- Posted by admin
- On August 5, 2019
There is no industry standard definition of what Agile Transformation means. That is an unfortunate truth that results in confusion for organizations that are going through an “Agile Transformation”. And if it doesn’t result in confusion, it definitely results in the lack of a shared understanding of what it means. I’ve read a few good blog posts that mention the types of Agile Transformation – Team Level, Scaled, and Enterprise level. And those are all accurate and having clarity on the types of transformation certainly does help.
However, knowing the type of transformation an organization is going through doesn’t necessarily provide the clarity of what Agile Transformation actually means. So this lack of an industry standard definition results in many organizations approaching their transformation in a very mechanical way. For example – if increasing speed to market and improving quality are some of the goals for a transformation, then Agile Transformation would likely be defined as – building high performing 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. It would certainly get Agile being talked about in their organization, but is that truly transformative?
DECOUPLING THE DEFINITION
To get to a definition that works I recommend decoupling the definition from the specific goals and outcomes an organization is trying to achieve. Meaning, the words can’t mean something different based on an organizations goals or understanding. Words have meaning after all, and Agile Transformation should mean the same thing from one organization to the next. Given that Agile is a set of values and principles, and transformation means change, then Agile Transformation could be defined as changing an organization’s values and principles that guide how the organization delivers value to their customers. That may be the most succinct definition you will find. However, that definition might also be difficult to understand, so let’s look at it a bit closer.
ANCHORING IN THE VALUES AND PRINCIPLES
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.
I believe that 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 seem like a very Agile approach, but the result of that approach often leads to some flavor of Hybrid Agility, or Agile in name only.
The reason that picking and choosing parts of a framework is a dangerous proposition, is because what people are actually saying in the “pick and choose” approach, is that they “value” the parts of the framework that their organization can do fairly easily – and they “de-value” the parts that would require too significant of a change to their organizations current values. 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.
CREATING THE CONDITIONS
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. What I believe is that the values and principles are 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 addressed for Agile to work in your organization.
A few clues to be on the look out for in an organization attempting to adopt 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 the culture clash that will lead to deep anti-patterns throughout the organization and a lot of frustration.
WE LOOK FOR ALIGNMENT ON VALUES AND PRINCIPLES
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 or will experience. 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 that understands what Agile Transformation means – changing an organization’s values and principles that guide how the organization delivers value to their customers.