How to Successfully Navigate the Challenges of Agile Transformation

February 5, 2019
Blog, Culture
By Alex Perrin and Darby O'Connor

In part one of this blog series about Agile transformation, we discussed the key principles underlying an organizational culture that will support this shift. Before undertaking an organizational transformation it is critical is to ensure the organization is ready and willing to do what is necessary to make the appropriate shifts. This is especially true for organizations desiring to shift to an Agile approach, as there are many challenges inherent to Agile transformation.

Through our work at The Clearing helping a variety of diverse organizations intentionally design a peak performance culture, we have identified the top three challenges organizations face when undertaking an Agile transformation, and potential strategies to address them.

Challenge #1:  The organization is not culturally prepared to successfully transition into an Agile organization.

  • Conduct a Culture Assessment: Before embarking on the transformation, conduct a culture assessment to identify the shifts that will be required to successfully transition the organization to an Agile mindset. Recognize and embrace the significance of the “human element” in the transformation.
  • Create an Agile Transformation Plan: Formulate an Agile Transformation Plan, and integrate steps for the culture shift into it. Build alignment around the plan and the need for culture shift. An Agile Transformation Plan includes an overarching strategy and roadmap, roles and responsibilities, communications strategy, and criteria and metrics for measuring success.
  • Invest in Agile Training and Coaching: Train, coach, and mentor personnel on Agile principles to reinforce the change.

Challenge #2:  All organizational levels are not enrolled and invested in the overall vision and intentions of the Agile transformation.

  • Identify What’s at Stake: Create a shared understanding of what is at stake if the organization does not change the way it currently operates and what will be possible if the organization fully embraces an Agile transformation. Enroll key stakeholders in crafting and committing to the future vision. At The Clearing, for example, we use the CORE PRIME to enroll our teams and clients in a change and to define what’s at stake and how to move forward.
  • Communicate Early and Often: From the beginning of the transformation, demonstrate transparency (a fundamental Agile principle) by conducting communication activities across the organization to share the transformation intent, reinforce Agile values and principles, and build alignment around the plan.  Integrate intention to embrace transparency into the Agile Transformation Plan.
  • Collaborate with Key Stakeholders: During plan development, closely collaborate with key stakeholders to craft a future vision and objectives. Keep stakeholders informed and aligned throughout the process.

Challenge #3: Tolerance for failure is low and/or not culturally accepted, yet failing fast in order to learn and pivot is a core Agile concept.

  • Focus on Learning: Make learning and adaptation a fundamental principle of the Agile Transformation Plan. Build alignment around the plan and the need for culture shift to support a learning environment to support inspection and adaptation. As an example of how this shows up in an Agile environment, organizations that are truly “Agile” often celebrate failing forward, even holding “Failfests” where leaders share stories of failures and how they learned from those moments.
  • Integrate Feedback and Lessons Learned: Frame feedback as caring. Create safe opportunities to give and receive feedback and integrate lessons learned into continuous process improvement efforts.  

Inspecting and shifting an organization’s culture is always a key aspect of successful transformation. Just as a fish doesn’t know it is in water, sometimes it is challenging to see your own culture as it truly is. Engaging the right outside resources to help with that challenge is often time and money well spent.

In the next installation of our Agile series, we’ll take a deeper dive into culture assessment and change, and how that may look in an Agile transformation. For more insight on how to implement and embrace an Agile culture at your organization, contact us today.

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