Transformation, either personal or organizational, is an ongoing journey and never a destination - Nivarti Jayaram

Agile Transformation!


Why do most agile transformations fail including those in big enterprises? This has been the most asked around question in Agile conferences. I too was asked this question as part of being a panel member on Theme & Framework Agnostic Agile Conference in Bangalore. I thought of drilling deep down into this question to validate my thoughts and observations.

The most significant of the reasons that come to my mind when I think of answering this question are:

   Lack of clarity on the “Why”: Lot of individuals and /or organizations relate to what Simon Sinek advocates in principle “Start with Why” but seldom rarely put it into practice. The “WHY” for most of the organizations looking to transform is driven by one or more of the following:

          The number of companies transforming in the relevant industry landscape which drives the fear of being left out in capitalizing the market.
          Customer mandate to be following agile practices to enhance the number of clients or sustain the existing clientele.
          Driven by success achieved by other companies in different sectors through agile transformation

  Lack of focus on Organization Culture: Organizations consist of three things, People, Processes, Product and / or Service and mostly the transformation efforts are focussed on these three. However, what drives success for an organization not just in transformation but in its business is the Culture it embodies. I am surprised by the lack of significance given to transforming organization culture, even SAFe advises that transforming culture comes last.

For me, Culture comes first as it is the one which takes the longest to transform and the effort needed is directly proportional to the age of the organization. The older the organization, the longer it takes to transform culture as the values & the belief system is that much stronger and deep rooted.

  Applying a cookie cutter solution: Organizations look to deploy a model that has been successfully used to transform another organization, the most famous one being “SPOTIFY”. There is another argument that we can follow a model that some other organization in the same industry has successfully used to transform, which again is not correct.

One needs to understand that every organization is unique and has its own culture & mindset driven by people it employs and the countries it operates in. Spotify, ING or any other organization has gone through a maturity curve to reach where they are today, while it could be useful to study their transformation journey, it’s not recommended to use their current state as a baseline or replicate what they did and believe it guarantees success for our transformation as well.

  Defining Transformation end state: I recently saw one of the big companies announcing that they would be enterprise agile by 2020, which means they have already defined what the end state for them to be enterprise agile is.

Organizations evolve through transformation and there is no definite end state as this is a continuous and ongoing journey exactly similar to our learning which continues throughout our life.

Defining an end state means you are driving the transformation through a fixed agenda and is actually a transition than transformation.

“Just when the caterpillar thought the transformation was complete, it became a butterfly” - #Unknown

  Driven by Check List: Unlike other programs and projects that have a definite plan of action, Agile transformation cannot be run by a checklist of activities. Each organization, team and individual are unique and the transformation approach that works for one doesn’t necessarily work for other. No standard check list or play book can help transform organizations with guaranteed success.

  Leadership Unwillingness to change: Transformation is always considered to be centred around teams and middle level managers. However, for it to be really successful, there is a definite change needed in style and functioning of Senior Leaders in the organization. Unacceptance and / or unwillingness of the leadership to change their style leads to the transformation being unsustainable. This becomes further difficult if the transformation is not driven right from the top.

  Lack of business buy-in: Most of the transformations today are Technology driven than business driven. This leaves a big gap in achieving the end objective of business agility which could provide accelerated value and better experience to end customers resulting in enhanced business outcomes and market. It’s imperative for us to involve business right from day one of transformation if we are really serious about it and are not running behind doing Agile as it is the current fab in the market.

  Too much focus on Agile than Agility: Agile frameworks are a means to achieve agility. Putting too much focus on teams implementing these frameworks strictly than achieving the outcomes for end customers with agility can lead to compromising customer centricity and value delivery. This results in lack of support from organizational leadership as well as business stakeholders which will ultimately impact team motivation, autonomy & empowerment.

With so much focus on Agile frameworks and practices across the globe and also so much money spent on Coaching both on process coaching as well as Technical coaching, it’s surprising to see so many aspects being in play that are driving transformations to fail.

If you want your organization to bloom with Agile Transformation journey then it is advisable to avoid the above transformation antipatterns else I believe you would be doomed.

What other aspects can you think of or have experienced that could lead organizations to fail in their transformation journey? Looking forward to hear your thoughts & experiences!!!!

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