Where to start with Agile Transformation?
The first question we like to ask our clients when they come to us exploring the possibility of an agile transformation is ‘what problem are you trying to solve?’
There is a common misconception with agile, that it will enable a faster and cheaper way of operating, which is quite simply not always the case.
So before understanding the benefits of agile transformation to your organisation, you need to first understand the concept of agile transformation and the principles it encompasses.
What does Agile working involve?
First and foremost, an agile approach involves operating with a high degree of flexibility, collaboration and open communication, whilst maintaining an adaptive approach to work, in order to be able to react quickly to change.
It’s also about experimentation, testing and learning in small cycles, to ensure that the focus remains on taking the necessary actions to achieve a goal.
Many publications will at this stage refer back to the Agile Manifesto laid out by the infamous Snowbird 17, which dictates 12 principles on which agile as a concept is based.
Exercising these values and agile principles is of course essential to any agile transformation, however, it’s imperative that the organisation as a whole embraces an agile culture and mindset, in order to reap the full organisational benefits of Agile Transformation.
What are the potential benefits of Agile Transformation?
The benefits of Agile Transformation you’re likely to experience will typically depend on the level of commitment to the culture and mindset change – mentioned above – from all people within the organisation.
The introduction of new frameworks and practices can often be disorientating for individuals and likewise teams throughout the business, so it is, therefore, the responsibility of those who are introducing the idea of agile working, to effectively communicate why the changes are being implemented and how it will benefit the organisation.
Some of the organisational benefits of Agile Transformation could include:
- Continuously improve on and deliver value for customers;
- Enhanced operational performance visibility;
- Faster communication, rapid decision making and shared ownership;
- Improved collaboration and coordination throughout the organisation;
- Clearer understanding and usage of measurable data;
- Greater efficacy to working at pace and adapting to change – high performing development teams
What are some of the challenges in agile transformations?
As previously noted, large-scale transformations can sometimes be unsettling for some throughout the organisation.
This can often create a resistance to change from within, which has the potential to derail any kind of organisational transformation and is a main contributor to why agile transformations fail.
The issue here is going back to what was discussed earlier, about how the organisational benefits of Agile Transformation you’re likely to experience will often depend on the level of commitment to the change.
Resistance to change
There are generally two variations of resistance when change-management techniques are implemented within an organisation.
Both of these are touched on in our Preparing Your Organisation for Implementing OKRs article, which also covers the subject of large-scale organisational change.
The first is a ‘general resistance’ to change’, that can often be rooted in poor management of the transformation process.
We previously alluded to the responsibility of those instigating the change, to communicate the value and significance of transformative action, so that employees can appreciate the potential benefits to the business, but also to their individual efforts.
It’s of paramount importance that employees have access to experience in managing transformative changes – preferably specific to agile transformation – so that they can be on-hand to provide guidance and support the changes being made.
This will not only help provide clarity throughout the organisation but also manage the tolerance to these changes within the ranks.
Secondly, it’s not uncommon to experience ‘fearful resistance’ amongst an organisation’s people. This typically derives from being thrown out of their comfort zone, into an unknown, turbulent environment, where the normal patterns of work are interrupted and replaced with new methodologies.
This is where agile training and coaching can be quite effective in achieving the long-term goal of a successful transformation.
If there are individuals who are unsure or actively resistant to the adoption of new methodologies, it will often help to upskill them in agile ways of working, enabling them to see the benefits of Agile Transformation with a higher degree of clarification.
New Systems of Work
Adopting agile ways of working when undergoing a large-scale transformation is not just about a change in culture and mindset, it’s also very much about establishing new ways of working.
By which we mean new ways of collecting and utilising data and insights, as well as tools to help facilitate the collection and analysis of these valuable metrics.
Operating at pace in short cycles may sound like a no-brainer if it’s going to improve the delivery of value, but attempting to do so without the right investment in tools and training would be like going to war under-prepared and under-financed.
New systems of work require new investment in tools and training to accommodate the change in operating rhythms.
Systems such as Jira and Confluence can be extremely beneficial in helping to gather and use important data and insights.
These systems help an agile team or team member remain focused on taking the necessary steps to achieve a measurable goal.
The process of operating in sprints is synonymous with an agile mindset and systems of work, a feature of which is short learning cycles and quick decision-making.
Adopting a repeatable system of experimentation, testing and learning at pace is by no means an easy capability to attain, so will often require appropriate tools, training and on-hand expertise to help support the transition to new systems of work.
Leadership is a funny subject in the context of organisational change, especially when it requires surrendering various degrees of control.
Agile ways of working typically demand a flatter organisational structure, which helps foster a culture of greater autonomy and collaboration throughout its workforce.
While leadership remains responsible for setting targets and overriding strategy, the decision-making with regards to strategy implementation and meeting the set targets is delegated to employees lower down the chain of command.
This is typical because these employees are more attune to the demands of their customers, and are thus able to make informed decisions as to how to deliver increased value.
It also helps support fast communication, rapid decision making, shared ownership and cross-functional teamwork, as there is a shorter chain of command.
Let’s be honest, relinquishing control is not something senior leadership in any organisation is best known for.
But in order to see the true benefits of Agile Transformation, it’s fundamental that the leadership team buy-in to the process and mindset changes that are warranted, which does require delegating degrees of control to self-managed teams.
An article published on Scrum.org suggests that senior levels of management are often not acquainted with the understanding that Agility is beneficial for business, product, and the most important – customers/users.
It goes on to say that active management that fosters Agility and actively participates in the whole process is a secret ingredient that makes the transition more realistic.
From this, we can gather that while a lack of leadership buy-in can be a barrier to any successful agile transformation, support from the top and active participation from top-level management can serve to exploit the full benefits of organisational agility.
So how do we conclude on a subject that has many potential benefits for an organisation, but can also present many challenges and barriers to navigate along the way?
If we circle back round to our initial ice-breaker question – what problem are you trying to solve? – it becomes far easier to make informed decisions regarding the agile process once some of what’s been discussed above is understood.
An agile transformation is an organisational commitment. Large-scale change takes time and patience to execute, but it also requires significant financial and institutional support if the business is to experience real sustainable change.
If the problem you’re trying to solve is highly focused – on one area of business operations – for example improving employee engagement or increasing team productivity, then we would often be more inclined towards agile adoption.
Agile adoption is when an organisation adopts practices, processes or frameworks – such as the Kanban method, Scrum or SAFe (scaled agile framework) – that encompass the principles of agile and are designed to facilitate agile development.
The objective here might be to increase team productivity, so an organisation may adopt agile methodologies in order to manage this change.
Whereas agile transformations require a holistic cultural shift, the result of which is being able to react quickly to a rapidly changing external or internal environment. Here, the entire organisation becomes an agile organization.
There are perhaps more roadblocks and challenges to an agile transformation, so if you’re just looking for a faster, cheaper way of operating, you might be better advised to explore alternative options.
Your Agile Transformation Journey Starts here!
But as previously alluded to, there can be countless organisational benefits of Agile Transformation.
So we’ll leave you with this closing statement from an article published by Forbes; Organizational and operational agility reflects the current pace of change in a digital world.