Why most Agile Transformations fail

December 29, 2021

“Agile Transformation” is a buzzword almost as popular as “Agile”.

But what does it mean?

Definitions vary, but I particularly like this one from airfocus.com:

Agile transformation refers to a company or organization’s full transition into the agile mindset.

I like this one because it really highlights the contradiction I believe is inherent in the term “Agile Transformation” which I want to talk about today.

Let’s continue by defining “transformation”, which is a bit easier, since we can consult a standard dictionary:

an act, process, or instance of transforming or being transformed

Built into this definition is an implicit sense of achieving completeness. We also see this in the airfocus definition above.

Here’s the key: Transformation implies an end state.

And the contradition: Agile is about responding to change

If we’re responding to change, it means we recognize there is no end state.

“Yeah, but the end state we’re looking for is one in which we can respond to change,” you may say. And to that extent you would be absolutely spot-on. That type of “transformation” is not a problem. But is that what everyone else in your company means? I doubt it. But here are some clues to look for:

  • Is there an end date on your company’s “Agile Transformation”?
  • Is your “Agile Transformation” being lead by outside talent? That is, consultants or freelancers brought in as Agile Coaches or other expert titles, on a short-term basis?
  • Is the focus on implementing new policies and procedures, or on addressing bottlenecks that prevent responding to change?

If you answer “yes” to any of these, it’s an indication that your “Agile Transformation” is seen as a temporary state, with an end date, and as such is not actually an Agile Transformation. It’s “Agile in a box” snakeoil.

The sad irony is that a successful agile transformation starts with a change of mindset. And with that new mindset in place, you’ll see through any “transformation” that is ostensibly about giving you that change of mindset.

True agility is a never-ending journey. To paraphrase Ralph Waldo Emmerson:

Agile is a journey, not a destination.

If you really want to lead your organization to agility, do it by making one change today that allows for faster response to change. Then repeat. Every day. Forever.

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