Digital transformation: How agile leaders and scrum masters can catalyze change

Struggling to implement digital transformation? The secret to success may be the scrum masters and agile leaders already in your organization
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Employees hanging notes on wall to represent agile methodologies

Wouldn’t it be nice if you could install a digital transformation the same way you upgrade your laptop’s operating system? Click a few buttons and people receive their upgrades!

Engineers suddenly put customers at the forefront of their work. They stop over-engineering and start building MVPs. Business folks suddenly know how to work with engineering teams, and a cloud-first, microservices-based mindset is the new normal for building software. Easy.

But true change is more difficult because humans resist change. We need to understand why the change matters and how it impacts us personally. We need to practice new behaviors, make some mistakes, and take the personal journey required to build new capabilities within ourselves.

[ Where is your team's digital transformation work stalling? Get the eBook: What's slowing down your Digital Transformation? 8 questions to ask. ]

So we struggle with one big problem: Business changes very quickly while humans change very slowly.

But what if we could speed up our ability to change? And make it more sustainable?

What agile leaders and scrum masters offer

You might be overlooking the single biggest advocates you have for speeding and sustaining change: Agile coaches and scrum masters. Here’s why these agile leaders are key to accelerating and sustaining change during your transformation:

They’re change agents: Agile coaches spend every waking moment figuring out how to help people make and sustain change. They read books about it and attend meetups and conferences that help them become better change agents.

Team members trust them: Agile leaders have the trust of the team – perhaps the most valuable commodity during a digital transformation. Through your work with them, you can directly influence the front-line people in the transformation.

They see things you cannot see: A strong agile leader provides insights from the real world. They can tell you which teams are struggling, why they’re struggling, and how to remove barriers and accelerate the change.

They believe they have something to offer: Leadership positions are taken, not given. Great agile leaders are waiting for the opportunity to influence the broader organization. Invite them into the conversation and they’ll be so eager, you may need to ask them to slow down (when’s the last time you had that problem?).

So how do you get agile leaders involved?

The key to involving agile leaders is finding the right people on your team. Not every scrum master brings the leadership skills required to converse with senior leaders. You want someone you can trust, who can build trust with other members of the lead team.

[ Get answers to key digital transformation questions and lessons from top CIOs: Download our digital transformation cheat sheet. ]

How to find agile change agents

1. Identify thought leaders

Identify two or three leading agile thought leaders in your company by surveying your product teams (either formally or with just a few conversations). Ask them these questions:

  • Thinking about people inside our company, who do you typically turn to for help with new, agile-related challenges on your team?
  • Who do you trust from outside your team to help you with agile-related challenges?

Look for the names that show up most often. These people are likely your trusted thought leaders.

[ Related read: Planning vs. agility: 5 ways leaders can find a balance. ]

2. Determine who to invite into the lead team

Meet with each identified thought leader individually to narrow the list to one or two people to include on your leadership team. Make sure their personality fits and that they will speak up if they disagree with things another leader might say.

3. Let them learn

Once you identify the right team members, cast a vision for the transformation and give them time to understand the cultural implications. Bring them into the inner circle. Let them survey people and talk to teams so they can leverage their trust to learn what life is like on the front lines. Ask them to consider questions like these: What prevents teams from adopting change? What change is most difficult to make?

4. Ask them to assemble a change agent team

As they learn, ask them to assemble a team of agile leaders that can serve the digital transformation. Their role is to accelerate and sustain the transformation at the front lines. Enroll them in the strategy and empower them to drive change at the team level. And don’t forget to build feedback loops about things they’re hearing from the front lines.

5. Invite their help

Ask them to share their findings with the broader team. They’ll have insights that your leaders can’t see from their vantage point. These insights are critical for shaping the transformation and inviting them into the conversation allows you to influence people on the front line through an advisor they trust.

Driving change

By identifying thought leaders at the team level, bringing them into the conversation, and working with them to drive change, you will transform and sustain your digital culture. You’ll move from a technology-focused transformation to a more holistic approach that includes people, process, and technology.

Your agile leaders are ready to jump at the opportunity. Invite them in to see how they can help enable the vision.

[ Culture change is the hardest part of digital transformation. Get the digital transformation eBook: Teaching an elephant to dance. ]

Rich Theil
Rich helps IT Leaders fix Agile teams burdened by inadequate Product Management and broken business partner relationships. Prior to starting The Noble Foundry, Rich spent 12 years as CIO for a large, scrappy, and aggressive non-profit in Cincinnati. Additionally, Rich spent seven years at P&G in Information Technology.