This is what happens when agile transformations do not have a solid foundation

by | Jun 1, 2020

Agile transformation is a term that has picked up a lot of steam over the past decade. Technology is advancing at breakneck speed, where there is a need to increase the speed of delivery to stay relevant in the market. Senior leaders are pushing organizations to change the ways they do things expecting to see the speed increase. Unfortunately, there is a higher rate of failures in transformations than one would hope.

Most Agile Transformations will fail

Anthony Mersino

In Anthony’s post, he differentiates between agile projects and agile organizations.

“To be clear, agile transformation success is different than agile project success. Success rates for agile tend to be significantly higher than those for traditional approaches, and there are plenty of data points to support that. Unfortunately, a lot less data is available on agile transformation success.”

From there, he provides a top 5 reasons why the failures happen.

1 – They take too long

We are in a world of instant gratification. Before people would have to wait for the top of the hour on the radio to get some quick snippets of news or wait until 6 PM for the evening news, now it is a matter of doing a google search or going straight to a news site. Ordering products would take a couple of weeks to be delivered soon; it could be at your door in a couple of hours. 

Maybe due to this, organizations expect change to happen just as fast. It could also be the pressures of the market clouding the judgement of what an agile organization looks like and the magnitude of work needed to get there.  

Agile transformation is that: Transformation. Good change management practices, along with agile values, will not make it seem as long as it is. 

2 – Agile Transformation is limited to process

If taking too long does not have the transformation fail, having it specifically about the methods will. 

Anthony and many other agilists it is all about culture. Having the right actions and behaviours needed to get the right outcome is critical.

A lot of organizations go through the motions with no real understanding of the value they represent in allowing teams, departments and the organization to be truly adaptable and competent in meeting client and market demands. Organizations will create workflows, status’ and milestones using buzzwords to say they are an “agile shop.” Yet, having a governance burdensome process lead by the leadership will impede the team’s effort and create frustration across the board. 

Another way to impede progress is only to have one team or department use an agile methodology. Yes, there will be some improvements in the delivery, yet the flow of information and feedback will slowdown because partnered departments or third parties that do not use the same values will not be able to keep up to the pace.

The remaining three listed: Lack of leadership, lack of knowledge of agile values and lack of experimentation would fall in with a poor Knowledge sharing environment and the lack of self-managed teams. Some organization leadership will look at Google, Spotify, or any other leading technology organization and want to be like them.

Copying what they do is easy. The problem is with the Why and How. If they want to copy the flows, they fall back onto the second point. As every person is an individual and will go about what they do in their way, organizations are the same. No two organizations will do the same thing to get the same output. 

Organizations need to have the teams gain ownership of what they are doing. Using guiding principles to help shape what they do, they will be able to find new ways of doing work while giving a sense of ownership. This sense of ownership will do wonders for employee morale, productivity and collaboration across the enterprise. 

Peter Merel’s article – Do 96% of Agile Transformations Fail?

Gives insight on what needs to be changed to create that agile organization. One of the critical foundations that help organizations get to that level of success with agile transformations is the Agile Performance Holarchy ©. This agile OS provides the framework needed with any agile methodology to help organizations avoid frustrations and become that adaptable organization they envisioned. 

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