Why is it Called an Agile Transformation?

We’re not in Kansas anymore.

Most organizational change initiatives are not called transformations. So how come Agile change initiatives are? To answer this question, let’s first review some examples of organizational change as well as the impact they have on the people in the organization.

Type of ChangeA Good Example Is…Impact
Reorganizing peopleWhen reporting relationships are changedDoes not change what you do or how you do it
Reorganizing workWhen program/product portfolios are reprioritizedMay change what you work on but does not change how you do it
Process improvementWhen the efficiency of existing practices is increasedMay change the work methods or tools you use but not your job function
Process re-engineeringWhen practices and some job functions are revisedMay change your job function
Change in corporate cultureWhen firms mergeChanges your organization’s mission, vision, purpose, attitudes, and identity—all of which contribute to a change in the work you do and how you do it

Note in the above table how the magnitude of change deepens as you move from the top to the bottom of the table. At the top of the table, the change has little impact on the day-to-day work of most individuals. However, at the bottom the impact of change can be quite profound. For example, changing the corporate culture uproots deeply embedded behavior and necessarily changes long-standing beliefs and assumptions.

Working with this principle, we can identify three levels of organization change magnitude:

Superficial org change

This type of org change has little impact on your day-to-day responsibilities and activities. Many corporate re-orgs are actually superficial. For example, your company may hire a new VP, but that doesn’t necessarily affect the project you’re working on, the work you perform on it, or the people you work with.

Significant org change

This type of org change has a greater impact on you. Your job or your work environment is affected but usually not your role or job description. For example, some work procedures may change, and you may receive training or new software tools as a result. You may even have to join a new team or someone new joins your team. Perhaps you have to move to an office in a different building. Whatever the case, when your organization undergoes a significant org change, you are definitely affected even if the effect is rather minimal.

Transformational org change

Often, after a transformational org change, you have a new role that you have never before performed. Your job responsibilities change radically. So have your supervisors and their responsibilities. You have to approach your work in an entirely novel way, learning completely new skills, and often a new vocabulary. The unwritten rules that used to guide how you act and what you do no longer apply.  Your work world is completely new. It’s surprising. It’s refreshing. It’s strange.

Let’s now consider where Agile change fits within this org change magnitude framework:

Agile Org Change

In an Agile change initiative, some of the change is superficial, some more significant, but when successful the bulk is transformational. Learning new practices and tools are needed but not sufficient for lasting success. Change must go deeper, in many cases down to the roots of corporate values and what had been unquestioned management principles. It must encompass a new way of thinking about work and your place in this new world. Long-standing assumptions and unwritten rules go out the window as you discover new ways to work together with your colleagues, every day. This is why it’s called an Agile transformation: you, your job, your responsibilities, your management, your organization are transformed into something new.

So are we in Kansas anymore? In a word: nope. We’re not in Kansas. Agile transforms your world. It’s surprising. It’s refreshing. It’s strange. Whatever you think Agile may be, there’s one thing it’s not: business as usual.