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Agile Transformation Explained

What is an Agile transformation? Learn everything you need to know about the process of shifting organizational focus toward adaptivity, collaboration, and agility based on the Agile management principles.

What Is an Agile Transformation?

Agile transformation is the process of shifting a company’s current management methods from traditional management to adaptive, Agile ways of working. The transition entails embracing an organizational culture of responsiveness to change and improved collaboration using the principles of Agile project management.

Successful Agile transformations can help organizations achieve a variety of goals, including:

  • encouraging cross-team collaboration and feedback exchange,
  • creating an environment where innovation and creativity can thrive,
  • improving process efficiency by reducing wasteful activities.

These are goals that seek long-lasting effects and spread across the organization. They are meant to become the backbone of the culture, which is a process that requires a long-term commitment from everyone.

Just as agility is an ‘ability to rapidly adapt to market and environmental changes in productive and cost-effective ways’, each Agile transformation is a journey. The process should not be time-boxed but rather embraced as a continuous improvement initiative.

agility attributesKey agility characteristics

Why Is Agile Transformation Necessary?

The two main reasons behind implementing the Agile practices in 2022 include “the ability to move quickly yet be predictable” (source: 16th State of Agile Report). Indeed, Agile organizations tend to be more resilient and adapt easily to everyday disruptions.

Unlike the traditional model, where companies emphasize strict hierarchies, Agile focuses on devising a new culture of knowledge sharing and collaboration as a way to achieve goals faster. Constantly evolving and improving Agile processes allow to deliver value more efficiently, create a space for innovations and out-of-the-box thinking, and can bring a competitive advantage.

To stay relevant in today's market, embracing business agility is an initiative many organizations undertake as part of their digital transformation efforts. Let’s uncover more about the actual process an Agile transformation entails.

Agile Transformation Process Explained

As unappealing as it may sound, there’s no size-fits-all guide to a successful Agile transformation. However, an Agile transition journey should tackle the issues at hand, including the transformational goals, organizational culture and leadership. But what are the key points for a successful Agile transformation?

1. Problem awareness. Understanding where the real issues lay in your process is often overlooked, but it can be a "breaking point" in terms of "going Agile". Knowing a work process and mapping value streams allows pinpointing not only the process bottlenecks but elevating the real process constraints. While Agile transformation is associated with cultural, leadership, and process change, it’s important to be fully aware of WHY you need that change in the first place.

2. Organizational culture. The success of the Agile approach stems from the intrinsic principles listed in the Agile manifesto. Today, encouraging open collaboration, knowledge, and feedback sharing in all directions is widely embraced at the company level. Agile indeed puts organizational culture first, working in an environment where motivated people are ready to experiment and improve. Agile teams collaborate and self-organize to establish a work process that can change even at an advanced stage of the delivery process.

3. Leadership support. Management buy-in and support throughout an Agile adoption initiative can make all the difference between a successful and a failed transition. More important, however, is the leadership role as a firm proponent of the true understanding of what Agile really is. This is why Agile champions and coaches are oftentimes significant to the success of a transformation process. Their everyday efforts and continuous display of servant leadership are what truly matter when embarking on a transformation journey.

4. Alignment between strategy and execution. True business agility stems from aligning company goals with everyday execution. To achieve that, Agile highlights the need for transparency across all organizational initiatives. It's important for leaders to continuously communicate a common purpose and involve everybody on their teams in the decision-making process. This can increase the team's morale and sense of belonging to the company, boosting their overall performance.

5. An evolutionary roadmap to Agile transformation. Since Agile is not a one-time initiative but rather an evolutionary journey, start your transition by mapping out your processes as they currently are. Engage all team members to discuss what kind of workflow would fit best their needs – a flow-based process or an iteration-based workflow. In the process of uncovering and dealing with milestones along the way, your Agile process will evolve naturally. Such a collaborative approach makes every input valuable and reduces the chances of team resistance toward the transition to Agile.

6. Monitoring progress. Agile processes are meant to evolve. Continuous performance improvement is one of the very goals of developing business agility. Transitioning to Agile can unlock many lessons learned if progress is regularly assessed. Although they can’t be treated as regular product delivery projects, Agile transformation journeys are all about learning and adapting. In that sense, accumulating data about your processes and going back and reviewing your progress is an essential part of every Agile transformation.

agile transformation key factorsAgile transformation success factors

Why Is Agile Transformation Not a Framework Adoption?

Rushing to gain competitive advantage in a dynamic environment, leaders often regard Agile as an omnipotent ‘cure’ to all business misfortunes. Taking Agile practices to heart is one side of the story, but they should not be limited to adopting one Agile method or another. While certain methods and frameworks can support your Agile adoption, they can’t convey the essence of an Agile culture.

Failed Agile transformation attempts are oftentimes caused by cultural and leadership issues that have nothing to do with the technicalities of how to lead your teams, how often you meet, or how many story points you assign to each work item.

There are different Agile methodologies, such as Kanban, Scrum, or Scrumban, that can be used as a supporting mechanism. First, an organization needs to shift the focus to the real issues inside it - be it people or process related. Then, a suitable methodology or a combination can be implemented based on the business, the team, or the type of projects. All companies are not created equal, and there are various scenarios of applying Agile that you can learn from.

Benefits of Successful Agile Transformations

Whether you’re not satisfied with your delivery times, high costs, product quality, or revenue, these are just consequences of the real issues lurking in your company. An Agile transformation aims to bring long-lasting effects, such as a change in behaviors, beliefs, and organizational culture.

  • Improved collaboration. An efficient team and cross-team communication should result in fewer delivery or process errors, therefore, shorter delivery times.
  • Self-organizing people. Independent and empowered team members help to streamline dependencies management and create a healthy organizational atmosphere.
  • Adaptive organization. Long-lasting organizational culture and a mindset shift toward a more adaptive/reactive organization will help you build a resilient company.
  • Faster learning and delivery times. Agile promotes shorter delivery cycles where teams can get timely feedback on what they're working on. Eventually, this reduces the need for rework and helps teams satisfy customers with on-time delivery of what they request.

Common Agile Transformations Challenges

Some of the major reasons for Agile transformation failure include lack of leadership support, lack of commitment, and misunderstanding the true significance of the change process.

  • Lack of clearly defined outcomes. Not understanding why we need to change or where our problems lie can hinder the entire change initiative.
  • Leadership change resistance. Agile Coaches and Agents can help with the day-to-day transitional activities and provide needed support; however, they rarely can help in driving a leadership change.
  • Mistaking Agile framework adoption for Agile cultural change. Frameworks are helpful, but agility goes beyond any of them. Agile should be sought as a way of thinking rather than a work methodology.
  • Taking a top-down approach. Agile transformation initiatives should be approached from all directions - bottom-up and top-down.

Where Does Agile Transformation Start?

People and adaptability are at the core of every Agile transformation process. While there are different ways you can explore to achieve cultural change, methodologies and frameworks, professional coaching services, and implementing tools, it should all start with the people.

In the process of identifying your pain points and getting everyone on board with the goals of the transformation, you will naturally grow accustomed to Agile. This is what it’s all about – letting go of the notion that the transition is an end-to-end initiative but instead making it a way of thinking and a way of conducting business.

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