To talk about agile transformation, let’s go to the movies

To talk about agile transformation, let’s go to the movies

Will your organization's agile transformation be a Cinderella-style change – or have more in common with a werewolf? Here's what makes the difference

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3. Their leaders meaningfully and visibly changed their behavior

Agile transformation demands that leaders act courageously on a couple of key dimensions. For leaders, actually embodying the principles of the Agile Manifesto means, in many cases, walking away from the well-honed finished products of the waterfall world – the dotted i’s and crossed t’s whose success bred their success as leaders.

Agile transformation demands that leaders act courageously on a couple of key dimensions.

Working iteratively breeds greater productivity and innovation, but it requires that leaders have the bravery to engage key audiences with greater frequency around less-than-perfect interim output.

Another leadership step that requires courage is ceding authority to their teams. If leaders cannot pivot to see themselves as servant-leader enablers, the teams will never be empowered enough to produce true agility. As a subset of this behavior, if leaders fail to deal with the team at team level – and insist on trying to manage or even influence individual-by-individual – teams cannot move fluidly, and organizational agility is lost.

4. They never entertained the Cinderella fantasy

To be blunt: Organizations that think agile transformation is easy are perhaps those most doomed to fail.

Think of all the steps outlined in the previous paragraphs – everything from changes in org structure to shifts in leadership behavior, to serious, no-holds-barred change management work. If any of that sounds like waving a wand to you … go back and read more closely.

To be blunt: Organizations that think agile transformation is easy are perhaps those most doomed to fail.

When organizations underestimate the work involved in agile transformation, a chain reaction often begins. Initially, leaders under-communicate or miscommunicate. KPIs are set either incorrectly or too optimistically. Natural friction among people teaming in new ways is either ignored or suppressed, not addressed. At a certain point, things have gone so wrong that an army of consultants is frantically called in (or escalated dramatically from current numbers already embedded) to sort out the situation.

The end result is the antithesis of magical – it’s, well, far more like a guy thrashing around turning into a wolf.

What’s interesting is that the opposite scenario doesn’t look like magic, either. Organizations that go in clear-eyed take more measured action at the start – with a heavy dose of alignment and clear communication. They engage a consistent and appropriate level of consulting support, where needed, and always focus on capability transfer to their core organization. Their work is methodical, deliberate, and self-aware – more like building a cantilever bridge.

So if we’re clear that:

  • The Cinderella transformation is a fantasy
  • The werewolf transformation is to be avoided at all costs
  • And that careful bridge-building is the agile transformation approach that organizations should embrace

Then what is the best way of staying on track? Here’s a simple checklist.

  • Make the business case. Has your organization articulated the business case for agile transformation? Can this business case be communicated in clear, plain language to every employee?
  • Get your steps in order. Have you outlined all of the steps – touching people, process, and technology – that need to be taken to undergo an agile transformation? Can your leaders name at least four other changes in addition to implementing some sort of Agile/Scrum/Kanban process?
  • Ensure you have support. Do leaders have both willingness to change behavior, and concrete support/tools for behavioral change? Are potential evangelists energized and potential resistors identified?
  • Get buy-in and alignment. Is the organization really on board? If leadership believes they are, is there support for this viewpoint? If the organization is not, do you have a change management strategy to address this?
  • Don't underestimate the work. Do you have a realistic timeline and resources plan for the agile transformation? Have you considered increasing needed time and resources to allow for unexpected events?

If you can answer the above questions with confidence, your organization is ready to transform … and not into a monster!

[ Get more lessons learned from Melissa Swift. Read The digital transformation trap: Don't ignore the marathon for the sprints. ]


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