Five sentences that will kill your Agile Transformation

There are some massive faux-pas statements with which senior management, potentially without even realizing, can kill an Agile Transformation within less than five seconds.

I normally avoid the term "Agile Transformation", because I think the idea itself is a dangerous suggestion that this is a time-limited process which can be completed to create a final stage, but let's look beyond that for a moment to focus on organizations who have explicitly started an Agile Transformation initiative.

While there are a near-infinite amount of ways to mess up something as complicated as Organizational Change Management, here are five sentences that can put an entire initiative to a screeching halt:

"Fund the change from your project budget"

There's no easier way to apply Larman's Laws than to apply existing accounting structures to an Agile Transformation. What do you think will be the outcome of such a transformation program, except an organization that still has the same line / project matrix organization which created the entire mess you're currently in?
And which project manager in their right mind would spend their project budget on necessary changes that will come into fruition much after the project deadline is reached?

The proper statement would be: "We have to re-examine our entire accounting structure in the mid term, and we will create a specific change fund for this initiative."

"Limit scope to IT"

Ignoring both the impact and consequence of an artificial limitation of scope fundamentally contradicts the concept of systems thinking, which relies on acknowleding both the implicit and explicit relationships of the whole system.
I always use the clockwork metaphor: If you try to speed up a single cog, there are three likely outcomes: The surrounding cogs will absorb the change, the watch will tick wrong, or the cog will break. IT is a cog of an organization, and the results will be accordingly.
If you have this approach in mind, either abandon the idea or the change altogether. It will save you a lot of pain later on.

The proper statement would be: "Start where you are, and when you hit an organizational boundary, pull in people as necessary."

"You can do this"

What sounds like a great motivational statement betrays yet another pillar of systems thinking: Management was responsible for creating the current status quo, and unless management actively contributes in changing this status quo, it will remain unchanged.
As long as management doesn't do their part, statements like "We trust you on this" are adding insult to injury, setting teams up for failure, creating negativity and bad blood in the long term.
If you're a manager and not going all-in, you are going to be an impediment!

I'll take it with Deming:
"Support of top management is not sufficient. It is not enough that top management commit themselves for life to quality and productivity. They must know what it is that they are committed to — that is, what they must do. These obligations can not be delegated. Support is not enough: action is required." - W.E. Deming
The proper statement would be: "We can do this."


"We're already good"

I am baffled when I ask managers what they expect from their agile transformation, and they limit their answer to this sentence: "We're already good, we're just looking for ways to become more efficient."

While I'm not going to argue whether they're indeed good, the attitude behind this sentence will make it extremely difficult to realize that an agile transformation is not needed if indicators like Customer Satisfaction, Time-To-Market and Product Viability are good. If these things are not good, then "getting more efficient" is entirely the wrong direction!



"This is not important"

It's a jaw-dropping moment to sit in a room with over one hundred developers, hearing a Senior Manager introduce the new way of working to the audience with the words, "SAFe is not important". Okay. SAFe is a placeholder, it could be any other framework as well.

Well, if it isn't, why did you opt to go this route for your agile transformation? Did you bother defining your organizational goals, current deficits, map them with the different frameworks and see which approach is most suitable to meet your needs?
If you didn't do that, you simply didn't do your homework, and you shouldn't have chosen a specific framework before doing that!
And if you did that, you might as well inspire people by giving them something to aspire, rather than planting a dismissive notion in their minds!

The proper statement would be: "We chose this framework as a basis to reach our goals - and we will relentlessly Inspect, Adapt and Improve to get better every day!"



In Summary

A Whole Systems Approach is fundamental to any organizational change initiative, be it Agile or otherwise. When managers reveal that they either haven't considered the systemic impact, or simply don't care, they give everyone a good reason to doubt the success of the change from Day One.

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