What is Agile Transformation?

Mountain signs

  1. What is Agile Transformation?
  2. Agile Transformation Strategy
  3. Challenges to Overcome
  4. Agile Transformation Coaches
  5. Resources

What is Agile Transformation?

Agile transformation is the sustained organization-wide process of helping individuals and organizations undergo the necessary mindset shift to reap the full benefits of agility.

Why is transformation necessary?

Agile is not merely a process: doing the steps does not guarantee you the results. With Agile, you aren’t baking a cake; you’re starting a movement. Getting many people to work together effectively requires a code of ethics – even if informal – to understand what is possible and what is acceptable.

When everyone is working under the same code of ethics, as in, say, a traditional business – where what is being produced, how, by what means and for how much are all established – then there is no need for transformation. What makes Agile transformation necessary for traditional business is the constant state of change and volatility in the market, as well as the democratization of value definition and delivery. Startups can compete with conglomerations on speed and quality, because big corporations are unable to pivot before windows of opportunity close. Smaller, more nimble companies are able to pursue these opportunities and create new, disruptive markets. By transforming the entire organization to be more Agile, big companies can retain competitive advantage.

Some people grasp this, but most businesses don’t understand how much change is required. While more and more people are shifting their mindset to Agile, most have not had this same shift and are incapable of making the fine distinctions that set Agile apart from other value delivery methods.

Is transforming to Agile necessary?

In this Forbes article “Why Agile is Eating the World,” Steve Denning puts it this way: “Agile organizations are connecting everyone and everything, everywhere, all the time. They are capable of delivering instant, intimate, frictionless value on a large scale… Continuing the management practices and structures of the lumbering industrial giants of the 20th Century won’t cut the mustard.”

In other words, Agile transformation is necessary for organizations to thrive in today’s markets and into the future.

Agile Transformation Strategy

Your transformation strategy will need to address your specific needs. By first establishing where you are in your agility across a wide range of roles, workflow processes, product performance, understanding of your market and customers, and much more, you will be in a better position to answer the question, “Why does my organization need to transform to be more Agile?”

Some of our clients have identified the following whys for their own organizations, which you may find helpful:

  • We can’t get value out the door quickly.
  • Product performance has been underwhelming and we don’t have a process for integrating feedback into a product.
  • We can’t keep pace with the changing technology and with evolving customer demands.

Looking at this list, we see that organizations are really seeking to retain market resilience. Because so much changes so quickly, today’s businesses need to develop a capability for learning and adapting with equal speed.

Your strategy and vision for the transformation will be guided by the near-term goals you set, and as you meet those goals, your strategy will evolve. You will need to consider:

  • The timeline for achieving certain key milestones
  • Where you would like to see quick wins first, with which to build momentum for the transformation initiative
  • What technology will enable you to achieve your goals, and where your technology stack is today
  • What product lines work for your future state, which will need to be evolved, and which you will need to sunset
  • A communication and change management process to gain and maintain momentum and to facilitate feedback loops
  • Whether to bring in external support in the form of training, coaching, consulting and change management
  • How to maintain profitability in the midst of the change
  • So much more…

Agile Transformation Roadmap

Every transformation is different, but a typical roadmap for transformation will have several common features:

  • Analysis of where the organization is today – technologically, culturally, in the market, etc.
  • Discovery of where the organization would like to be at some point in the future
  • An area of the business where they can pilot a mini-transformation, from which to gain learning
  • A vision to guide the transformation
  • Governance as guard rails for the initiation
  • A communication strategy for those affected directly as well as indirect effects the rest of the organization may see
  • A change management strategy for working with and supporting the individuals and teams who will be living and working within the parameters of the pilot
  • A high-level plan for what training, coaching, and consulting will be provided to these individuals and teams to make the intended initiative results stick

Waterfall to Agile Transformation

If Agile is the new way of working, we can think of the old way of working as “traditional”. You will also see and hear the word “waterfall” a lot. Not long ago, waterfall was an innovation, the first iteration of a consistent process for developing software.

The name “waterfall” is based on the thinking behind visualizations of value delivery like this one.

Early on, Scrum allowed teams to do the impossible: release value to end users within one sprint, with the typical sprint being two weeks. Even if that were inflated to four weeks or eight, delivering anything of value to an end user in anything short of six months to a year was just not possible.

Agile thinking is the difference. The traditional assumption is that a finished product would be delivered at the end of the whole process. But in Scrum – which is not synonymous with Agile but simply one approach to it – an increment of customer value would be delivered at the end of the sprint. It’s up to the team, working with the product owner, to decide what increment would be delivered. It could be a login screen for what will eventually be a website. The hard work is not in the delivery itself, but in figuring out how to break big work into small batches.

Waterfall thinking is the opposite: you design everything up front, including all of the controls in the iron triangle, and execute the plan without making any changes. We see the result of this strategy everywhere: The project goes out of scope, over budget, or takes too long. No one uses the features, because no one bothered to ask which features to make. Predictability and flexibility of the product is nil. And, up until people got tired of it, this was just the way software was developed. Many organizations still use this delivery method today.

Agile isn’t for every type of organization. For example, Agile is not suitable in stable and highly predictable environments where new knowledge isn’t being created and where the horizon of what is known is far away and wide. Unfortunately, this describes very few industries anymore. Agile is necessary in today’s VUCA world: volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous.

The Four Layers of Agile Transformation

How to Ensure a Successful Agile Transformation

In our white paper “Insights in Agile Transformation Success,” we provide some thinking on the areas that need to be addressed as an organization transforms to Agile. The four areas of each organization that we typically focus on improving in our client engagements are as follows:

  • Leadership – Traditional industrial-age management styles (e.g., Taylorism) are not effective at maximizing performance in a modern, digital organization of knowledge workers. Agile leadership facilitates the emergence of organizational constructs that enable enterprises to adapt in the face of ambiguity and constant change.
    • Keywords: culture, transparency, decentralization, engagement, collaboration, accountability, personal development, organizational development, change management
  • Organization – The capabilities of any business are embedded within its organizational structures, policies, and practices, as well as within the cultural beliefs and individual mental models through which the organization functions.
    • Keywords: support functions, operations, on-boarding, employee reviews, incentives, finances, accounting, organizational health
  • Product & Business – How clear is the product strategy to the people that are implementing it? What is the connection between the strategy and the daily software development work? The health of your business and the reception of your products reveal much here.
    • Keywords: innovation, product line, market opportunity, sunset strategy, measurability, useful metrics, value streams, legacy architecture
  • Delivery – Focusing on the practices and processes of teams and groups of teams delivering a project, program or product, this encompasses how well individual teams and sets of teams are using Agile frameworks and approaches. The purpose of Agile is to deliver high-quality value to the customer quickly, and technical execution practices and principles enable development teams to produce exactly that. This means ironing out, too, all the wrinkles impeding value delivery all the way to the customer.
    • Keywords: Scrum, Kanban, Lean, Scrumban, principles, workflow, scaling patterns, frameworks, Scaled Agile Framework (SAFe), Large-Scale Scrum (LeSS), teams, collaboration, DevOps, architecture, software, development, Extreme Programming (XP), continuous delivery, discipline, software craftsmanship

To increase its chances of success, an organization must invest in understanding its system – how it works and how it is not working – and the people in it. Leaders cannot do this alone, so Agile transformation calls everyone to action, to tend to the garden that yields them fruit and brings joy to the world.

In short, look for what’s broken and fix it in an Agile fashion. Repeat.

Challenges to Overcome

The saying is generally “No rain, no rainbows” but in Agile, as in transformation, it would be better stated: “Before the rainbows, the rain.” Agile has its fair share of challenges and here are just a few of them:

  • No leadership buy-in
    • What began as grassroots can only succeed with powerful (and moneyed) champions. Agile transformation – as with any large-scale change initiative – is long and expensive, notoriously hampered by detours and backslides, and frankly trying to be better is exhausting. It falls to leadership – both leaders in the C-suite and those who are leading from where they sit in the organization – to remind themselves, each other and everyone else about why the transformation matters and what the clear indicators of success are. They must be supported by inspiring hearts, investing in the change, mitigating and yet still taking risks – and managing their aversion to it. And, most importantly, leaders must model the change the want to see in others. This is a tall order – thus many organizations, even most, fail.
  • Unclear transformation vision
    • Why are you transforming? Remind yourself, remind others – often. The vision of the transformation is not the same as your business’ mission, though they are necessarily intertwined. Your survival is at stake; your transformation vision needs to inspire people to keep moving forward.
  • No alignment among stakeholders
    • In a 1,000-person company, 1,001 transformations are needed. Each person has their own motivators, ulterior motives, posturing, aspiration, fears and more – so alignment is the only way keep checking in with everyone on the transformation journey. Alignment means understanding the vision and hitching your motivation to that north star. Alignment is seeking that from others, holding leaders accountable when they are working against their own long-term interests by focusing only on short-term gains. Alignment is turning down work that takes you in the wrong direction. Poor alignment can kill your transformation.
  • Culture adverse to agility
    • The fears and hopes and motivators mentioned above are housed in each person’s consciousness, in their minds and hearts. In concert, these consciousnesses together – along with the policies, governances, societal expectations and other equally abstract intangibles – are what manifest an organization’s culture. That is why, in an Agile transformation, each person must transform. The transformation environment is rife with sinkholes and sand traps – Do we use the traditional incentive program or create a new one? Do we hire to meet current needs or to create our aspirational goals? – and these can impede and undermine the success of a transformation.
  • Immunity to Change
    • If the success of Robert Kegan’s book and development program “Immunity to Change” is any indication, humans don’t like change. Organizations, being systems of humans interacting, are necessarily allergic to changing, even when the change is for its own good. Change management is a necessary component of Agile transformation because change is so hard.

Agile Transformation Coaches

Flexing muscles you never use and didn’t know you had is something that coaches can help you get better at. Even individuals with much experience in Agile find the help of a coach priceless when everyone is at a different level of proficiency in Agile practices, processes, methodologies, frameworks, tools, etc. The coach can “spot” you so you can work out an area that has received little attention.

Some examples:

  • Discussing with a team how to measure its performance or to establish its velocity
  • Facilitating retrospectives after a big failure
  • Helping leaders understand that failure is not necessarily the end, but one brick on a pathway to success
  • Holding space for the brilliant, if quiet, voices in the room have an opportunity to contribute without being rushed

Good Agile coaches help teams excel. Good transformation coaches can help leaders and organizations get to the same level of excellence that teams have already been seeing for more than a decade.

Good Agile coaches help teams excel. Good transformation coaches can help leaders and organizations get to the same level of excellence that teams have already been seeing for more than a decade.

Resources

Agile transformation is a difficult process. That’s why good guidance is so important. We have collected and created resources to help light the way, whether it’s case studies that demonstrate the business value of Agile transformation, to webinars that connect you to our thought leaders and processes for championing change, to our popular Agile Amped podcast – the voice of the Agile community.

Dive in!

Blog Posts

What’s new, what’s hot – that what we cover in our blog posts. We provide updates about our company, share tips and tricks that agilists can use in their day-to-day work, and also tackle big ideas and gather feedback from the community. Many of our biggest ideas and most impactful offerings start small – in a blog.

    Blog Post

    What’s The Difference Between Agile Coaching, Agile Transformation and Business Agility?

    Blog Post

    Transforming to an Agile Mindset, Part 1

    Blog Post

    Agile Architecture: It’s Not a Free-for-All

    Blog Post

    The Agile Mindshift: Leading People and Managing Systems

SEE MORE BLOG POSTS >

Case Studies

A transformation is a tremendous undertaking. How do you start? What does success look like? How do you measure progress to ensure you’re heading in the right direction?

Here are a few of our experiences helping guide clients with their Agile transformations. Our clients are from every industry and come in all shapes and sizes. We help them approach transformation with an Agile mindset to increase the chances of success.

    Case Study

    A Vision of Delivery Agility & Innovation

    Case Study

    From Growing Pains to Embracing Change

    Case Study

    Making Way for Transformation

    Case Study

    A Ticket to Transformation

SEE MORE CASE STUDIES >

Podcasts

The Agile Amped podcast is the shared voice of the Agile community, driven by compelling stories, passionate people, and innovative ideas. With more than half a million downloads across iTunes, SoundCloud, YouTube and more, this vehicle for learning is only growing with each day.

And don’t forget to check out our new Women in Agile podcast!

    Agile Amped Podcast

    Bridging the Gap Between Traditional and Agile Management

    Agile Amped Podcast

    3 Key Capabilities for Agile Leaders | Business Agility Series

    Agile Amped Podcast

    From Projects to Products

    Agile Amped Podcast

    Transforming an Already Overburdened Organization | Business Agility Series

SEE MORE PODCASTS >

Webinars

Webinars are another platform where we can engage with thought leaders, our clients, our followers and our wider community. What will you learn today from one of our webinars?

    Webinar

    Delivery Agility: The (Imaginary) Battle Between Agile & DevOps

    Webinar

    The Path to Business Agility Webinar

    Webinar

    Managing in Agile: Shifting to an Agile Manager Mindset

    Webinar

    Scaling Agile for Distributed Enterprise Teams

SEE MORE WEBINARS >

White Papers

Accenture | SolutionsIQ has been a thought leader in the Agile space for more than a decade. Being agilists ourselves, we are always learning, always experimenting – and we turn our learning into artifacts that have helped thousands make sense of the opportunities that stand before businesses in the shape of business agility and Agile transformation, the problems agilists and our clients face on that path, and lessons that help all of us grow.

    White Paper

    Insights into Agile Transformation Success

    White Paper

    The Third Wave of Agile

    White Paper

    The Business Value of Agile Transformation

    White Paper

    When You’re Agile, You Get Lean

SEE MORE WHITE PAPERS >

 

Photo by Bit Cloud on Unsplash