When is an Agile Transformation the Right Choice?

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In my last article, “Why Agile in 2021?”, I discussed the relevancy of agile during these turbulent and uncertain times in which we are now living. In this article and several that will follow, I will be presenting information that will hopefully help you to know when an agile transformation is the right choice, whether it’s your own personal choice, your team’s choice, your organization’s choice, or your company’s choice.

I have been involved in the agile world for many years. As you can imagine, I have been asked, and answered, a lot of agile related questions. Not surprisingly, the question that I am asked the most from all people, regardless of their title or position, is “How do I know if agile will work in my company, organization, or team?” 

The answer to this question can be found in an organization’s culture and structure. To be perfectly honest, the plain and simple truth is that some organizational cultures are not suitable for an agile transformation. There can be many reasons for this; however, in my experience I have found the following to be the biggest deterrents:

  • The organizational culture conflicts with the values that are necessary for a successful agile transformation.
  • Organizational resistance to change.
  • Lack of leadership support and sponsorship at all levels.

Sit back, relax, maybe grab a hot beverage, or any beverage of your choice, and join me as we take a deeper dive into these three deterrents which I call the “Big Three of Transformation.”

Organizational culture conflicts with values

First, we need to acknowledge some of the values, and their characteristics, that are necessary for a successful agile transformation:

  • Openness is about being receptive and open-minded; people that are open are curious and imaginative. They are not afraid to try something new.
  • Transparency is about sharing your thoughts and feelings honestly, without fear of judgement or repercussion. Provided of course that it is done in a constructive and respectful manner.
  • Trust is about feeling and knowing that a person can be relied upon to do what they say they will do. They are dependable. In my generation, many people considered a handshake better than a contract. They trusted each other to do what they agreed to.
  • Integrity is about being honest and having strong moral values.

Some of you may think your company has written values that are in alignment with the values listed above. However, it is important to remember that there is a big difference between having a corporate statement on values and the actual values that are exhibited.

Unfortunately, it is often the case that “members of the organization cannot readily tell you what their culture is, any more than fish, if they could talk, could tell you what water is. And this point is crucial to our understanding of why cultures cannot be “measured” and “quantified” through surveys or other techniques that only ask about behavior and espoused values.”  Schein, Edgar H., The Corporate Culture Survival Guide (J-B Warren Bennis Series) (p. 28). Wiley. Kindle Edition.

Organizational resistance to change

Resistance to change comes in several forms, both overt and covert. However, we must approach these situations in a non-threatening manner using open and transparent communication with the individual(s) in order to discover the actual cause of the resistance before attempting to allay any fears and concerns.

Lack of leadership support and sponsorship

When we talk about the importance of leadership support and sponsorship for transformations, we start at the “C” suite and go to the lowest levels. This not only represents a cultural change, but it also includes providing the requisite funding and time necessary for the transformation to be successful.

In conclusion, the leaders set the expectations and pace of organizational change and transformations. They can inspire and motivate the members of the organization, as well as instill fear and doubt by showing a total lack of support for the transformation. The best and most successful transformations occur when the leadership is actively engaged in the transformation. The leaders need to imbody the change they want to see in their organizations.  Leaders cannot just say do it now and not participate in or be the change they expect everyone else to exhibit.

For more information about culture and transformation, check out my article:  Integrating Culture into an agile transformation

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