3 Essential Steps to Prepare for an Agile Transformation

Two of the most frequently used buzz words these days in the corporate world are “Agile” and “Transformation”.  But together what do they mean and why should you care?  Simply put, an Agile Transformation is the journey that an organization undertakes to reshape its thinking, mindset, and culture to adopt an Agile framework and related practices.  Agile frameworks involve continuous exploration and learning cycles while delivering value incrementally, but continuously.  Additionally, Agile involves methods for breaking down complex problems into achievable components, improving the flow of work, and driving increased transparency, accountability, and predictability. 

Before we jump into how to get started, let’s draw some distinction between Agile Transformation and Agile Enablement.  Transformations offer substantial long-term and sustained value to the organization and require unwavering executive commitment.  Transformations require “muscle memory” much like starting a new fitness routine.  Results are not achieved in a single workout but rather over time as the body (organization) begins to adapt.  

To prepare your organization to begin a successful Agile Transformation, consider the following elements that are essential for achieving results:  

Engage Change Agents

A transformation of any kind impacts people.  By definition, we are changing processes, approaches, and thinking that has likely been engrained in the organization for years.  Changing processes, tools, and even approaches is not terribly difficult.  But mindset takes time and transforming culture takes persistence, patience, and commitment.  Change Agents are trusted members of your organization that can help identify resistance and supporting a guiding coalition to carry out actions that will drive the change.  

Prepare Leadership 

Agile is not simply a methodology.  It is a mindset and culture.  Leaders must not only speak the language, but they need to demonstrate and support the values.  For example, one of the principles of SAFe (Scaled Agile Framework) is decentralized decision-making.  This principle empowers Agile teams to improve the flow of work by making necessary timely decisions based on “boots on the ground” knowledge.  Of course, decisions with significant economic impact or risk to the company may still be reserved for higher levels of management.  But empowering teams to think for themselves and embrace accountability is a form of trust that leadership must support.

Establish Journey Map 

Agile is often mistaken for faster delivery.  While it is true that using Agile methods may increase output and time to market, there are many other benefits by adopting its principles.  For example, improved scope control and prioritization of features & requirements may be achieved by applying concepts related to Minimal Viable Product (MVP).  A Minimal Viable Product is an output that requires the least investment to validate a hypothesis or business objective.  Challenging teams to focus on MVP is a method for minimizing investment and squeezing out the fat until the team can demonstrate initial value.  

When launching an Agile Transformation, it is best to establish a journey map with checkpoints along the way.  As the organization starts off you may see some immediate benefits in the transparency and predictability of work being delivered.  As your organization matures, systems thinking, advanced problem solving, lean portfolio management, and a continuous learning culture will begin to emerge.  Understanding the expected outcomes you are looking to achieve at the onset will enable you to better prepare for the journey ahead. 

Launching an Agile Transformation can be an exciting and liberating endeavor.  As an Agile coach, witnessing   teams organizing around value and improving the flow of work continues to be a rewarding experience.  Just like that new fitness routine you pledged to uphold, a coach can be a valuable partner to help you through challenging times and keep you accountable to achieving your goals.  

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