Internal “guides” try to bring “tour members” back on track. Mostly without success. Meanwhile, agile pioneers sprint ahead, wondering why everyone else is so far behind. Venturing out alone, these pioneers struggle to make it through the agile jungle without any support from the tour operator. They have left the group and don’t have access to the proper “equipment”, such as budgets or purchasing decisions. Whenever I work with companies lost in agile transformation, I feel more like a crisis manager than an agile coach.
If leaders considered key success factors for agile transformation from the beginning, such crises could be prevented. Here are some tips along with practical examples on how to successfully navigate your team through the agile transformation process.
1. Steer clear
As a manager, you know that complex environments require different solutions. You may need to explore new ways to successfully manage and lead your organization.
You’ve critically examined agile concepts and expanded your knowledge in new management methods. You’re not the type that falls for standardized transformation journeys advertised in fancy agility brochures. You know that the agility buzz has led to many disappointing experiences resembling sales incentive trips with phony promises. Many agile transformation products are simply too standardized to produce any real value. Don’t buy into these run-of-the-mill offers. Use your common sense and judgment to distinguish quality offers from agile “dream tours”.
2. Keep moving
Agility is not a destination. It is an ongoing journey. There is no such thing as an absolute agile state. Don’t waste your time carefully selecting your perfect destination. Instead, work on making your company more flexible. At its best, agility means moving forward, constantly adapting to new environments.
Before you take off, check if you’re fit for your journey. Radically question what is slowing down your decisions, what is keeping you from focusing on customers, and what is hindering innovation. Such a check can provide valuable insights and show you what your biggest levers are. It will help you navigate your business effectively and steer clear of any tourist traps.
3. Watch your cruising altitude
Air traffic relies on clear rules determining which aircraft flies at what altitude. Agile journeys lack such precise directives, sometimes resulting in unexpected collisions with serious damage.
Why? Because the various agile “pilots” may have diverging plans and expectations. Some want to apply agile methods and create agile teams. Other strive to change their organization’s mindset and culture. Some even try to scale agility and create an exclusively agile organization. In all my years, I have never encountered an organization that is 100% agile.
Collisions and conflicts can be avoided if you clearly define the terms agile and agile transformation from the start. Before takeoff, sit down with your crew and develop a joint vision to facilitate navigation. Consult a professional guide who can explain the beauty as well as the risks of the various agile cruising altitudes.
4. Don’t leave your group
A company’s agile journey requires cooperation. It is essential to ensure that all members of your group are actually traveling with you. Their physical presence will not be enough. You will need their commitment on the subject matter as well as on an emotional level.
Advertise the purpose of your journey. Knowing why we do things helps us take action. If you are not entirely sure about why you are on this agile journey, stop and look ahead. Develop a common attractive vision for your company. This will serve as a compass and will help you steer in the right direction.
5. Avoid excess luggage
Apart from your team’s commitment, there are also some practical requirements. The first one is time. There seems to be a frequent misconception that agile transformation is just a little side job. It is not. Just like any change process, agile transformation requires time to adapt and learn.
If your team is carrying too much excess luggage from working on other projects, they will quickly feel overwhelmed and exhausted, wondering why they are even on this journey. To prevent this, you will need to create the right framework conditions for your company’s transformation. This also applies to physical requirements such as infrastructure, rooms and tools.
Try to pack as little as possible but as much as necessary for your team to successfully complete this journey. Bulky transformation projects will reduce your mobility and might force you to drop excess luggage along the way. This can create unnecessary costs.
6. Leave the driver’s seat
As a leader, you will have to adopt a new role. You may start out as a driver, safely behind the wheel, steering your team into a certain direction. Once things get moving, you should leave the driver’s seat and become the tour guide. You’ll be keeping an overview, defining priorities, creating adequate framework conditions and identifying barriers. Your team will be in charge of operations. This will give you more time to enjoy the strategic view and discover new business opportunities on the horizon.
Bigger companies will be traveling in several vehicles. You will have to consider co-dependencies and ensure that everybody is moving in the same direction. If members of your fleet are speeding ahead, they will have to pull over and wait until the rest has caught up, which they may find frustrating. When the road gets bumpy, you might even lose sight of each other. This can lead to loss or collision, as noted earlier.
Successfully managing your fleet is paramount for any agile transformation journey. As a guide, you will have plenty of work and responsibility. Resist the temptation of taking the steering wheel at every opportunity. Most agile accidents are not caused by team members driving in the wrong direction but by inadequate leadership.
Enjoy your agile journey!