Are You Ready for an Agile Transformation?

Are You Ready for an Agile Transformation?

Agile transformations are a big undertaking that involves a lot of time, thought, energy, and people.

When the Motion Consulting Group Agile Practice has done these transformations, we've had a chance to reflect on each one of them. One reflection was that just like a team would come up with a definition of ready in order to set themselves up for success in a sprint, we can also define minimum things that you need to think about to be ready for your Agile transformation.

What's the definition of ready? We've landed on five key rules that you need to know.

Executive sponsorship

The first element in the definition of ready is to have executive sponsorship. And not just executive sponsorship from an IT perspective, but business support for what you're about to embark upon. Agile transformations involve a lot of change and mindset shifts, so it helps to have leaders in your corner, who can be behind you and know that they are supporting you in this change.

Goal or measurement

The second item is to have some kind of goal or measurement and understand how you're going to monitor progress toward that goal. Many times, transformations start with a goal of transforming, which we know is quite a vague goal.

In those cases, there's a tendency to measure the progress of transformation by saying, "Okay, are we transforming, have we transformed yet?"

And they do that by coming up with things like the number of people trained or the number of departments that are operating using Scrum.

But you are better served, and you can have more alignment when you organize yourself around specific business outcomes. Some of you may have heard of these as objectives and key results.

So, part of our definition of ready is to create defined business outcomes. Maybe as part of your transformation, you want to transform because your real goal is to get features to your customers more quickly with better quality. Or maybe you could pick something like reducing support calls.

It's looking at what some of the challenges are and why you've embarked on a transformation, and then putting those out there as markers so you know what you're advancing toward. Otherwise, it's easy to lose your way.

These markers can change over time, so it's good to set up times to measure progress.

Willingness for Change

The third aspect of the definition of ready is understanding your readiness and willingness for change. This goes into the organizational change readiness field where you're pulling people in the organization to understand, "What do you think we mean by agility? What do you think an Agile transformation is? Do you feel like we have support for that?"

Getting that information from people in your organization is important because it helps as you move through the transformation to determine what may be some of the positive mindsets to capitalize on.

It can also help you understand what kinds of barriers there are, whether Agile-related, personal, or professional.

It would be great to say that it's just a process, and it's just a step-by-step kind of path. But there are people involved, so you want to understand where they're coming from, what their beliefs are, what their values are, etc. Understanding that willingness to change certainly can offset some problems later on.

Doing some kind of organizational change readiness survey will help you understand where you stand with regard to that.

Guiding Coalition

The fourth aspect of the definition of ready is centered around your guiding coalition. This is a big undertaking, so you need a group of people who are going to guide this effort. One aspect of creating a guiding coalition is to include individuals who have practiced in Agile environments before and understand the pains.

They understand that this isn't necessarily about checking a box and going through a path; it's about iterating. It's about exposing issues in the organization. It's about approaching them and accommodating them as they come up.

Forming a guiding coalition of individuals who will work directly with teams has a positive effect because you can embed people into the teams who can see what they're doing firsthand, and bring that information to others to get a good understanding of how teams operate, and how they may need to change or transform.

One best practice of this guiding coalition formation is to have representation from different areas of the organization, because otherwise, you may be sub-optimizing one area of the company at the expense of others, and that's never good.

Having a project management approach to a transformation can be problematic. Trying to lay out the exact steps that it will take is challenging and that's because there is continuous learning going on.

Being able to take an iterative approach and possibly operating as you would operate as a scrum team can be a very helpful approach to getting ready.

Clear coaching expectations

The last item for being ready is to have clear coaching expectations and agreements. It's very likely that if you are undergoing a transformation, you've brought in some individuals to help who have been through this before.

They will lend some of their experience to guide you throughout the process and be a good sounding board as you change and evolve. When you are working with a coach, it's good to set expectations about how the coaches will be operating and how the individuals in the organization will be operating.

It's good to understand that the coaches are guiding. They're providing feedback. They're holding up a mirror to the organization. And they're challenging people at times.

There can be different stances that they're taking as a teacher. They could model certain behaviors for you. They could educate. They could train. They could also do a little bit of selling and trying to get buy-in by telling the story about the vision of what the organization could become.

In that way, they also build trust. That's so important when you are suggesting a different way of doing something or operating in your company.

We work with organizations to help them understand that they're responsible for acting on the guidance, implementing the guidance, taking that modeling and then becoming the doers themselves. It's always important to establish those expectations. Otherwise, they may have a reliance on the coaches that never ends. It's not because a coach or consultant wants to skirt doing the work. It's because we want to make sure the organization is self-sustaining when we leave.

Ultimately, the mark of how well a coach has done their job sometimes is how well the company operates after they leave. That may be the true definition of readiness.


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