Do You Want Agile Adoption or Agile Transformation?

Anthony Mersino
December 30, 2015

Most of the clients who seek out our help ask about Agile adoption.  They usually have a couple of teams developing solutions using a traditional approach, and they'd like them to begin using Agile. For them, it is just a process change.  They want their teams to develop faster, or to collaborate closely with the business people.  Or they want a simpler process for introducing change that is fast and allows them to be more responsive. 

They’ve heard that using Agile methods will achieve that. These requests frequently come from the IT leaders, and are generally limited in scope to the IT organization.  They want change, but only at the team level.  They've usually not thought much about broader change and lack a vision for how Agile could help the entire organization.
This is what I would call an Agile pilot or Agile adoption.  We will help with Agile adoption of course.  Why not?  Our hope is that in the process of helping the teams that we can encourage the organization to consider an Agile transformation.  We help the organization to begin to see the benefits of business agility and create a vision for an Agile transformation.
Selling Agile adoption is easy.  Most people can easily understand the benefit of process change.  And process change is easy.  Generally, the leadership decides to implement Scrum and they are barely impacted by the change.  They need to attend a few sprint reviews, help to remove impediments, etc.   If anything, the leader's job may be easier if the teams self-organize and Scrum Masters are in place to help them with facilitation and impediment removal.
By contrast, an Agile transformation is anything but easy.  It's disruptive, disturbing and potentially very disappointing. It will take a long-term investment to change ingrained ways of thinking and working, and the company culture.  And it is going to take some time.
Why does Agile transformation take so much and cost so much, especially compared to an Agile adoption?  Here are a couple of reasons:

  • Culture change is slow and unpredictable.  Agile adoption involves a process change at the team level and can take 3-6 months.  Changes to culture require sacrifice and hard work on the part of the leadership team.  Someone needs to cast a vision for the change, and continually recast that vision so that everyone remembers why you are embarking on the change.  The transformation process can take years, though that doesn’t mean there will be no benefits until you ‘arrive’.  In fact, there is no arrival; it is a journey of continuous improvement.
  • Software development vs. Customer Value Chain. An Agile adoption generally focuses on how teams build software solutions.  An Agile transformation could cause an organization to rethink the entire process for developing solutions.  Companies shift from thinking about departments or functional silos, to looking at the entire customer value chain.  They might even re-evaluate what customers they serve.
  • The Scope is Everyone. While a process change may be limited to a few teams, an Agile transformation could involve everyone in the organization.  Departments could be created or eliminated to create the right teams.  Training may be required for problem solving, teamwork, facilitation, and collaboration skills.  No job would be unaffected.
  • New Habits vs. a New Way of Thinking.  Agile adoption could change the ways teams work, but a true Agile transformation forces you to transcend habits and change the way we think.  We need to adopt a mindset for Agile and lean.  We need to see our work differently.
  • Desire to Control vs Desire to Unleash.  Adopting Agile at the team level generally doesn't change the power structure in the organization.  Transforming to Agile will disrupt the power and control in the organization. Leaders become servant leaders who serve the organization.  In the process, we unleash people and teams to do their very best work.

This post has been primarily about the costs involved in Agile Transformation.  In an upcoming blog, I’ll explore the benefits.
Have you been through an Agile adoption or transformation?  I’d love to hear your feedback.

About Anthony Mersino

Anthony is passionate about helping technology teams THRIVE and organizations TRANSFORM.  He loves partnering with organizations to help teams with Agile thinking and the Scrum Framework.  He teaches Agile and Scrum as well as the cultural elements that are necessary for an organization to gain true business agility. Anthony has  authored numerous articles and two books: Agile Project Management, and Emotional Intelligence for Project Managers.