Apply the Agile transformation to real challenges, immediately
Updated: Apr 5, 2018
The key principle here is to remember that people learn better by doing than by hearing or thinking about something. By doing they discover firsthand the superior results of the new behavior or practice.
Additionally, people involved in Agile transformation are very busy. They already spend 110% of their time on everyday work and all the rest tends to come on top. The Agile transformation, while strategic-and-super-interesting, competes with their daily whirlwind. The only way that participants give a chance to new behaviors is to make sure they are relevant to challenges they're facing, and that they are actionable almost immediately. Or else the learning will probably be lost.
"The only way that participants give a chance to new behaviors is to make sure they are relevant to challenges they're facing."
How do we quickly put people in action in the Agile transformation?
Don't spend too much time strategizing the Agile transformation. An Agile transformation is itself an Agile project: we plan what we can, and elaborate progressively as we learn from the feedback of concrete actions. In uncertain situations (see VUCA), strategy emerge from actions much more than actions come from strategy.
Design together a high-level roadmap made of a few phases and a few transversal streams for recurring topics (i.e., leadership, continuous value delivery…) and select together right away a few actions to apply to real work. Proceed then iteratively in plan-do-check-act (PDCA) cycle. This approach also keeps participants engaged since the Agile transformation program helps them in their everyday job.
In a 6-month Agile transformation program I was recently involved, I could put participants in action on real challenges after only three weeks. This short period was dedicated to better understand the context, generate awareness and desire to change, and elicit the overall transformation strategy and roadmap. All of which are minimal steps before participants can take effective actions.
This type of approach is sometimes referred to as action-learning.
It's equally important to attach the Agile transformation to a value-creating initiative that benefits from it. The selected initiative must be sufficiently strategic and cover similar organizational scope in order to have transformational potential. By piggybacking on a strategic, transversal initiative, the Agile transformation gains traction. For example, I had the opportunity to initiate an Agile transformation through a digitization program which spanned several functions and required developing Agile behaviors at all levels. Conversely, avoid doing a stand-alone Agile transformation project. I could not have gained access to people or have had real impact if I had initiated the Agile transformation in a vacuum. In short, don't do a "change project", do "the cultural transformation part of (for example) the digitization program".
Pitfalls to avoid
A detailed strategy up-front
An analysis phase or too many proofs of concepts
"Generic" Agile transformation - Not applying the Agile transformation to real initiatives
Waiting too long between talking about Agile and doing/being Agile
Relying on training and courses and expecting that learnings will naturally be put in practice