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- On January 1, 2019
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There is no industry standard definition of what Agile Transformation means. That is an unfortunate truth and it is resulting in confusion and stress for many organizations that are going through an Agile Transformation. The lack of an industry standard definition results in many organizations defining what Agile Transformation means for them based on the goals they set for the transformation. For example – if speed to market and improved quality are some of the goals for a transformation, then Agile Transformation would likely be defined as – building highly productive agile teams that efficiently deliver high quality solutions to our customers. That might seem straightforward enough, but based on that definition you can imagine what the resulting transformation plan might look like – it would be a very narrow focused, bottoms-up approach. Which by the way is a painfully slow approach and is often an approach that simply fails altogether.
To get to a definition that works we need to decouple the definition from the specific goals and outcomes organizations are trying to achieve. Only then can we identify a pure definition that could work for all organizations that want to have a successful transformation. Agile Transformation can be defined as realigning an organizations core values that guide how the organization delivers value to their customers. That may be the most succinct and accurate definition you will find. However, that definition might also be difficult to get your head wrapped around, so let’s look at it a bit closer.
I’m assuming if you are reading this then you know a thing or two about Agile. One thing you’ll know for sure is that Agile is a set of values and principles. What you may not fully understand is that Agile is a set of values and principles. Far too often people refer to Agile as a methodology. This happens because people confuse the frameworks and practices as being Agile. But Agile is not frameworks and practices – Agile is a set of values and principles that guides or informs those frameworks and practices. The importance of understanding the difference cannot be overstated. If you read the Agile values and principles and then look closely at a framework, such as SAFe, Scrum, LeSS, etc. you will see how the framework has manifested the Agile values and principles in a way that “complies” for lack of a better term.
That is why I cringe a bit when I hear people say “it’s just a framework – pick and choose the parts you want and disregard the rest. Or come up with your own solution for the parts you don’t like.” That might sound like a very Agile thing to say, but the results of that approach are often devastating. Because what they are really saying is “value” the parts of the framework that your organization can do fairly easily – and “de-value” the parts that would require too significant of a change in your organizations current values, to achieve the necessary alignment. You get where this is going right?? And I’m not trying to invite a discussion on whether or not frameworks are good or bad in general – or if they are anti-Agile.
For Agile to work in any organizations, the organization’s values must align with Agile values and principles, as well as the values and principles for the specific framework they are implementing. In this case you can think of the values and principles as the “rules” that are required to be followed for said framework to be successful. Meaning, the framework is based entirely on the assumption that the values and principles are true in your organization’s environment and THAT is why the framework will work. However, if the organization’s values are out of alignment then the buzz will be that “Agile doesn’t work in our organization”. But the fact is – it’s not that Agile can’t work in your organization, it’s that there is a culture clash at the level of values and principles that needs to be fixed for Agile to work in your organization.
A few clues to be on the look out for in an organization attempting to adopt an Agile is when people in the organization refer to certain aspects as “theory” or when they flex the “we’re special” muscle and say it won’t work for us because. What they are really saying is – our organization values this over that, and therefore that’s a theory and won’t work in practice for us. And that is a culture clash that will lead to deep anti-patterns throughout the organization and a lot of frustration.
When AgilityIQ gets involved in a transformation we do an assessment of the organizations values against the Agile values and principles. This informs us on many levels and provides us the necessary language and context to help an organization understand where values are misaligned and what the resulting anti-patterns are that they are experiencing. And if the organization’s appetite for frustrating anti-patterns is higher than their appetite for change, then we can predict that their transformation will be a long journey and their overall success will likely be dependent on new leadership.
Thanks for reading – we hope you found this article informative. Please send us your thoughts – we would love to hear from you.