Why agile transformations fail, and how to prevent it

Many agile transformations fail: organizations struggle to implement agile practices and don’t get sufficient benefits. This is often because they plan the transformation and then try to execute the plan.

Becoming agile is a journey: You can plan it, but you need a different planning approach, focus on value, and use a better map.

Travel in an Agile Way

Many organizations fail because they try to treat their agile transformation as a project with a goal, budget, and end date. Such an approach is killing for any transformation, certainly if an organization wants to adopt agile. Allow me to explain why this doesn’t work and what you can do to make your agile transformation succeed.

Agile has no goal or end state. When you start your agile transformation you don’t know where it will end. Scary? Yes! Valuable? You bet!

Take a look at the manifesto for agile software development, which says:

“We are uncovering better ways of developing software by doing it and helping others do it”.

Becoming agile means you are never done. It’s a journey of continuous improvement, you never stop looking for ways to deliver more value to your customers and stakeholders.

How do you travel the agile journey? Some suggestions:

  • Become agile in an agile way: Base your transformation on the agile values and use agile principles and practices to become agile (AKA eating your own dogfood).
  • Think agile: For every step you take, think about how you can do it in an agile way.
  • Be an example: Don’t tell people what to do or how to do it, show how it can be done. And encourage people to find their own way.

Don’t think of an agile transformation as a project with a goal. It’s a mindset and culture change, a change in behavior and leadership. You have to travel it in an agile way.

Focus on Value

Don’t think about agile as something that will cost you money. Instead, focus on the value that you can get out of an agile transformation. The benefits that increased agility will bring. They will outweigh any costs!

Focusing on value implies that you have to think about why you want to become agile. Is it because you:

  • Want to deliver faster?
  • Deliver the right stuff and thus more value?
  • Become more innovative?
  • Create an environment where people love to work and hence are more productive?
  • … (add your reason here)

Knowing why you want to become agile and what value you want to increase is crucial to be successful with your transformation.

Use a Better Map

Agile methods and frameworks don’t tell you how to increase your agility. Agile is not about implementing Scrum or SAFe or copying the Spotify model. You have to think for yourself, experiment, and reflect to find out what works for you. That’s true agility!

The Agile Self-Assessment Game is an “agile map” that inspires you with ideas and suggestions on where to go next on your agile journey. It’s a card game that helps you to find out how good you are doing and decide what to improve to increase the value that you deliver. You can use cards for chartering teams, in your retrospective, or in everyday agile coaching.

Successful Agile Transformation

There isn’t a standard route to become agile, you have to find your own way. An agile transformation should be a journey of sustainable improvement where people find ways to become better and increase the agility of themselves, the teams that they are in, and the whole organization.

If you want your agile transformation to be successful, my advice is to travel it in an agile way, focus on the value, and use an “agile map” to know where you are and where to go next.

Ben Linders

I help organizations with effective software development and management practices. Active member of several networks on Agile, Lean and Quality, and a frequent speaker and writer.

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