5 common pitfalls in an agile transformation
Updated: 4 days ago
In today's fast-changing society, it is no longer a question for organisations whether to implement agile transformation, but rather when and how. To keep up with the changing times and stay as agile as possible, organisations need to review not only their organisational structure but also their way of working. Implementing agile transformation in an organisation can be a challenging task as many factors need to be considered to succeed.
We asked transformational leaders Anders Grahn and Jennifer Thorsell. In addition to being a partner in Recoordinate, Anders is also a Senior Transformation Consultant with extensive experience in agile transformations at some of Sweden's leading companies. Jennifer works as an agile coach and has many years of experience coaching and educating companies in their transformation journey.
With their combined experience from agile transformations in different types of organisations, Anders and Jennifer have identified areas where things can easily go wrong. Here are their top five tips on how to get around the most common pitfalls.
1. Top management lacks commitment to transformation
Many of us are familiar with the situation when the top management of an organisation lacks commitment and understanding of transformation. There is simply not enough time, given all the other priorities that need to be addressed. Often the transformation is driven by a few passionate middle managers who have recognised the great benefits of working in an agile way and who have been given permission by management to try it out in their part of the organisation.
In the agile transformation of an organisation, it is important that the leadership stands behind the change journey and can communicate a vision of where the organisation is going and why. Being able to clearly articulate why the change is needed is crucial to getting all managers and employees on board with the change journey.
Ensuring that top management is not only involved but also driving the agile transformation is one of the things we have found to be successful. The agile transformation affects the whole organisation and strong commitment from top management reinforces the message that this is an important initiative. Without the support of senior management, it is advisable to consider whether this is the right time to embark on a major transformation journey. To generate curiosity in a more reluctant management, a good tip is to instead see what others have done and share experiences with organisations in a similar situation and context.
2. It is unclear why the agile transformation is being implemented and what the goal is
We all agree on the importance of having the same goals and vision for the agile transformation. Yet many organisations are struggling with this. In part, it's about delivering a consistent message that is clear enough and applicable to the entire organisation. In addition, it is about how this message is communicated.
The goal of the transformation must be sufficiently motivating and have a sense of urgency that the change is really needed. It is also about communicating the goal and vision in a way that is not only strategic but also in a way that speaks to people's emotions and perceptions of what the outcome will be.
3. Scrum vs Agile
Often the agile transformation has been launched in the IT department where Scrum as an agile method has worked well. Scrum involves a team working in shorter iterations, called sprints, usually lasting 2-4 weeks, where the outcome of the team's work in each iteration will be of value to the customer. This approach works well in software development where the delivery rate is high in a changing environment. Significant improvements have been observed within teams and deliveries have become more predictable. Therefore, when the whole organisation starts to work agile, it is tempting to use the same type of framework, because it works so well in IT.
However, agility is much more than Scrum and therefore requires a change. To avoid the failure of the agile initiative, it is therefore important that the organisation focuses on an agile mindset and adapts the way of working to the different parts of the organisation. Relying solely on Scrum in an entire organisation is doomed to failure.
4. Insufficient investment in training and internal skills
To truly understand what the transformation means, the organisation's employees need to be properly trained in addition to being informed on a regular basis. However, training an entire organisation is both energy-consuming and requires expertise in the field.
Often, organisations undergoing agile transformation invest in initial training when the transformation begins, with the idea that employees will continue their training through "learning by doing". To avoid training and skills development in agile thinking and practices being provided only at the launch of the transformation, it is important to build internal capacity through internal coaches. These coaches can thus continue to support the organisation even after the transformation has started with both training and coaching on a day-to-day basis.
5. Fear of letting go of the past
Another common pitfall of an agile transformation is holding on to the past while adding all the new things that transformation brings. Old structures, roles and culture often feel safe, and it can be tempting to just change things that no longer work.
An agile transformation will not succeed or reach its full potential if the organisation is not prepared to take the step of fully letting go of the old in favour of the new. Bringing in external help with relevant experience and expertise is an excellent way to help the whole organisation let go of the past to embrace the new.
Senior Transformation leader
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