Why did so many of the early agile transformations fail?
I think a better question is to ask why so many agile transformations fail, period, because the early agile transformations failed for the same reasons current agile transformations fail.
Misalignment between implementation and decision-making.
The people who are involved in the implementation are often not the people who get to decide on what is going to be implemented, how it is best implemented, and why this choice has been made.
In other words, a ‘solution’ is imposed on the team rather than cocreated with the teams.
Leadership will decide that X is going to be adopted, but the people actively doing the work know that it’s the wrong solution. It simply isn’t a great fit and doesn’t solve the problems that the product development teams are experiencing.
Often, this happens when a consultant sells an off-the-shelf agile solution rather than investing time and effort with the teams, customers, and product stakeholders to select the agile framework that best serves the environment.
This happens with all kinds of change.
- Agile transformations
- Digital transformations
- Sweeping HR policy transformations
And so forth.
In the top-down, command and control structures you tend to witness a great deal of this.
The people at the top make the decisions, but the people who do the work are actively excluded from this process and have decisions imposed on them, regardless of whether these are a great fit for the environment or not.
An agile environment embraces the experts, who are actively doing the work, being part of the decision-making around how best to build the solution or solve the problem. I would advise that you start the process by including individuals and teams in the decision-making process.
In 90% of these command-and-control cases, the people that you want to work in a certain way simply don’t want to work in that way because they don’t believe it will work, improve the situation, or allow them to serve customers effectively.
In the context of how to get work done effectively, the experts who actively perform the work are way smarter, more informed, and knowledgeable about the environment than the leaders who seldom set foot in those environments.
If they are consulted throughout the process, you gain buy-in across the team environment and are much more likely to have a successful adoption of agile that achieves the objectives and outcomes that you are looking for.
The people on the ground have:
- More relevant and useful information than you do.
- They have a greater understanding of the problems in the environment.
- They have a greater understanding of what will work in the environment.
- They have a greater understanding of what will improve flow throughout the system.
- They have a greater understanding of the customer environment.
- They have a greater understanding of how suppliers integrate into the system.
- They have a greater understanding of how partners integrate into the system.
So, it really does serve leadership teams to embrace the unique knowledge, skills, and capabilities of the experts in the team environment and include them in decision-making for the transformation.
Open Space Agile
There has been a lot of great work produced by Open Space Agile that allows relevant people to be involved in decision-making throughout the organization.
The folks at Open Space Agile understand that it can be a significant transition to agile, and in an effort to help organizations facilitate better decision-making, in the context of Agile, they created practices, processes, and systems that allow you to tap into the expertise on your team.
The process allows you to eliminate resistance and sabotage.
Even if people don’t 100% agree with the solution that is going to be adopted, they will still back the initiative because their voices have been heard, their contribution has been embraced, and although a few flaws may be present, it is still a step in the right direction that can be improved over time.
In other words, they have cocreated the solution and are a great deal more emotionally invested in the positive outcome than they would be if it were simply imposed on them.
They will be supporting and helping to improve the solution as they move forward rather than actively fighting or sabotaging the process. Google Open Space Agile and invest a little research in identifying how this framework can help you and your teams.
So, in my opinion and experience, this is the greatest reason why agile transformations fail and it’s easily avoided, easily overcome, and easily transformed into a positive and engaging experience for teams if you include them in the process.
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