Rescuing Company-Wide Agile Transformation

Avoid selling agile practices as solutions; instead, champion learning around shared pain points.

by Dhaval Panchal
Rescuing Company-Wide Agile Transformation: A Case Study by Evolve Agility

This article was inspired by (and many thoughts borrowed from) a case study from Dhaval Panchal (CAC®) of Evolve Agility. Their client learned to embrace company-wide agile transformation after the initial transformation efforts by a large consulting company failed to deliver on the promised results. This is a cautionary tale that highlights the importance of engaging accredited, and qualified coaches who have demonstrated industry experience. 

We see it all too often

A team of agile evangelists practice applying the agile mindset to their project and pilot successes within their organization. This is very encouraging and it seems to prove that agile can also work here. Soon enough the executives take notice, and they want more projects to succeed. The executives make the case for a full scale agile transformation to the board of directors, and then struggle to replicate the successes of the initial pilot team. 

A common misconception is that agile is ‘just’ a process change. And to make matters worse large consultancies who have no real experience in being agile are delighted to cross-sell and deliver an agile transformation. These large consultancies' approach is to apply a mechanical industrialized process of training and “launching“ teams. As a result, existing groups are “lifted and shifted” to perform agile practices within their silo-ed functional departments. This feels forced. At scale, the situation worsens and people get discouraged. As a result, although traditional consultancies promise the benefits of agility, their approach fails to deliver.

But it is never too late to do the right thing. An experienced agile coach with a validated track record has often encountered these challenges before, and they can help you recover. No two situations are the same, so a clear marker of a competent coach is that they do not apply a cookie cutter approach.

There are many important lessons in Evolve Agility’s case study, where Scrum Alliance accredited CAC’s helped stabilize the agile transformation efforts initiated by a large consulting company that had promised more than they could deliver. These are the top three takeaways: 

 

1. Don’t put the cart before the horse

Becoming agile should not be the goal. It is a continuous improvement journey, one that never really ends. Framing your transformation efforts as a project sets in motion traditional incentive mechanisms that usually backfire. As described in the case study, the large consultancy advised the client to “launch” 100+ teams. In the process, they ended up creating an environment of mistrust and fear, where internal agile coaches came to be viewed as the compliance police by measuring, tracking, and correcting teams on their application of popular agile frameworks. This environment led to mutual frustrations and break down of trust.

Good intentions alone are not sufficient. An experienced coach helps you to better define the business challenges that agile can solve. They know that agile is not the solution to every problem and therefore an experienced coach helps your organization to improve business and IT relationships first, and then coaches them to work together in applying the agile mindset to solve complex problems. This is the necessary strategic alignment that is needed before you embark on a real transformation journey.

 

2. Lead with Empathy

Leading with empathy means that we have to understand the day-to-day experience of the people doing their jobs and the outcomes that they seek. Agile transformation should make it easier to be effective at your job, not harder. 

Rather than “selling” agile practices, the internal coaching team refocused their energies to first understand the challenges in the trenches. In the case study they expertly used the jobs-to-be-done framework to interview, identify, and rank outcomes that the business and IT workers, managers, and directors desired. This demonstrated genuine empathy for the situation on the ground, and focusing on the challenges enabled the internal coaches to establish credibility with people in the trenches. 

They then developed focused training and coaching services to address these issues, which resulted in a “pull” for additional support from the teams. Instead of pushing agile on the teams, they were now experiencing demand from both business and IT because they were now focused on their real-world issues instead of driving the agile agenda set by previous advisors. Focusing on the unmet and underserved needs of the people delivering on projects, they transformed from being the agile police to agile coaches.

 

3. Develop internal capabilities

A continuous improvement journey requires that teams take personal ownership of getting better. This is easier said than done. In a large enterprise with many teams, a coach cannot be available all the time. Sooner or later, the team must own its own destiny. 

To enable a continuous learning mindset, a coaching immersion program was developed which invited a batch of team practitioners on a three-month cycle of learning and hands-on coaching across organizational boundaries. These cohorts worked under guidance of an experienced agile coach and shared learning through a structured coaching approach. This enabled them to get feedback and improve on their skills as an agile practitioner. They were able to develop skills that they took back to their teams. By exposing team practitioners to a variety of challenges and equipping them with agile approaches to solve complex problems, skills were broadly developed throughout the organization. 

 

Summary

By the time the engagement was done, the client had developed internal agile coaching competence and made significant inroads by strengthening the business and IT relationships.

Shifting the focus from practicing agile behaviors to creating the right conditions for growth of internal capabilities increased capacity from within, and the outcomes became far more effective. An enabling coaching approach empowers people to design their own solutions, instead of just doing what they are told. 

Read this detailed case history and find out how to: 

  • Improve business and IT collaboration
  • Enable management learning to support & lead agile transformation
  • Improve team adoption and ownership of outcomes

 

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