functional work and we solved their challenge in the workshop we delivered.”

Many customers come to Aligned Agility hoping to find a cure-all agile tool, and half the challenge is convincing them that this doesn’t exist. 

“They hope they can implement a tool that’s going to cover everybody’s different processes,” says Jean. “But tools don’t work that way. They’ll go through the same cycle over and over again, and they’ll never get the results they want until they develop an agile mindset, understand their processes and have a solid foundation in place.”

The key to success

With 20 years in the industry behind her, Jean is a fountain of knowledge for organisations looking to be more agile or undertake any transformation initiative. Her biggest piece of advice? Start at the top.

“You need to start at the uppermost levels of the organisation and have buy-in, or your agile transformation is going to fail,” she explains.

“I think there are companies that get caught up in the idea of using a specific framework, which might not be the right choice for their organisation and processes. A business agility coach can help you select the best framework—if you want one—or at least a path to becoming more agile.

“Success for me is when the customer introduces and uses the part of the transformation they hired us to help them with, whether that’s agile training or Jira Align implementation, for example. But your transformation should never be considered ‘done’ – continuous improvement should be part of your process. Because agile transformation really is a journey, not a destination.”

“I love helping customers figure out agile ways to solve their problems ... It’s even more satisfying when they ask for a piece of advice, you give it to them, they take it, and it works out.”

Jean Henson, Director of Business Agility

What’s next in agile?

When it comes to trends in agile transformation, Jean stays on top of the industry, offering customers the latest insights, frameworks and tools. Recently, she’s been seeing objective and key results (OKRs) gaining traction. Unlike KPIs which are measurements used to evaluate performance over time, an OKR is a collaborative, goal-setting protocol, where an objective, or set of objectives, are tied to key results.

“Finally, after years of John Doerr working with Google and Intel, other companies are seeing the value in being able to understand if they are achieving their goals,” says Jean. “There’s a danger though. If a company doesn’t understand the difference between a KPI and an OKR, they’ll be measuring KPIs, thinking they’re achieving their new goals when really they’re just measuring something they’re already doing.”

If you’d like to know more about OKRs and how you can use them to measure transformation success, watch our webinar.